Between 1999 and 2013, each of the Big 4 bands released multi-disc compilations. In this post, I will take a fairly quick look at each of them.
Alice In Chains had the actual gall to include already-released album tracks in this box set full of demos, b-sides and three never-released tunes.
The '88 demos are a glance at their glam roots, including a phenomenally great "Sea of Sorrow." The spidery, sinewy "What the Hell Have I" (taken from the soundtrack of the unfairly maligned Last Action Hero) appears in "remix" form--although I'll be damned if I can hear a difference. Still nasty as maggots on coconut cream pie. The people who hear "Barracuda" and "Straight On" and just go, "nah son," well, those trash taste-havin' motherfuckers can revel in the alt-mix of "Brother." The trio of New! songs are unremarkable, save for "Get Born Again," a tilt-a-whirl on homemade milk.
Pearl Jam's dogs want to live free, damnit, I say let them live free! A shit-ton of b-sides, fan club singles, compilation tracks and album outtakes (mostly from Binaural) over two discs. Highlights include "All Night," "Sad," and "Black, Red, Yellow," all fine examples of what a lifetime of gritted teeth and knotted hands can do to a person. Oddities include "Whale Song" (best use of animal sounds in a song since "Midwest Swing"), "Sweet Lew" (the "singing" debut of bassist Jeff Ament, since he couldn't trust anyone else to convey the profound disenchantment of meeting a basketball hero) and the hidden track, "4/20/02," a bitter tribute to Layne Staley that calls out the corpse-pecking phonies whose guilt may be assuaged by his death.
Lost Dogs is also home to two of the biggest hits in their history: "Yellow Ledbetter," which is still a rock radio staple, and a cover of Wayne Cochran's "Last Kiss" that is the biggest-ever hit by a grunge band, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1999.
The Nirvana box was all set for 2001. Then, Courtney Love stepped in, arms crossed and scowl etched. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl planned to include "You Know You're Right," a song from the band's final recording session. The widow Cobain insisted that the track had such hit potential that placing it on a box set, to make it one of dozens, would be a waste. Hence, Nirvana, a single-disc greatest hits compilation released in 2002.
The long-awaited box set finally hit stores two years later: a 3 CD/1 DVD mammoth packed with radio sessions, live performances, home demos, b-sides and rehearsals, including material dating as far back as 1986. At best, a fascinating look into the creative process. "Anorexorcist" is one of the earliest tracks and that bitch rips like a cactus on a motor scooter "Even In His Youth" shows what a brilliant instrument Cobain's voice could be (and, with polish, could've knocked "Scoff" off Bleach). "Sappy" is basically the Beatles with fibromyalgia.
Makeup-free versions of "Polly" and "About A Girl" prove the old adage that practice makes perfect. "Dive" is still bad-ass with busy drums and trauma-free yelling. "Drain You"--with Dale Crover!--sounds great despite being recorded in the world's largest washtub while a neighbor sidearms fish bobbers at them.
Unless you're a Nirvana freak, you don't need to hear most of the tracks here more than once.
Three CDs, and still nowhere near a complete collection. The scatting leg-sweep "Sub Pop Rock City" kicks it off, followed by the serial killer lullaby "Toy Box." "HIV Baby" and "Cold Bitch" are stupider than I'd suspected (the latter's too pretentious to be offensive). The bleak clamor of "Birth Ritual" is a welcome antidote to the likes of "Black Rain" (a pointlessly cryptic hodgepodge of hackneyed imagery and half-decent U-turns of phrase) and especially "Exit Stonehenge," which conspired with "Spoonman" to comprise the stupidest single in grunge history.
The covers are mostly successful--including two Beatles songs--but their interpretation of Devo's "Girl U Want" is befuddling. Don't believe me, ask Gerald Casale.
Although I haven't heard anything concrete, the possibility of a more thorough Soundgarden box set within the next five years must be pretty high. At least, higher than it was before the shocking death of Chris Cornell on May 18, 2017, mere hours after Soundgarden's gig at Detroit's Fox Theatre.
Meaning, Eddie Vedder is the only singer of a Big 4 band still alive.
The legacy of each of these bands should not be tragic ones. The music they gave to the world should (and I suspect, will) endure beyond the extraneous. Soundgarden will be remembered as the virtuosos, the caterpillars of the community; Nirvana, the most revered, the door-smashers; Alice In Chains as proof that metal can make a valuable ingredient in the right hands; and Pearl Jam, hailed for their endurance and integrity.
I thank them all for their individual roles in shaping my life.