The Nevermind 20th Anniversary Release: Anatomy of a Disaster

Yesterday marked the release of the 20th Anniversary Editions of Nevermind. It should have been a joyous occasion for aging grunge rockers like myself, but leave it to corporate greed, shitty marketing, and bad audio engineering to fuck it all up.

First of all, instead of just releasing one great edition they opted to release three different ones, creating needless confusion. Here are the differences between them:

Standard Edition
One disc, no thrills. You can get this everywhere.

Deluxe Edition
Available in both 2CD and 4LP flavors. Includes the original album, B-sides, BBC recordings, rehearsal tapes and the alternate “Devonshire” mix of the album. You can…kind of get this everywhere (more on that in a bit). You can also get a 4 LP picture disc edition at Nirvana’s website, which is limited to 500 copies in America and 1991 copies worldwide.

Super Deluxe Edition
Everything in the Deluxe Edition, plus a CD and DVD of the Live At Paramount show. No Blu-ray though, that’s separate (and also a Best Buy exclusive).


Okay, got all that? Good. The Super Deluxe Edition has the most content, so that was the version I was intent on buying. But I had my doubts. I had read this morning that the new remaster was a victim of “The Loudness War.” I borrowed a copy from a friend online *cough* *cough* and had a look for myself.

Here’s a before and after comparison of “Stay Away.” The top is from the original CD release, the bottom from the new remaster:

Yup, it’s too fucking loud. The defining album of my generation has been shat upon by lazy audio engineers and brain-dead studio execes. No thank you.

I wasn’t going to pay $100+ for that. So instead I opted for the vinyl release.

It is physically impossible for vinyl to be loud enough to create clipping. The grooves can’t be cut that deep. Although this doesn’t mean that the vinyl version sounds better. Labels will often just use the shit digital master for their vinyl release;  it still has the same problems, even if it looks quieter. But sometimes we get lucky and the vinyl version gets its own master, so with my fingers crossed for a miracle  I headed to Best Buy to pick it up. I figured since they were the exclusive retailer for the Super Deluxe and Blu-ray releases, then they might have the vinyl version as well.

Nope. As it turns out it’s not in stock at any Best Buy. That’s because it doesn’t come out until next week, even though Best Buy’s website lists the release date for the vinyl version as 9/26. In fact, they’re even using the vinyl edition artwork to advertise the Super Deluxe package:

Good job guys!

The record industry loves to blame illegal downloading for their plummeting sales. And while I’m sure that’s a part of it, let’s just take a look at this situation here.

I was prepared to spend $110 bucks on an album, but I didn’t because they mastered it wrong and it sounds like shit. Then I was prepared to spend $79.98 on the LP version just on the chance that it might sound good, but I can’t even do that until next week. And when I do, I’ll buy it from Amazon (the 4LP version is NOT a Best Buy exclusive, despite what that lying graphic says) for ten bucks less. DGC screwed themselves out of an additional $40, and Best Buy screwed themselves out of all my money.

Fuck Best Buy. Most specifically, fuck their “exclusive” lies. It’s bullshit in more ways than one.

First of all, any exclusive release is a crock. They screw over independent retailers and help drive up prices by eliminating competition. Secondly, making Nevermind a store exclusive pretty much goes against everything that band stood for.

Thirdly, it’s not even a real exclusive. It’s just a “timed” exclusive. After a certain number of weeks the Super Deluxe version and the Paramount Blu-ray will be available at all retail outlets, big and small. Of course, no one at Best Buy is going to tell you that.

I’ll let you know how the 4LP version sounds when I buy it, and until we all find out how that one sounds I would highly recommend NOT buying the Super Deluxe edition if you value audio quality and artistic integrity. If the 4LP version does sound just as shitty as the CD version, then I can only recommend you steal the album online. Because if DGC is willing to fuck up a classic that bad, then we should fuck them right back.

You know who showed real respect to Nirvana and their legacy? The bootleggers. In the mid-90s, a girth of rare Nirvana recordings made their way onto a bootleg series called Outcesticide (a play on the Nirvana compilation Incesticide). The five Outcesticide releases feature a stellar collection of rare tracks and live recordings. They’re so comprehensive that many suspect that members of Nirvana or Kurt’s friends must have somehow been involved in their creation.

Here are some highlights from the Outcesticide albums that have yet to see an official release.

Sappy (1988 Home Recording)
There are countless versions of “Sappy.” Different recordings appear on With the Lights Out; the  Bleach 20th Anniversary Edition; Sliver: Best Of The Box; and on the new Nevermind re-issue. It was a song that Kurt tinkered with for years, going back before even the release of Bleach. Here’s one of the earliest known recordings of the tune, with just Kurt and a guitar. It’s rough around the edges and it sounds like shit, but it has an intensity and power that he never re-created on any of the other versions.

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter/My Sharona
My Best Friend’s Girl
Kurt may be remembered for his addiction and depression, but he had a wicked sense of humor, something that occasionally manifested itself on stage. These two bootleg recordings show that Kurt was willing to have fun sometimes, even when he probably felt that his world was collapsing around him (the “Best Friend’s Girl” cover is taken from the last Nirvana concert – he would be dead two months later).

Smells Like Teen Spirit (Live with Flea on Trumpet)
Flea on trumpet! I think that description says it all!

Scentless Apprentice (Live)
A lot of people like to hypothesize about what would have happened if Kurt hadn’t killed himself, and what direction Nirvana would have gone in. I like to think that they would have gotten really weird. The group had already thrown away most of the shackles of grunge rock by the time they got around to recording Nevermind, and with In Utero Kurt seemed intent on taking things even further. Who knows how crazy things would have gotten. Maybe this extended, feedback-heavy live version of Scentless Apprentice gives us a taste what might have been.

Excerpts Of Band / Audience Bulls*!##ing & Rantings Available
Let’s end on a happy note. This collection of random concert banter by the band is from the vinyl edition of The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah. Listen to it and learn what Krist thinks of white boy funk.

Update 9/30/11
To those who have emailed me and asked, I will be getting both the 4LP version and the picture disc versions of the Deluxe Edition (because I’m an idiot). I will report on their sound quality when I get them. The 4LP version is due on the  4th, and I should be getting the picture disc version near the end of the month.

Update 10/02/11
Think I’m full of shit? Read this first. 

Update 10/06/11
The vinyl is in! Guess what? It sucks!  Also, Bob Ludwig wants you to know you don’t count.

19 Responses to “The Nevermind 20th Anniversary Release: Anatomy of a Disaster”

  1. Officer Serpico says:

    Nice post! I was intent on picking up the deluxe edition but I’m balking at the price, which is a bit ridiculous. I remember picking up With The Lights Out at Target on the day or release for like $50 tops. The Bleahc reissue on vinyl was only about $30 and had a whole live show included, too.

    My sister and I were Nirvana freaks in our early teens so between us we had a stack of boots like Outcesticide and full shows like the Out Of The Blue and Roma discs. We also had all of the import singles, etc, so the B-sides aren’t really a revelation tho it’s cool to have them all in one place.

    Now, we had the Trick Or Treat boot way back in 95, but the highlight of this whole reissue business for me is still the Live At The Paramount DVD. I might skip everything else but I’m definitely picking this up. The Trick Or Treat boot was a soundboard recording and was one of the best sounding bootlegs I ever got to hear on CD, but actually SEEING this show is an exciting prospect for me. From 88-92 these guys killed it live consistently. Can’t wait!

  2. Lost Turntable says:

    Get the Blu-ray!

  3. truth says:

    if it sucks so bad why even bother debating picking it up? i wouldnt pay for any of this…

  4. Lost Turntable says:

    The suckage of the 4LP version remains to be seen.

  5. Le Kid Bongo says:

    A lot of modern releases sound appalling on a decent hi-fi system because of the loudness war; distortion, clipping and very little dynamic range. It sounds OK on a transistor radio, but that’s about it.
    Cheers for the heads up on the Nirvana releases – I continue to enjoy the site.

  6. i’m not saying it ain’t so, but isn’t this test a bit unscientific? i mean, he got the rip from either the web or torrents, and the levels on the varying computers used in ripping will factor into the final waveform. i know that i have re-downloaded another torrent of the same album i just got *several* times due to the first one being too quiet or too clipped out and distorted…. and been pleased with a better rip (not even necessarily at a better bitrate, just not turned up too loud).

    to say with any certainty, he would have to rip the tracks from old and new cd’s both onto his own computer, using the same settings, and compare those.

  7. Near Vana says:

    On top of ALL THAT, I purchased the blu-ray at Best Buy because I didn’t want to wait until retailers get it AFTER CHRISTMAS. Low and behold, I get home to find that the audio is NOT synched up with the performance. I checked both of my players and such was the case. I’m not sure if it’s every disc that’s messed up, but I’m afraid to exchange it to find the same problem. Glad to hear some people are speaking out against this massively disappointing re-issue. Sad face.

  8. Near Vana says:

    Just checked the comments on Amazon for the Blu-Ray and yup, MANY people experiencing the audio out of synch issues. They need to recall the Blu-Ray. ASAP.

  9. Lost Turntable says:

    I did a lot more sampling and testing then I went into here. I compared the waveform of Curmudgeon from the 2004 WTLO box set to the one in this Special Edition and they are identical. I’m willing to bet these masters were done around the same time.

  10. Lost Turntable says:

    I actually haven’t had that problem. A lot of Blu-ray players are running different firmware. Have you tried it on a PS3?

  11. jeffd says:

    Uhmm… you acquired you copy of the remaster online..from a friend.. so not only is YOUR source compressed, but you have no idea how it was encoded either.

    This article has about as much proof as the grain of salt you should be taking it with. This could just be some idiot encoding the mp3’s baddly and uploading them.

  12. Lost Turntable says:

    Short response: You’re wrong.

    Long response: See my upcoming post.

  13. J. says:

    Lossy data compression (such as mp3s) is a different thing than compressing the dynamic range of the audio waveform.

  14. Tony Baloney says:

    Nirvana was played out eighteen years ago . . .

    Go buy an album by The Clash instead.

  15. Lost Turntable says:

    Or you could listen to both and not be a fucking troll.

    Also, Nirvana’s “worst” album was Nevermind. Clash’s was Cut The Crap. Which would would you rather listen to?

  16. Uncle Bob says:

    I bought the 4-LP vinyl box yesterday. To my ears, it suffers from the same issue as the digital versions. Steer clear of it if you care about this sort of thing.

  17. […] The Lost Turntable and an […]

  18. […] anniversary rerelease of Nirvana’s Nevermind, calling out everyone involved for simply jacking up the volume of the record and ruining the aural dynamics that made the damn thing so interesting in […]

  19. dobyblue says:

    Late to the party I know, but as Uncle Bob said the 4LP vinyl is just as shite as the CD, loudness wars everywhere. The 24/96 high resolution download is the same crappy loud master, even the new Blu-ray Audio version from UMe (High Fidelity Pure Audio, “NO compromise” is the tagline) is the SAME SHIT.

    Look, the original CD blows the 20th anniversary edition out of the water, the dynamics went from 12dB to 7dB.

    But if you’re looking for the DEFINITIVE version of this great album, pick up the 2009 Original Recordings Group version (ORG Music). It was mastered from the original analogue stereo master and cut all analogue by Bernie Grundman pressed pretty perfectly at Pallas in Germany. There’s a blue one and a black one, either one sounds bloody amazing. I’ve heard MANY versions of Nevermind including the ORG vinyl, the MOFI vinyl AND compact disc, the UK Back to Black vinyl and the original Geffen CD and the ORG is the one that just hits the mark and kicks you square in the teeth – the resolve of Grohl’s hi-hat and cymbals is so perfect, I’ve never heard it so precise like the kit is right in front of you.

    In good news the 20th Anniversary of In Utero actually ADDS dynamic range when compared to the original CD release. Kudos to Steve Albini for not dicking about, negative points to Bob Ludwig on Nevermind for not saying “are you fucking kidding me?” to Universal when they said “slam it”.

    The 2LP 45rpm version of Incesticide is brilliant too, again cut by Grundman and pretty much the same as the ORG version of INcesticide but it does benefit somewhat from the increased speed. The ORG unplugged is the bomb too, but for In Utero you may wish to choose between the ORG and the UMe 45rpm pressing, whichever one is more in your budget.

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