Listen to Kurt Cobain’s isolated vocals on Nirvana track ‘Something in The Way’

Few songs demonstrate just how important Cobain’s vocals were to Nirvana’s era-defining sound quite like ‘Something In The Way’. Deceptively simple but full to the brim with nuance, the track’s melody line is sung in such a way that Cobain’s presence is almost imperceptible. Like the pendulous melodies of Satie’s Gymnopodies, Cobain’s vocals for this 1991 Nevermind track are so well-honed that the melody becomes a sort of sonic furniture, filling the song with depth and colour.

Much of ‘Something In The Way’ is autobiographical. The track’s opening lyric, “underneath the bridge”, is a reference to an incident in which Cobain was kicked out of his house and was forced to sleep rough. This opening fragment of imagery places the listener in two settings. The first is obvious: the rain-soaked bridge where Cobain’s flimsy tarp has “sprung a leak”. We join him there as he mumbles his surrealistic observations: “And the animals / I’ve trapped / Have all become my pets”. The second setting exists in tandem with the first. As we join Cobain in his soggy hell, we also venture into his inner world, a subterranean swirl of self-introspection and melancholy.

Butch Vig’s production allowed Nirvana to convey the duality at the heart of ‘Something in The Way’ with impressive subtlety. While the verses are mumbled and monotone, reflecting the inane chatterings of an inner monologue – the choruses are comparatively bright, the vocal overdubs and harmonies bringing out the warmth in Cobain’s voice. Apparently, Butch Vig tried recording the track with Cobain in the live room but found that the essence of the song died as soon as he stepped in front of the microphone.

Recalling how difficult it was to capture ‘Something In The Way’, Vig recalled: “After three or four takes of trying to cut it live in the main room, it just wasn’t happening. Kurt came into the control room. Out of frustration, he sat on the couch and basically said, ‘it needs to sound like this’. He laid on his back and he started playing the guitar and he was barely singing; it was coming out almost a whisper. I was like ‘okay, stop stop stop’, and I quickly grabbed a couple of mics and I plugged them in. I unplugged the phone. I turned the fans off and the tape machine and I said: ‘This is it. Do what you think you need to do right now’. And I literally held my breath for three minutes while he sang. And I mean it was so quiet and yet it was so powerful.”

Stream the isolated audio, below.

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