LOSING MY NIRVANA
Here we talk about the possibility of a James Murphy produced Oasis album. A hypothetical yet exciting collaboration, and one we enjoyed thinking about. So, we kept thinking. We kept thinking about what other bands and artists could have worked together to yield unusual results, and what those results may have sounded like.
Nirvana - and in particular lead singer Kurt Cobain - had such a distinctive sound, that they were intriguing when looking for inspiration. They were intriguing, too, because we never got to hear them four albums in. What would the follow up to 1993's 'In Utero' have sounded like?
So, we began to think about who Nirvana could have worked with that would have really raised eyebrows, and really surprised people. In the midst of this, we also began to learn more and more about the close friendship Cobain shared with R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe.
Can you see where this is going?
The two men enjoyed a very public mutual admiration for each other. “I don’t know how that band does what they do,” Cobain said in a 1994 Rolling Stone interview. “God, they’re the greatest. They’ve dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music.” Cobain went to great lengths to highlight Stipe's influence on his own band, and the two were perhaps more similar than they would initially appear. Like Nirvana, R.E.M. successfully managed to maintain their indie edge while signing on the dotted line to a major label, and combined highly polished pop music with a gritty lyrical bite.
The two grew close, and Stipe was eventually named godfather to Cobain and Courtney Love's first and only child, Frances Bean. Personally, however, Cobain was in a drug dominated spiral, and in an attempt to help, Stipe began to plan a collaboration between the two. “I was doing that to try to save his life. The collaboration was me calling up as an excuse to reach out to this guy. He was in a really bad place,” Stipe once told Interview magazine. “I constructed a project to try to snap Kurt out of a frame of mind. I sent him a plane ticket and a driver, and he tacked the plane ticket to the wall in the bedroom. The driver sat outside the house for 10 hours. Kurt wouldn’t come out and wouldn’t answer the phone.”
It was the closest the two would ever come to working together. It's incredibly sad, because I think it could have been something special. Take R.E.M's 1994 album Monster. This is one of the most 'Nirvana' inspired albums I have ever heard. It's practically a grungefest, compared to the band's earlier work. Those interweaving, delicate sounding strings you thought R.E.M. used? Gone. Those crystal clear instrumental and vocal sections from previous R.E.M. records? Yeah, they're gone too. In their place we have overbearing distortion, aggressive backing rhythms, and a barely audible Michael Stipe. It's a fight to hear his voice over the overdriven amps. Listen to 'Let Me In' to get a good sense of the album.
R.E.M. is still in there - their melody, their pop craftsmanship - it's just buried beneath a sea of teen spirit. The shackles have been thrown off, and as a result the album flies along at a ferocious pace. What's truly impressive about Monster, though, is the way Stipe makes an incredibly dark album so much fun to listen to. This is just one of the things he could have brought to Nirvana.
But at the same time, an R.E.M. influenced Nirvana album could have been equally interesting. If Nirvana went against their grunge roots, and opted for a more melodic, less abrasive album featuring more strings and acoustic instruments, then we would have gotten to appreciate Cobain's voice even more. Imagine his vocal performance from MTV Unplugged teamed with R.E.M's Everybody Hurts or Man On The Moon.
Not so impossible to envisage, is it?
Nirvana at MTV Unplugged almost feels like it could have been a Nirvana 3.5 album in itself. The performance raises some interesting questions about the groundwork the band may have been laying in anticipation for their fourth studio album. Stipe would have been the perfect individual to build on this, and Nirvana could have shown a far more delicate and melodic side to that which we were previously used to.
Unfortunately, though, we will never know what Nirvana had planned, or what a Stipe-Nirvana collaboration would have sounded like. Upon announcing the end of R.E.M, Stipe announced "A wise man once said–’the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave. We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it". What a shame he did not get to build something extraordinary with his friend, and them walk away from it together.