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Nirvana -  Secret Theatre CD (album) cover

SECRET THEATRE

Nirvana

 

Proto-Prog

1.95 | 3 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars I've written before that most of the Nirvana (UK) CD reissues and probably at least one of the band's reunions wouldn't have happened without the success Kurt Cobain and Nirvana (US) and the resulting lawsuit filed on behalf of Patrick Campbell-Lyons since his use of the name predated Cobain's by twenty years.

I only mention this because it's the best explanation for this collection of outtakes, b-sides, demo cuts and other rarities, compiled and released in 1995 in the shadow of Cobain's funeral. I'm pretty sure the planning for the record began prior to Cobain's death so I'm not suggesting Campbell-Lyons was trying to capitalize on the media attention surrounding that (which would have been a particularly egregious plan); but that said, I'm sure Edsel's representatives realized that they could move quite a few copies by getting them out into distribution and letting confusion work to their advantage. It's telling that all Nirvana (UK) compilation CDs and DVDs except this one feature photos of Campbell-Lyons and early work partner Alex Spyropoulos, and their artwork clearly place the music in the late sixties. This one has a sort of futuristic cover depicting a theme that few serious Nirvana (UK) fans would have associated with the band's body of work.

All that aside, the music should speak for itself regardless of how and why it got released. Here again, I can't get particularly enthusiastic. Almost none of these songs appear anywhere else in the band's discography, so anyone looking for a convenient hits package or even an anthology will be quite disappointed. About the only recognizable track is "Rainbow Chaser", a peppy pop-pych number trimmed with brass accompaniment that gained the band some fame when it first released in the late sixties. Otherwise many of these songs are either early promos or demo tracks that never made it onto studio releases when they were first recorded, several of which came from the latter days of the band after Spyropoulos left and Campbell-Lyons became pretty much a solo act.

But this doesn't mean the CD has no redeeming value. In fact, turns out the most interesting parts are the snippets of spoken-word narration Campbell-Lyons tells about certain music-industry people he has known, using them to preface related songs. "Bad Boy" prefaced by "Indiscreet Harlequin" tells of the rise and fall of Island Records A&R man Guy Stevens, best known for producing Traffic, Mott the Hoople and the Clash. "Dali" explains Campbell-Lyons' relationship with the artist Salvador Dali and is followed by the fractured love story tune "Jacqueline" which I assume was written around the same time as the band's interaction with Dali. And "Rio de Janeiro" describes a concert and collaboration between Nirvana and reggae star Jimmy Cliff on the eve of Cliff's big break, leading into "Waterfall" which features lead vocals by Cliff.

Not everything works well. "Radio UFO" is a rather sloppy mushpile of electronic sounds, dance rhythm and unoriginal guitar work that doesn't sound like anything that would belong on an album by this or any other Nirvana band. "Electric Money" is pure pop, almost glam- inspired and complete with Motown-like female backing vocals and a vapid theme covering the evils of money. Sounds more like something Sweet or Paper Lace or one of those sorts of groups would have put out. And "Tiny Goddess" sounds all the world like an early Cars demo with Ric Ocasek behind the mic.

But there are a few keepers as well, including a cover of "Girl in the Park" by an obscure mid-sixties pop-psych outfit known as The Smoke and whose only album was titled 'It's Smoke Time' (not very subtle but at least the rolling papers weren't included in the liner notes). "Pascale" is another decent song that showcases Campbell-Lyons' ability to sound very much like a young Roy Orbison when he felt like doing so. "Restless Wind" features vocals by Joe Fagin who I've never heard of, but his voice combined with call- response choral accompaniment give an otherwise pedestrian Campbell-Lyons tune a bit of a lift out of the hippie days and at least into the 80s.

The closing "Girl From Roxyville" is the strangest of all on this album, sounding very much like an 80s new-wave crooner and possibly intended to hint at future work from the Nirvana camp that never really came to fruition.

In all I think this was probably an exploitive album that would never have been released had it not been for Nirvana (US), but I do really like the real-life stories introducing a handful of the songs, and there are a few decent tunes otherwise. Still, this is clearly a compilation that will appeal (at best) only to fans of the band, so I can't give it more than two stars or more than a tepid recommendation. Pick up 1992's 'Travelling on a Cloud' for a better example of the band's best work compiled into a single hits collection.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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