One baby, to another says I’m lucky to met you.
As Kurt Cobain strummed the first chords of Drain You at the beginning of his Nevermind tour in County Cork Ireland, the idea of an alternative act overtaking the mainstream was a foreign concept to the masses. Merely a supporting act for noise rock legends Sonic Youth, how could a small Aberdeen band rise above their alt kid base and become the biggest rock act of the ’90s?
Was it luck?
Maybe all of the above, who knows. All we know is the group wrote about a deodorant called “Teen Spirit”, and that’s why we love them thirty years on. Regardless, in this thirty-year anniversary review, my only hope is that you transcend and reach Nirvana.
Comprised of punk tunes that complemented Cobain’s pop sensibility, the group changed distinctively from the grunge sound of Bleach and brought a new “Loud, Quiet” dynamic into their music (a style attributed previously to the Pixies). The world was ready to bear witness to the catchy style of About A Girl, on a grand scale with the band’s major-label debut. One could argue this change screams “sellout”, yet even with their biggest song, Smells Like Teen Spirit, the format goes against the grain of traditional pop standards. In other words, the group was more preoccupied with making music they enjoyed than in partaking in the trends of the day. No hair metal for these boys, a steady diet of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Melvins, Sex Pistols, and The Vaselines will do.
The new songs [created for Nevermind] found Kurt plumbing the emotional depths of his own life for material and writing about the characters around him.
Charles R. Cross
What set Nirvana apart from their mainstream contemporaries was a brutal honesty in lyricism. Although Cobain attested to putting melody before lyrics, you can call his bluff with songs such as “Polly”, “Something in the Way”, and “In Bloom”. The album, whilst cryptic, conveyed a charm that made it cool to be sensitive, showcasing the frontman as more than just a “rockstar”. The lyrics also attributed to the mythology of the band, bringing the audience closer to Kurt due to themes such as religion, romance, and alienation. To this day, people continue to try and decipher what Kurt was trying to say in his music; a tactic which very much displeased him at the time. Perhaps this Freudian psychoanalysis is unhealthy, yet knowing people care enough to dig that deep, is a testament to how much listeners care about the group. Nevertheless, if Freud isn’t your thing, sonically, you can most definitely appreciate all their pretty songs.
Compacted with energy and never missing a beat thanks to powerhouse drummer Dave Grohl, the songs cannot help but make you want to jump up and down. From the fast-paced guitar work in “Breed” to the childlike melody of “Lithium”, the key to the band’s success was the simplicity within their songwriting. For example, with the best track off the album, “Territorial Pissings”, containing only three chords and little to no variation, you can tell that the group was masterful at highlighting the best elements of songwriting. Even with the song’s only deviation, rather than fixate on a complicated solo, Cobain just shrugs his shoulders at the third verse and scratches down on one chord. Perhaps this is lazy to some, yet to me, the lackluster style compliments the attitude of the punk tune. Other examples include “Lounge Act” with Krist Novoselic’s sleazy bass line as well as “On a Plain’s” infectious vocal melodies/harmonization.
Compared to that of other albums by the band, the production by Butch Vig and mixing by Andy Wallace is top-notch and audibly more accessible to the public ears. The sonic aura of the album is saturated beautifully with reverb and multi-tracking, allowing Radio Friendly Unit Shifters such as “Drain You” and “Come as you” Are to truly flourish. Compared to the raw sound of Bleach and In Utero, you can tell this record is polished to a tee, gleefully worthy of drawing the masses to Nirvana’s other records. That being said, this style should not diminish the integrity of the tracks, but prove different songs prosper better with other methods of construction.
On, September 24th, 1991, an album was created that broke the mainstream and changed the face of music forever. To this day, the legacy of that album continues to inspire generations onward, and impact the way music is made on a grand scale. Artist’s such as Billie Eilish take major inspiration from the group and covers from Post Malone can be seen across YouTube. It is no surprise why songs from thirty years ago impact this decade’s culture. With such heart-pulsing, timeless riffs and worldwide themes, the tracks off Nirvana’s sophomore effort have yet to feel like they have aged a day.
With the possibility of more comments made by surviving members of Nirvana, be sure to check out more Nevermind here at Glasse Factory.