So the needle lands on Nirvana today. Fair enough.
Incesticide is not the album to dive into my complete thoughts on Nirvana. Nevermind will come up soon enough, but this collection thrown together in 1992 to sate the public in the year between their breakthough record and In Utero probably serves to boil my opinion down nicely: a good band, not a great band, whose sound proved more valuable and influential than their actual songs. Except, perhaps, for that one song.
What incesticide does is both confirm that Kurt Cobain and company had hit upon something big, and out the fact that they were never equal to the mythology conferred upon them. It may not be fair to pass too much judgment or read too much into an album of mostly B-sides, covers, and outtakes, but then Nirvana never stuck their hand up either to claim these songs as unrepresentative. With such a relatively small body of work, it represents almost 25% of the original material they released.
There are great songs on Incesticide, truly. The opening pair of “Sliver” and “Dive” sound like the bridge beween Bleach and Nevermind, and it’s possible either could have been big hits in their own right if given the treatment. “Been a Son” approaches the same, and the rendition of “Polly” contained here is favored by most fans over what appears on Nevermind. But the only remaining strong material comes in a trilogy of well-executed covers. Get past that and there isn’t one track that makes you think, “Man, I can’t believe they didn’t put this on an album.” Most of the second half probably shouldn’t have seen the light of day. Instead, they come off sloppy and abrasive, without the sort of charm found in the work of some of the bands Nirvana was influenced by.
Like I stated above, you can’t and don’t expect A-game material from this sort of offering, but what Incesticide does, unintentionally, is make you scratch the veneer and peel back the covers a bit more on their other major label releases. In doing so, you may come to the conclusion that Nirvana was more important than good. It’s possible Cobain would be okay with that.
An aside — the sequencing all but gives away what was going on here. It actually seems like the label (or the band, or both) said “Okay, open with the good songs, then throw in the covers, then put the bad songs last.” Normally I’d say I’m being cynical, but it seems pretty cut and dried here.