Thursday, November 13, 2014

17 Nevermind (1991) Nirvana

1. Smells Like Teen Spirit
2. In Bloom
3. Come as You Are
4. Breed
5. Lithium
6. Polly
7. Territorial Pissings
8. Drain You
9. Lounge Act
10. Stay Away
11. On a Plain
12. Something in the Way

There have been a few albums which have totally changed the world. Their appearance completely revolutionised music as we know it and left an altered state in their wake. They grabbed what we knew about popular music and shook it up and battered it around and everyone knew nothing could be the same again. It wasn't subtle, we didn't need ten years and the benefit of hindsight to see it happening, we watched music change before us and knew we were part of a revolution.

I wasn't actually born when a lot of these changes occurred. When Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, Zeppelin and others dropped their respective bombshells I was yet to trouble the planet in any way. When the Sex Pistols tore music apart in the last seventies I was only four years old and it would still be years before I listened to anything that wasn't created by Jim Henson.

But Nirvana's bombshell I was definitely around for and I remember the impact well. In 1991 I was 18 and had lived through the eighties and knew I was being shortchanged. I had realised that previous generations had great music and I had to put up with synth pop and hair bands. I was acutely aware that with a few exceptions (thanks Midnight Oil, thank you now and always) most music from the decade of my formative years was more than a bit naff.

I remember things like Poison's Unskinny Bop being what we thought Modern Rock and Roll was. It had all the ingredients music needed at the time: Handsome guys with big hair. That's what the decade was basically all about.

And then Nirvana came along and stuck a massive boot straight though our musical TV screens. I can remember a time when Smells Like Teen Spirit was everywhere. It was on TV and radio all the time and people were playing it in their homes and singing it in the streets. I'm sure looking back on it now I'm over romantacising the time and there must have been some people singing something by the Carpenters but in my memory it was everywhere and we loved it.

Being 18 at the time I was part of the generation that the song apparently spoke to. People have held it up as an anthem for a generation and something that spoke to us and moved us in a way that we hadn't been moved before. It summed up Generation X apparently which I personally think is nonsense. My friends and I didn't respond to Smells Like Teen Spirit because it expressed our feelings in a way that we couldn't. We didn't think we'd finally found an outlet for our angst and frustration which somehow wasn't being conveyed in whatever the hell Unskinny Bop was about. We just liked it because it rocked.

And Smells Like Teen Spirit definitely rocks. Those opening chords are fantastic and the sound is just unbelievably powerful. That onslaught of grunge intensity made us all realise just how anaemic hair bands really were. They didn't have attitude, they had stylists, but Nirvana looked like they would physically assault anyone who came near them with hair spray. I didn't know what the lyrics were at the time and still don't but I knew that stomping drum beat was the sound of three guys jumping up and down on the grave of Poison's career and I thanked them for it.

You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm a massive Nirvana fan. The truth is I never actually bought a copy of Nevermind and have never heard it all the way through before now, more than two decades after it was released. I liked Smells Like Teen Spirit and enjoyed hearing it on the radio and I'm forever grateful that it existed but it never moved me enough to buy it.

There's no doubt that listening to Nirvana twenty years after its initial release makes you appreciate that unlike a lot of things that demolished music (the Sex Pistols most notably) they don't sound stuck in their era. You could play one of the lesser known tracks, Polly for example, on the radio today and nobody would immediate think it was a 90's song that should have stayed there. There's nothing that dates it badly or holds it back. And it doesn't have the traditional grunge sound that makes it immediately recognizable. Polly features acoustic guitars and harmonies and is quite a pretty melody when you get down to it.

When Rolling Stone magazine listed the best albums of the 90's at the end of the decade, they put this at number one with Radiohead's OK computer at number two. Years later they revised the list and swapped them over to put Nevermind in second place. Regardless of which is best there are definitely similarities between the two bands. They both appear to operate with a total disregard for any genre classification or rules. Neither band really cares what you think they should sound like and what category record shops put them in. They're both they're own genres and they both arrived at that point by absorbing a huge range of musical influences. The members of Nirvana have talked about being huge devotees of both Punk and bands like Led Zeppelin which Punk was a reaction against. They enjoy alternative rock like The Pixies and a lot of the Heavy Metal bands that The Pixies were supposed to be an alternative to. They're just three guys who devour the music they like and let it create something new without really trying.

The result really does deserve to be held up as one of the great rock albums of all time. Cobain is a talented vocalist, the band creates a fantastic sound and more importantly there's some great songwriting on offer. Tori Amos proved that Smells Like Teen Spirit didn't need the power chord and volume to work, it thrived with just her piano and a voice to propel it. Come as you are, In Bloom and Polly are all great pieces of writing and brilliant songs in their own right.

The massive success of Nevermind delighted the record company executives but made Cobain decidedly uncomfortable. He quickly wanted to turn his back on the image they'd created. It's hard to know what Nirvana might have sounded like had Kurt not taken his own life a few short years after this album was created. They might have sounded like the Foo Fighter do now, or it's possible they'd still be playing somewhere debuting new music to smaller and smaller crowds disappointed at Cobain's refusal to play anything from their glory days. Sadly we'll never know, but this album does stand testament to a massive talent who deserves our thanks for helping to drive a knife through the heart of eighties music.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Better yet, go check out some classics like Van Halen (Sammy Hagar era - I don't think we have to get into that other dork and his pathetic shtik). Now there's someone that knows how to take a guitar and make it go "neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-diddly-diddly-doodley-doooooooooo!!!!!"."

-I love that solo! That's a great song!

So is this great or... nevermind? Let me know below.

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