Sliver: The Best of the Box
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2005, Volume 12, #12
Written by John Metzger
One wonders just what Nirvana’s fallen front man Kurt Cobain would think of the current state of rock ’n‘ roll as well as the obvious market forces that not only drove to fruition last year’s box set With the Lights Out, but also saw to it that the 61-song collection was distilled into this year’s made-for-the-holidays item — Sliver: The Best of the Box. Surely, he’d be infuriated at the very notion of making his fanatical followers hand over another chunk of change simply to obtain the three previously unreleased tracks that are embedded within it — especially since none of newly unearthed selections are terribly special. The lo-fi rendition of Come As You Are, for example, is vastly inferior to its counterpart on Nevermind. In addition, the historically significant, but utterly laughable Spank Thru, which was recorded while the band still referred to itself as Fecal Matter, is merely a curiosity that bears no sign of the genius that would propel Nirvana into the stratosphere. Alas, even though Sappy fares better, it still plods along in an uninspired fashion.
Where Sliver: The Best of the Box does succeed, however, is in trimming out a lot of the fat that made With the Lights Out such a bloated affair, and in its chronological presentation of B-sides, demos, and other assorted oddities, it concisely traverses the complete arc of Nirvana’s storied career. There’s little doubt that the band thrived upon the messy substrate of its existence or that the emotionally raw intensity of its material succeeded in touching a nerve in adolescents and twenty-somethings across the country, all of whom were sick and tired of the prepackaged, commercialized tidiness that had become a mainstay within the music industry. However, when comparing the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker from the group’s first live performance in 1987 with the full-band demo of Rape Me from late 1992, it immediately becomes apparent how far Nirvana came, how quickly it developed its distinctive voice, and how well it learned to channel its chaos into the creation of its art, all in a relatively short period of time.
Highlights on Sliver: The Best of the Box include the tortured love of Blandest; the ferocious non-LP single Oh the Guilt; a lost nugget from the sessions for Nevermind titled Old Age; the melodic intonations and pop-imbued harmonies of Clean Up before She Comes; and a skeletal version of About a Girl that creaks along like an old blues dirge. Granted, none of the material is, on its own, particularly revelatory, nor is any of it truly on par Nirvana’s finest moments. However, when taken as a whole, the collection becomes something greater, and in the end, it effectively illuminates how a group of kids from Aberdeen, Washington could become a pop culture phenomenon that was caught within the mainstream currents against which it was fighting.
Sliver: The Best of the Box is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box