Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged” album stands the test of time

Róisín Phelan

NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 25: HILVERSUM Photo of Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA, Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum Studios, playing Takamine acoustic guitar (Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns)

Nirvana released their “MTV Unplugged in New York” live album 25-years-ago, and to this day it has remained a reminder of the legacy of the band.

The album was originally recorded at Sony Music Studios on November 18th, 1993 and aired as part of the television series MTV Unplugged.

When the band eventually released it a year later on November 4th, 1994 it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. It was the first album released after the death of their guitarist and front man, Kurt Cobain, and struck a chord with fans of the American rock band.

The combination of MTV and Nirvana was one that raised eyebrows to begin with but the pairing went on to pleasantly surprise onlookers.

The album continued on to be certified platinum five times over in the US by 1997, and won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album the same year but accolades are not what makes it so memorable to fans.

The album was strikingly different to anything Nirvana had released. It was mostly acoustic and it included performances of lesser known songs and even covers of other artists’ music.

According to band member Dave Grohl, this was a conscious decision made by Nirvana.

“We’d seen the other Unplugged’s and didn’t like many of them, because most bands would treat them like rock shows—play their hits like it was Madison Square Garden, except with acoustic guitars.”

This decision made for more of an intimate viewing and listening for fans.

Nirvana fan and final year multimedia student Hayden Guy Nguyen said the album was Nirvana’s best work.

“For me the MTV Unplugged album is Nirvana in its absolute rawest form. Nothing is lost from the change from electric to acoustic guitars and in fact something might actually be gained,” Nguyen said.

“It’s an album with distinct emotion and storytelling elements and you can feel the turmoil in Cobain’s voice as he sings. This is the Nirvana album that people who aren’t used to listening to Nirvana can listen to, and for the Nirvana fans, it’s something entirely different.”

This unplugged album seems to have stood the test of time and continues to be enjoyed by fans to this day.

As Nguyen said, the album offers an easy method of listening for those who are new to the band’s music and offers an emotional journey and reminder to those who have been fans for longer.

In the footage of the recording of the album, a different side of Cobain is displayed. Instead of seeing the hardcore, angry, rock icon, viewers see a soulful and pained lyricist.

This image of Cobain is one that transcends through to the audio recordings and it is fair to say that it is the point of difference that has allowed this album to remain so powerful and meaningful.

This footage released before Cobain’s death, separate to the album gave a sense of hope to many Nirvana fans, who at the time had worries about his health and well being.

In a recent Rolling Stones article David Browne wrote:

“Whatever demons were circling him, Kurt Cobain was in total control on a night that showed what his future could have been.”

In its 25th anniversary, MTV Unplugged in New York is still held with prestige by critics and is respected as a cornerstone of the bands lifespan.

Róisín Phelan

Image Credit: Flickr