January 31, 2005 12:00 PM

WITH THE LIGHTS OUT

CRITIC’S CHOICE

REVIEWED BY CHUCK ARNOLD

ROCK

Most rock bands wouldn’t rate a box set after putting out just three studio albums. But Nirvana wasn’t like most rock bands. They were the kind of band that comes around once, if that, in a generation. Which is why anticipation had been amped to mythic heights for this four-disc collection (three CDs plus one DVD), which Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, once promised would be “the holy grail of rock and roll.” After a three year battle between Love and the surviving members of Nirvana (Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic) over this box set-which was initially planned for release in 2001 to mark the 10th anniversary of Nevermind-it finally sees the light of day. And while musically it has its dim moments, it is a fascinating, warts-and-all study of the trio, replete with demos, B-sides, outtakes and other rarities. You can practically feel the grunge under your fingernails from Nirvana’s formative days heard on Disc 1, which kicks off with a raucous cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker,” played at the group’s first show in 1987. Disc 2 finds Nevermind coming into bloom. Listening to the 1991 rehearsal demo of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which Cobain’s raw yowl, sends shivers down your spine all over again. Perhaps because we know how the story ends (with Cobain’s suicide in 1994), there is a sadness surrounding the In Utero-era sessions on Disc 3. After the CD closes with his haunting acoustic solo turn on “All Apologies,” you can’t help but wonder, “What if?”

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (rehearsal demo, 1991)

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