Before they would become the band that would signify a change in the world of popular music, Nirvana were just a small band from Aberdeen, Washington that had a sound that mixed the Seattle-based sound of grunge with elements of melodic pop. Led by vocalist/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, the band had just released their debut album Bleach in June of 1989 through the indie-based Sub Pop label. The band that included Chad Channing on drums at the time, Nirvana were becoming a favorite in the underground scene as they found fans in the U.K. and parts of the U.S., notably in the American Northwest.
Following some sessions in early 1990 with an up-and-coming producer named Butch Vig, Chad Channing left the group as the band was searching for a new drummer. After the Melvins’ Dale Crover filling in for some shows, the band finally found their permanent drummer in Dave Grohl who had just left the Washington, D.C.-based hardcore band Scream. After a fall-out with the Sub Pop label and signing to the DGC label, the band went to the studio with Butch Vig in the spring of 1991 to record their second album that would change the landscape of popular music.
Produced by Butch Vig, Nevermind is an album where the band combined their early, raucous punk-inspired grunge sound with the pop elements of bands like R.E.M. and Pixies. Featuring an array of songs that is filled with themes of angst, heartbreak, and alienation that had been previously explored in Bleach but from a more direct palette. The music features an array of more melodic elements to the performance as well as an energy that was very new at the time in the age of hair metal and corporate rock. The overall result would be one of the greatest albums ever made.
Leading the album is its first single entitled Smells Like Teen Spirit. Led by a driving, crunching riff that then goes into a louder, abrasive sound spurred by Dave Grohl’s pummeling beats and Krist Novoselic’s heavy bass. It’s a song that plays to the dynamics of being loud and the going soft as Kurt Cobain sings about the disappointments and anger of being young as the song blazes into a loud, upbeat form with its chorus and Cobain‘s raspy yet charging vocals. The fourth single In Bloom is a mid-tempo track that features the same loud-soft dynamic as it features driving guitars, loopy bass lines, and steady drum fills that rolls for its chorus. Cobain sings in a calm vocal to reflective lyrics about conformity with a sense of humor as it goes into a louder yet slightly upper tempo for its chorus.
The swooning Come As You Are features a melodic bass and guitar riff, based on Killing Joke’s Eighties, that is carried by Grohl’s calm yet smooth drum fill as Cobain sings in slow rasp to strange, esoteric lyrics as the song’s tempo changes a bit to more thrilling yet blazing track with heavy rhythms and a wailing guitar. The fast-paced Breed is led by growling guitar sludge that blazes through with Grohl’s heavy yet frenetic drum fills and Novoselic’s low bass as Cobain sings in a fast, growling vocal to some angry lyrics that reflect Cobain’s own issues with heartbreak and moving on. Lithium is a song that starts off soft with just a simple guitar strum as Cobain sings spiteful yet reflective lyrics filled with an element of salvation. The song then goes into a heavy, raging track with pummeling rhythms and charging guitars as it returns to its soft presentation and then back to loud as it’s one of the band’s memorable single.
Polly is a soft yet dark ballad about a rape that happened as Cobain sings the song in a soft, calm vocal with a strumming guitar, Novoselic’s melodic bass, and a cymbal crash from original drummer Chad Channing as Cobain sings the chorus with Grohl on backing vocals. Territorial Pissings opens with Novoselic singing off-key to Chet Baker’s Get Together as it becomes a frenetic yet charging track with fast-playing rhythms and driving guitars as Cobain sings angry lyrics to his growling rasp as it’s a song that takes no prisoners in its delivery. Drain You is another up-tempo song that starts off with Cobain singing snarling lyrics as he continues once Grohl’s pounding drums and Novoselic’s low bass follow Cobain’s driving guitar. The song features a bit of a tempo change for its chorus as well as an instrumental section that plays with the song’s dynamic.
Lounge Act is a mid-tempo track with washy guitars, loopy bass lines, and a steady drum fill as Cobain sings in a calm vocal to reflect lyrics of love gone wrong and Cobain’s attempts to move on. The song features a dynamic of loud guitars in the chorus and more intensity in Cobain’s vocals later in the song. Stay Away is an upbeat song that starts off with Grohl’s pummeling drum rolls and Novoselic’s melodic bass as it becomes a more menacing track with Cobain’s blazing guitars and the song features a unique dynamic once it slows down a bit and then goes back to fast for its chorus. The song’s lyrics features angry lyrics that are very biting as Cobain sings them in a fast-paced vocal as he slows it down for the chorus.
On a Plain is an upbeat, mid-tempo track with a driving rhythm and growling guitars as Cobain sings in his calm rasp to the song’s direct yet content lyrics of heartbreak. The song’s powerful yet heavy presentation does slow down a bit as it’s followed by Novoselic’s melodic bass which proves to be one of the band’s gift into finding changing dynamics that can be accessible in a song like this. The acoustic ballad Something in the Way is a haunting track with Cobain’s soothing yet entrancing vocal that is filled with reflective lyrics of loneliness as the chorus includes Grohl’s backing vocals and Kirk Channing’s somber cello accompaniment. Closing the album is a secret track called Endless, Nameless that features a unique dynamic of blaring noises and a soft, steady sound of melodic guitars and smooth rhythms that goes back and forth to close the album.
The 2011 Super Deluxe Edition of the album features the original album remastered by Bob Ludwig, with the permission of Butch Vig and the surviving members of the band, to emphasize the band’s polished by unyielding performance that made the record famous. Notably in Vig’s superb production which has a raw yet atmospheric approach to the music. Featuring four discs of material including a DVD, the album delves into what made this album so revered as one of rock’s best albums.
The first disc features the original album remastered in its entirety along with nine B-sides, that were released for singles from the album, as bonus tracks. The first two B-sides for the Smells Like Teen Spirit single for the raucous yet charging Even In His Youth that features a bopping rhythm and Cobain’s growling vocals to the song’s snarling lyrics. The second B-side for Aneurysm is a song that has a unique loud/soft dynamic of blazing guitars, pummeling rhythms, and dark yet humorous lyrics that is one of the band’s most beloved B-sides. The next three B-sides are from the Lithium single. The first in the mid-tempo noise of Curmudgeon that features swirling guitars and hard-pounding drum fills as Cobain sings in a snarling growl to the song’s raging lyrics.
The next B-side is a cover of the Wipers’ D-7 recorded for a BBC session as it starts off as a soft, slow track and then becomes a faster, more intense song as it features a thrilling performance from the entire band. Been a Son is presented in a live performance with its bopping mid-tempo presentation as it’s the first of three live tracks that from the band’s legendary performance at the Paramount Theater in Seattle on Halloween in 1991. The next two live tracks from that show are B-sides to the Come As You Are single in the chaotic School and a fiery yet intense performance of Drain You. The next two B-sides for the single In Bloom are live performances of the bouncy Sliver and the haunting ballad Polly as their performed at a show on December 28, 1991 at the O’Brien Pavilion in Del Mar, California.
The second disc of the deluxe version of the album features two different studio sessions the band has recorded in 1990 and early 1991 plus two BBC session performances. The first eight tracks are from the Smart Studios session from April 2-6, 1990 with producer Butch Vig that featured original drummer Chad Channing in these sessions. Early versions of songs like In Bloom, Lithium, and Polly feature a rough mix as well different arrangements and lyrics. Songs like Breed and Stay Away as they’re each presented in different titles in Immodium and Pay to Play, respectively, as they‘re also presented in rough versions. Rarities like Sappy and Dive appear as the former is presented in a soft, mid-tempo track while the latter is the same version from Insecticide. There is an amazing cover of the Velvet Underground’s Here She Comes Now that is quite faithful to the original with a bit of noisy guitars.
The next eight tracks are rehearsal demos from March 1991 sessions that features Dave Grohl on drums. Tracks like Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are, Territorial Pissings, Lounge Act, On a Plain, and Something in the Way are each presented in very rough versions with alternate lyrics. Rarities like Verse Chorus Verse and Old Age are rough gems that really show the kind of songs that the band was aiming for at the time. The last two tracks are material recorded for different BBC sessions as the first is Drain You, that is performed for a September 1991 session with John Peel. The second is a session with Mark Goodier on November of 1991 for the song Something in the Way as it’s performed in a more harrowing version with its electric guitar and a slow, heavy rhythm for its chorus.
The third disc of the super deluxe edition of the album are more rough mixes of songs of the album from Devonshire Studios in Los Angeles on May of 1991 with producer Butch Vig. Featuring the album, minus Polly and Endless, Nameless, in its entirety, the mixes reveal that while the songs sound very close to the final versions of the album. The differences is that the mixes aren’t as polished as the final mix that Andy Wallace would put for the final album. The drums are a bit louder and the vocals aren’t as layered. Plus, some of the instrumentation isn’t as direct which is why Vig and Wallace took more time to work and tweak the album to its final form.
The fourth and final disc of the super deluxe edition is the band’s legendary performance in Seattle’s Paramount Theater on Halloween of 1991. Featuring songs like Been a Son, School, and Drain You that had previously appeared as B-sides for singles. They re-appear as part of the live performance which begins with a cover of the Vaselines’ Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam that has Cobain playing an electric guitar to start the song as it later becomes a blazing rocker. With the fiery Aneurysm following through along with intense performances for Drain You and School to maintain the energetic tone of the show. Floyd the Barber features Dave Grohl adding more power to its thundering drum arrangements as keeps the intensity of the show going that is boosted by a performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit.
About a Girl is given a wonderful performance with its bopping rhythm and Cobain’s washy guitar that later becomes more fiery for the solo as it’s one of the standout tracks of the disc. Things soften up a bit for Polly as it would later go back to a more intense performance of Breed. Things get a little poppier for the bouncy Sliver as well as the catchy cover of Shocking Blue’s Love Buzz. Lithium appears to keep things soft and then loud for a blazing performance as it is followed by a thrilling performance of Been a Son and a more raucous performance of Negative Creep. On a Plain maintains a mid-tempo presentation while keeping the intense energy of the show going that leads to the charging Blew. After a brief encore break, a then-new song in Rape Me appears in a slower arrangement that leads to the fast, up-tempo Territorial Pissings as it would follow by the chaotic closer in Endless, Nameless.
Released on September 24, 1991, the album started off slow debuting at 144 in the U.S. album charts until MTV’s alternative rock show 120 Minutes played the music video for Smells Like Teen Spirit where it helped the album gain momentum. The buzz the band had received during their European tour with Sonic Youth as well as the exposure of the Smells Like Teen Spirit video would reach a wider audience. On January 11, 1992, the album did the impossible where it knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous off the top of the album charts. Overnight, radio and MTV changed their programming from the 80s hair metal music scene to the burgeoning alternative rock movement as the album became a major hit in 1992. The album would eventually sell 30 million worldwide with more than 10 million alone in the U.S. Though the album was big success, it would eventually prove to be overwhelming for singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain.
Nevermind is a remarkable and exciting album from Nirvana which is truly one of the greatest albums in the history of rock n’ roll. It’s a record that gave rock music a good kick-in-the-ass at a time when it needed it as it remains very timeless 20 years after it came out. Anyone who had never heard of Nirvana will find this record as a great place to start while the super-deluxe reissue will give fans something to enjoy despite the overwhelming price tag. It’s also a record that is a great balance between pop and rock with a bit of an edge that is truly lacking in today’s idea of pop and rock music. In the end, Nevermind is a sensational yet exhilarating masterpiece from Nirvana.
Nirvana Reviews: Studio Albums: Bleach - (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