Two reasons, out of a tangled myriad of others, that Kurt Cobain’s music — equal parts love-buzz Lennon/McCartney melodies and atonal Lou Reed white light/white heat — was so easy for listeners to identify with:
(1) He was like that friend of yours who did nothing but smoke pot and turn you on to the greatest music you’ve never heard (except Cobain actually did do something with his wealth of aural trivia by picking up a guitar).
(2) His music was a composite of the vast, eclectic history of rock, pop, R&B, punk, and blues that he so cherished (and turned into some of the greatest music you’ve ever heard).
As a soundtrack the new Cobain doc, the track list to Kurt Cobain About a Son attempts to reflect reason number one through execution and reason number two by implication. Featuring no music by Cobain or Nirvana, the disc is instead a composite of songs by some of Cobain’s most treasured artists, acting as both an imaginary mixtape Cobain would’ve made a friend and as “best of” of Nirvana sounds. The throat-bled scrape and din of Bleach (1989) can be heard in the lumbering sludge-punk of the Melvins’ “Eye Flys” and Bad Brains’ “Banned in D.C.”; the chunky-riffed pop integrity of Nevermind (1991) can be heard springing from the foreheads of the Creedence Clearwater Revival groove-fest “Up Around the Bend” and the twisted bubblegum of Half Japanese weirdo “Put Some Sugar on It”; the yin-yang of feedback wails and subversive pop of In Utero (1993) are heard gestating in the noise-epic “Owner’s Lament” by Scratch Acid and Iggy Pop’s still-strange “The Passenger”; finally, the somber resignation of the Leonard Cohen afterworld of Unplugged in New York (1994) is represented by R.E.M.’s “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” and Mark Lanegan’s spectral, haunting “Museum,” along with cuts by Leadbelly and David Bowie for added variety and texture.
As a representation of Cobain’s musical history, the disc is only able to scratch the surface, though this may be attributed more to legal/budget entanglements and royalty disputes rather than weak song selection. Still, no Pixies, Raincoats, Knack, Cheap Trick, Neil Young, or Leonard Cohen? Further, the flow of the mix is interrupted by too-short clips of Cobain musing about music; these tracks are meant to add context to the songs, but they’re generally too short to add anything of value beyond the nostalgia of listening to the twentysomething curmudgeon bitch on MTV about MTV. Like most comps, this one suffers from too small a canvas to please everyone who picks it up, yet it still contains enough great music to make you think about picking up the guitar again.