Courtney Love

Twenty-one years after his death, Kurt Cobain’s music still resonates with audiences. On Monday, HBO premiered “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” the only documentary about Kurt Cobain made with the cooperation of his family. Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, first approached director Brett Morgen about the project in 2007.

During the film’s production, the Cobain family provided Morgen with Cobain’s unreleased recordings and home videos. The result is a thoughtful journey through Cobain’s life, taking audiences from his childhood to his years as the front man for Nirvana.

Through Cobain’s home videos, Morgen tracks his transformation from a cheerful, exuberant child into a tormented musician battling drug addiction and insecurities. The two bright spots of his life were his wife, Love, and his infant daughter, Frances. Audiences see Cobain’s genuine self, not his onstage persona — Morgen gives us the man, not the artist. Morgen amplifies the tragedy of Cobain’s suicide by shedding light on his too-short life.

“Montage of Heck” features Morgen’s interviews with Cobain’s parents, his sister, former Nirvana member Krist Novoselic and Love. Their anecdotes reveal that Cobain wanted to build and sustain a family to make up for the failings of his own parents. Behind the apathetic image Cobain built for himself, he was a man who deeply cared about having people who loved him.

Morgen also gives snippets of Cobain’s many doodles and journal entries, allowing unfiltered, intimate access into his thoughts. Cobain’s hopes, dreams and demons become most visible during the scenes in which his handwriting fills the screen and his grotesque drawings of monsters and corpses are crudely animated.

As time passes, his journal entries shift from planning his band to expressing his anger at the press for humiliating him and his family. Cobain’s regression climaxes when Morgen shows us a wall of text which repeats “kill yourself.”    

The film plays archived recordings of Cobain’s interviews about his life, accompanied by Morgen’s hand-drawn animations. Those scenes are some of the film’s most effective: They capture Cobain’s loneliness after his parents’ divorce when he was 7 and his frustration with virginity as a teen. Instead of merely hearing about Cobain’s rebelliousness and his delinquent behavior, audiences get to see a boy struggling to make sense of his life.

At the same time, these animations are also used to show small moments of joy. One animated sequence includes Cobain’s unedited home demo of “Been a Son.” The scene demonstrates the happiness he found in songwriting and depicts him answering the phone mid-take, emphasizing how raw the documentary is when using Cobain’s personal recordings and writings.

Background music plays a crucial role in creating the tone of the film. During its coverage of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the movie features a children’s choir’s performance, creating a melancholy moment. Of all the songs in the documentary, Cobain’s cover of The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” is the most heart-wrenching. The song’s agony captures Cobain’s battle with fame and drugs.    

“Montage of Heck” spends too much time on Nirvana’s live concerts, which could’ve been cut in favor of footage from Cobain’s childhood. Nirvana’s performance of “Territorial Pissings” at the Reading Festival in 1992 shows an immobile Cobain, contrasting with his more jubilant style pre-Nevermind.

At the end of the performance, Kurt lashes out, ramming his guitar and knocking over the on-stage amplifiers. Although this moment reveals Kurt’s state of mind, more exclusive footage of Cobain and his family would have worked better in establishing his depression.

“Montage of Heck” is an insightful documentary that explores Cobain’s humanity with never-before-seen footage and rare interviews with his family. Morgen avoids eulogizing Cobain, presenting his strengths and flaws in equal measure. We leave the film not quite sure about what Cobain the artist was trying to say, but we do leave understanding the man.

Title: “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”

Score: 9/10

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 132 minutes


Fall Out Boy performs in Austin at South By South West. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

While Andy Hurley and Joe Trohman were playing drums and guitar, respectively, in metal supergroup The Damned Things, Pete Wentz was playing bass in electronic duo Black Cards and Patrick Stump was embarking on a strange solo career and producing for Gym Class Heroes. Somehow, the former members of Fall Out Boy found time to secretly record an entire album and turned heads when they released the single “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)” back in February.

Save Rock N Roll is somewhat of a misnomer. The album is their least rock-influenced to date. Where antecedent Folie à Deux had easily distinguishable instrumentation, Save Rock N Roll intentionally attempts to hide the guitars and bass under heavy production to strive for a post-arena rock feel. 

The album begins with an orchestral string section on “The Phoenix.” Within seconds, it’s clear how drastically Fall Out Boy has changed its sound over the years. Evening Out With Your Girlfriend was unabashed pop punk, before the band transitioned to alternative pop rock on its album, Infinity on High. The orchestral sampling has become one of the band’s main staples, with roots in Infinity on High’s “Thnks fr th Mmrs” and “The (After) Life Of The Party.” “The Phoenix” sets the tone of Fall Out Boy’s return as a triumphant reclamation of their abandoned genre. 

“Alone Together” has some of the album’s best lyrics like “My heart is like a stallion/they love it more when it’s broken.” “Just One Yesterday” begins with the same melody as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” and the theme is similar as well. Stump proves his versatile vocal skills with effortless switches into falsetto and bellowing baritones. “Miss Missing You” is an 80s throwback with pulsating synthesizers. 

No stranger to heavyweight guest vocalists, like Jay-Z on Infinity on High or Lil Wayne on Folie à Deux, the album’s four featured artists have a 50 percent success rate.  

“The Mighty Fall (feat. Big Sean)” is the album’s lowest point, displaying the tension between Fall Out Boy and its aspirations of arena/party rock. Big Sean’s intro “Turn up … fall out,” and subsequent verse “Hell yeah I’m a dick, girl … addicted to you,” make pushing the “next track” button inevitable. 

Also problematic is “Rat A Tat (feat. Courtney Love).” The song’s first few seconds have her declaring, “…It’s Courtney, bitch,” an unpromising, but fitting, beginning. Good thing she cleared that up, though. Who even knew she was still alive? Love’s vocals are unintelligible and heavily distorted, but thankfully pass quickly. 

The closing title track features Elton John in a surprisingly good match. John and Stump’s soulful vocals outline their duty to “Defend the faith/Going down swinging,” like the band’s first hit “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” The track works well as an outro, fading out with a nice violin refrain. 

Of course, bands coming out of retirement invariably draw criticism for upsetting old fans like Blink 182’s Neighborhoods, for example. The album’s ubiquitous youthful chorus is not only unnecessary, but annoying. Fall Out Boy tries too hard and too soon with its comeback album, but the band was never to be taken all too seriously anyway. 

The Yeay Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito
Album: Mosquito
Label: Interscope
Songs to download: "Sacrilege," "Slave"

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs has finally become what everyone knew it would be — excessively bohemian art rockers. The New York trio hit it big with single “Maps” but on Mosquito it lost its way. The group ends up straying too far from the appealing alternative rock and enters the realm of obscurity, though lead single “Sacrilege” is exceptional. Take title track “Mosquito,” for example, where vocalist Karen O thoughtlessly muses about the eponymous subject over echoing bongos, which makes the whole album sounds like an episode of Def Jam Poetry. Additionally, the album could win the award for worst cover art of the year.  

The Flaming Lips' The Terror
The Terror
Label: Warner Bros.
Songs to download: None

The Flaming Lips, while not being easily accessible, is back for its thirteenth album. Let it be known that The Terror is not for the casual listener looking for cheap thrills, but one looking for a musical experience. The Terror is a dissonant attack on one’s hearing, and should be treated like a fleeting glance at the sublime. Unfortunately, it just sounds like a bunch of noise thrown together. 

Printed on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 as Fall Out Boy releases ambitious comeback album