Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)

Nirvana‘s MTV Unplugged in New York might have become one of the most mystic live & unplugged albums of all-time. Maybe the fact that the concert first aired on MTV on December 16, 1993, just a few months before the tragic death of frontman Kurt Cobain, created the dramatic yet legendary aura around the release, which it hasn’t lost t this day – more than 20 years later.

I remember anxiously awaiting the concert on MTV with my VCR ready to tape the show to later play it back onto my cassette deck. However, I was initially somehow surprised by the arrangements of the songs. I expected a more aggressive and raw performance, but was presented calm and melodramatic interpretations of songs. Nevertheless, while the band played All Apologies, my state of confusion (and maybe disappointment) turned to appreciation for what Kurt Cobain was trying to portray. Ever since, this beautiful unplugged album has been played over and over again.

Many things have been written about this iconic piece of music history. Here a selection:

Unplugged reveals the brilliance beneath [Nirvana’s genius — the band’s way with noise]: the melodic gifts, troubling insight and deep intelligence of an artist whose loss still hurts. (rollingstone.com, 2011)”

“Nirvana’s legendary Unplugged in New York has never really had the chance to be evaluated outside of the canonization of Kurt Cobain that followed his entry into the “27 Club.”  It’s admittedly hard to hear him sing lines like “I swear I don’t have a gun.” and “Don’t expect me to die,” without thinking about what would tragically follow, only four months after the performance. … There is no way of listening to Unplugged in New York without invoking death, it’s in every note, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a masterpiece. (Andrew Wallace Chamings, 2013)”

“Some people consider [MTV Unplugged in New York] to be Kurt Cobain, the tortured genius, stripping both his songs, and himself, to the bone in a brilliant, painfully raw performance that amounts to a kind of suicide note. … Others reckon it to be an interesting and eclectic example of the Unplugged format, but that any deeper meaning is the product of myth-making and hindsight. (Chris Cottingham, 2007)”

Unplugged gave the listeners unprecedented access to a musician who did his best to keep them at arms-length. The intimate nature of the record brings Cobain and his music down to earth, the bum notes and audience banter ground this album, making it accessible, and as you noted, very human. That’s the power of this album — it is transformative, not only for Cobain, but for his fans, allowing everyone to meet in the middle, one last time, and revel in the power of music. (Mendelssohn & Klinger, 2014)”

“MTV Unplugged is a farewell note that it is, all at once, heart wrenching, brilliant, and an open summation of Kurt Cobain’s torment and talent. A blend of old Nirvana songs and covers of Cobain’s favourite artists (The Vaselines, David Bowie, The Meat Puppets, Lead Belly), MTV Unplugged is such an open display of emotion and pain that it is impossible to listen to without being moved. (sputnikmusic.com, 2011)”

Sebastiano Mereu

YouTuber + host of the #FHTZ online music show with co-producer @simonkurt + marketing & digital content producer + university lecturer