Pop CDs of the week: Destiny's Child | Nirvana

Pop CDs of the week: Kitty Empire on Destiny's Child | Nirvana

Destiny's Child
Destiny Fulfilled

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this record is that it exists at all. No one would have been surprised if the Texan vocal group never made a fourth album. As infamous for abruptly shedding members as they are for notching up hits - the original foursome acrimoniously swapped 50 per cent of their number before becoming a trio - it looked for a time as though the 'Child might have, finally, been whittled down to one. Beyoncé Knowles, the group's focal point, began an acting career and then released her wildly successful debut solo album last year. The other two's chances of a recall didn't look good.

Whether for love or lucre isn't clear, but Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland (who had hits of her own in the interim) are back propping up Beyoncé, and shouldering the unenviable task of bettering Survivor, their hit album of three years ago (not to mention Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love). As with those two records, there is a template here: a handful of sexed-up, Amazonian singles that come generously padded with softer fare.

There are, however, just the paltry two club bangers on this relatively short album. First single 'Lose My Breath' is a relentless, baroque R&B cluster bomb, all stabbing strings and panting Destinies. It is followed by 'Soldier', a ghetto anthem-in-waiting that echoes the Southern bent of much contemporary hip hop. On it, Beyoncé (raised in a very nice house in the suburbs), Michelle (a gospel devotee) and Kelly (just as sweet as pie) declare their preference for a bit of hip-hop rough, a 'soldier' who is 'street' and 'hood'.

And with that, the mighty booty-shaking is over, and Destiny's Child's thoughts turn to love. This is regrettable. 'Cater 2 U' is a glutinous study in subservience from the former Independent Women. They undress their man, fix him dinner, dessert 'and more', as producer Rodney Jerkins lazily pushes the preset marked 'shimmer'. The female solidarity that DC have made a trademark is limply expressed in 'Girl', on which they purport to be your best friend. Yeah, right. The best of the slush is undoubtedly 'Through With Love', a lovely Mario Winans co-production, both lyrically rueful and melodically engaging.

The point of having three Destinies is, of course, to layer their voices. With her production credits, Beyoncé has long been trying to become a vocal arranger, a kind of Brian Wilson of the black female voice. But although there's plenty of interplay here, none of it really raises the hairs on your arms. No one expects Destiny's Child's albums to be as consistently marvellous as their singles, but it's a real shame that their love songs aren't braver.

With the Lights Out

The trouble with retrospection - especially the kind of hagiographical retrospection that comes with a box set - is that it lends everything added poignancy. Even feedback, or the hum and snap of an amp being turned off.

The last sound on the long-heralded and much fought-over Nirvana 3-CD box set - Kurt Cobain's widow Courtney Love held out on the surviving members of Nirvana, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, for many years - is of Cobain switching off at the end of a demo version of 'All Apologies'. His guitar is barely in tune. His voice is the familiar, almost defeated rasp that characterised Nirvana's most thoughtful tracks. This version is undated, but the two demos of new songs that precede it - 'You Know You're Right' and the strange novelty 'Do Re Mi' - are from 1994. Of course, Cobain didn't see much of 1994. And so the final triptych of intimate demos on disc three comes superimposed with our own mournful tint, as well as Cobain's. It's just him, his guitar, and you. And then he switches off.

The quavery coda contrasts with the bulk of With the Lights Out, a pretty well comprehensive and roughly chronological round-up of Nirvana alternate versions, live tracks, radio sessions, covers, dress rehearsals and unissued songs. The majority have never been released before, providing a satisfying return for £40; the DVD boasts even more rarities. The whole package unapologetically caters to the librarian/nerd contingent of the Nirvana fanbase, and those with a healthy appetite for the distortion-heavy metallic punk that became known as grunge in the early Nineties (an appetite especially vital to the appreciation of CD1, the early years). Most everything here is unadorned, ragged, scorched. Nirvana, the multi-platinum rock phenomenon, don't intrude too often on Nirvana, the skinny guys with guitars and - literally, in the suffering Cobain's case - a bellyful of bitter fire.

Nirvana's lyrics, too, warp under the lens of this backwards scrutiny. On 'The Other Improv' - dating from 1993 - an addled-sounding Cobain notes: 'If we didn't have chemicals / You wouldn't be writing my death certificate.' Then there's Cobain's spoken part to the rather fine 'Mrs Butterworth' (1988), in which he details nailing driftwood to plywood and selling it as art for 'lots of money'. If only he knew what was to come.

What else do we learn that we did not know before? That these punks really liked Led Zeppelin, for starters. The collection opens with an endearing live stumble through 'Heartbreaker' from their first gig in 1987, 'Moby Dick' gets an airing a year later. But even in 1992, on a sublime 10-minute version of 'Scentless Apprentice' that's the best full-band track here, Nirvana sound rather like Led Zeppelin played by Big Black, the malevolent former band of their then-producer, Steve Albini.

Other discoveries include a trio of excellent and moving Leadbelly covers to accompany 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night'; a hilariously uncomfortable rendition of the Velvet Underground's 'Here She Comes Now'; and an early songwriting credit for drummer Dave Grohl ('Marigold'). Grohl, of course, went on to front his own band, the extremely successful Foo Fighters.

There's the infamous 'I Hate Myself and I Want to Die', too, a title the disenchanted Cobain wanted to lend to the record that became In Utero. But more enduring than that sour polemic is 'Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip', the dissonant beauty that closed In Utero. Ironically, even though it forms part of the existing Nirvana canon, it makes sense of everything else here. The band are jamming a little aimlessly when Cobain cries: 'One more solo?' The trio instantly hit their stride, bringing the deafening, full-blooded sound of Nirvana, the most important rock band of their generation, into the studio. Cobain screams 'Yeah!' like a kid on a rollercoaster. And then, as quickly as it coalesces, it all falls apart.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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