CD Review

Various Artists, Kurt Cobain: About a Son (Barsuk)

Documenting the past usually results in romanticizing it. Addressing this situation seems to be the goal of the upcoming documentary film Kurt Cobain: About a Son, essentially a collection of taped conversations the Nirvana front man did with Michael Azerrad for his biography of the group. Set to a variety of images and filmed segments of the towns in which Cobain lived and worked, the film features a soundtrack containing no music from his band, but instead mostly draws on those performers and peers from whom he took inspiration. As such, it functions almost as a ghostly, Cobain-hosted radio show, with occasional snippets from the tapes interspersed among the songs, most clearly when his discussion of Scratch Acid leads into that group's demented semi-ballad "Owner's Lament."

Soundtrack producers Linda Cohen and AJ Schnack (the film's director) do an excellent job at sequencing the soundtrack, giving new context to many numbers. Hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival's still-thrilling "Up Around the Bend" helps show how Cobain took inspiration from the group, while placing it between Bad Brains' frenetic hardcore classic "Banned in D.C." and Half Japanese's goofy sex song "Put Some Sugar On It" rescues the Creedence number from the dull classic-rock universe in which it's been mired for years. Meanwhile, the cover of Beat Happening's "Indian Summer" by Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service singer Ben Gibbard that closes the disc gently reveals how the general play of Cobain's influences continues.

All this said, Azerrad's liner notes can't seem to decide between encouraging Cobain for a love of stardom or for an appreciation of anti-star punk ideals, a tension reflecting the whole project's uncertainty whether to canonize him or portray him as a regular guy. This makes the interview sequences the most interesting parts of the soundtrack—reflective, softly spoken, sounding so different from the famed drawl and scream, concerned simply with telling the story of Cobain's life.

 
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