Formed in 1987 in Aberdeen, Washington, Nirvana would become one of the key acts to help put alternative music into the mainstream as well as its most popular. Though they didn’t set out to make alternative music mainstream, the band that would also popularize grunge were merely just a little band that wanted to offer something different. Founded by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, the band would go through a series of drummers including the Melvin’s Dale Crover as Chad Channing was eventually selected in 1988. Signing to the Seattle-based indie label Sub Pop, the band went to the studio with local producer Jack Endino while future Soundgarden bassist Jason Everman provided the money to help make the album that would eventually become Bleach.
Produced by Jack Endino, Bleach is an album where Nirvana is presented as a loud, abrasive band that had elements of punk and metal but also with a bit of pop flair. With many of the songs written by Kurt Cobain including a cover of Shocking Blue’s Love Buzz, the album reveals a band that was just starting out as it features lyrics that reflect various themes of alienation, angst, and heartbreak. Made for only $606.17 based on thirty hours of recording, the result would be one of the most beloved debut albums ever made for one of rock’s greatest bands.
Opening the album is Blew with Krist Novoselic’s low yet wobbly bass that is followed by Kurt Cobain’s sludge-driven guitar and Chad Channing’s upbeat yet pummeling drum fills. Cobain sings in murky vocal for the song’s verse while going into an anguished rasp for its chorus as it’s lyrics are filled with angst as Cobain later plays a wailing guitar solo in the middle of the song. Floyd the Barber is an upbeat yet heavy song with Dale Crover’s pounding drums, Novoselic’s muddy bass, and Cobain’s driving guitar as he sings about a barber he knew. The song is definitely one of the band’s most powerful and unflinching in its performance and in Endino’s raw yet direct production. About a Girl is a mid-tempo song about a relationship that goes wrong with its steady yet bopping rhythm and washy guitar as Cobain sings in his raspy vocal. The song is probably one of the band’s most accessible as it’s best described as grunge meets the Beatles.
School is a wild yet menacing upbeat track noisy guitar drives, Channing’s smooth but pummeling beats, and Novoselic’s heavy bass as Cobain sings about all of the horror of high school with his raspy but angst-driven vocals. A cover of Shocking Blue’s Love Buzz opens with Novoselic’s melodic bass wobble and Channing’s bopping yet upbeat drum fills that is later followed by Cobain’s flourishing guitar wails. Cobain’s hollow yet playful vocals sings to the song’s strange yet quirky lyrics. Paper Cuts is a heavy mid-tempo track with Crover’s punishing beats and crunching guitar riffs as Cobain sings harrowing lyrics of anguish and longing as it features Cobain’s high-pitch wailing vocals in some parts of the song.
Negative Creep is a fast-paced yet intense song with driving, metal-inspired lyrics and a powerful, frenetic rhythm that goes into overdrive as Cobain sings angry lyrics about growing up with more biting lyrics for its chorus. Scoff opens with Channing’s power-pounding drum fills and sludge-driven guitar riffs as Cobain sings in his snarling vocals to some very angry yet ambiguous lyrics. The song features an amazing drive to the performance that is complemented by Endino’s soaring production. Swap Meet is a fast-paced but mid-tempo track that is led by a steady rhythm and Cobain’s droning yet driving guitar riffs as he sings about a group he people knew and the intense love they have to each other. The song’s blazing performance includes some swooning yet heavy bass work from Novoselic that complements Channing’s lively drum performance.
Mr. Mustache is a fast-paced rocker with Channing’s pounding drums, Novoselic’s driving bass, and wailing guitar riffs from Cobain as it’s a song that just goes into a frenetic performance without going into the world of metal. The song’s lyrics features some very terse words about the world of machoism as Cobain sings in a raspy snarl through his vocals. Sifting starts off as this slow, mid-tempo track with crunching riffs and pounding beats as Cobain sings lyrics filled with elements of loneliness and rejection as its chorus picks up the pace a bit for the song.
The next two tracks come from a 1992 reissue of the album that was added at the time when Nirvana was popular that year. The first is Big Cheese that starts off as a slow, mid-tempo rocker with driving guitars and steady drum fills as Cobain sings in a raspy vocals about the downside of working that is filled with dark humor as its chorus takes the song to a more upbeat pace. The album closer is the fast-paced Downer with Dale Crover’s frenetic drum fills, speedy bass lines, and driving guitars as Cobain sings in a fast-paced vocal to a myriad of lyrics describing all sorts of things as things slow down a bit for its chorus. The song is an amazing rocker as it display Nirvana’s prowess in their performance providing a fitting close to the album.
The 2009 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the album features the original album, plus the 1992 bonus tracks, remastered in its entirety by George Mariano. The remastered album maintains the raw sound of Jack Endino’s production as well as capturing the fiery performance of the band just as it sounded for those who had bought the album during Nirvana’s hey-day in the early 1990s. The second disc of the deluxe edition of the album includes a live performance by the band at the Pine Street Theater in Portland, Oregon on February 9, 1990.
The second disc opens with a noisy intro of a squealing guitar as it leads to the raucous drive of School that is just as powerful as its recorded version. Floyd the Barber and Dive follow where the former is very intense in its performance while the latter is more blazing due to Kurt Cobain’s firery guitar. Love Buzz is played in a much faster, more upbeat performance as is the rarity Spank Thru which is also much heavier. A cover of the Vaselines’ Molly’s Lips follows through with a mid-tempo drive to the performance as it adds to Cobain’s devotion to the band. Another rarity in Sappy is presented in a different drum arrangement from the final recorded version made years later as it’s still a powerful yet blazing rock song with its noisy guitars.
Scoff is presented in its upbeat yet hammering presentation through Chad Channing’s pummeling beats, Krist Novoselic’s bass, and Cobain’s fiery guitar and raspy vocals. About a Girl is played at a slightly, faster tempo for its song while maintaining its pop-driven form as it includes the wailing solo Cobain plays in the middle of the song. Been a Son, another rarity, is a mid-tempo track that is driven by its steady yet heavy rhythm and Cobain’s driving guitars that displays the band’s power in playing something simple than go wild. The closing track of the second disc is Blew as it is presented in an intense but lively performance with wailing guitars and pummeling rhythms as it helps close the second disc.
Released on June 15, 1989, the album was an underground hit as it would sell around 40,000 copies just before Nirvana would become a very popular band in 1992. Yet, the record received some excellent reviews as the band got some attention in Britain during a tour with the Seattle band Tad. When the album was re-released in 1992 with two extra tracks, it became a bigger hit due to Nirvana’s sudden popularity as it would sell at around 4 million copies worldwide making it the biggest selling album for the Sub Pop label.
Bleach is a remarkable yet raucous debut album from Nirvana. Carried by the band’s visceral yet energetic performance and Jack Endino’s sparse but electrifying production. It’s a debut record that still manages to hold up more than 20 years since its release while it’s also a record that is inspiring on what bands could do with a small budget of $600. While it may not have the polished sheen of Nevermind or the more chaotic sound of In Utero, Bleach does stand out for its raw presentation while proving that this band was just getting started. In the end, Bleach is a superb yet blistering debut album from Nirvana.
Nirvana Reviews: Studio Albums: Nevermind - (In Utero)
Compilations: (Insecticide) - (Nirvana) - (With the Lights Out) - (Sliver: The Best of the Box)
Live Albums: (MTV Unplugged in New York) - (From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah)
DVDs: (Live! Tonight! Sold Out!) - (Live at Reading) - (Live at the Paramount Theater)
© thevoid99 2011