Classic Albums: Nirvana – Nevermind

...annihilated everything in its path

‘Nevermind’ is truly an oddity of an album; a steamroller of a record that annihilated everything in its path, it became as much of a social phenomenon as a collection of songs, changing an industry of which it wanted no part. Nirvana were a band who just wanted to make the best record they could and were expected by their label Geffen to shift about 250,000 copies yet at last count ‘Nevermind’ had sold closer to ten times that. It is an album of sheer, barely controlled power yet such was the fragility of the instigator of the storm, Kurt Cobain, that if anything it marked the beginning of a downward spiral in his mental health that resulted in his suicide. ‘Nevermind’ changed the face of mainstream rock music to such an extent that one could almost date albums ‘BN’ or ‘AN’. However, what we were left with in its wake was sub-par nonsense like Bush and Nickelback, and bastard offspring that should’ve been drowned at birth in the form of countless emo acts.

This is the ‘album that defined a generation’; ‘a classic’. It’s little wonder that for the lead singer himself and many more today it could not support the weight of importance that was placed upon it. Cobain himself said he was “embarrassed” by the record after its release. “It’s more Motley Crue than punk.” It’s a hard claim to accept. So, what is it? Quite simply, it is one of the loudest, most full-on pop experiences ever condensed into forty-odd minutes. It comes on fast and furious and leaves you grinning from ear to ear such is its ebullience.

While Cobain was writing the material for ‘Nevermind’ – primarily about his break up with Bikini Kill drummer Tori Vail – he had an absolute surfeit of killer pop melodies and licks. Hardly surprising for a musician who was so enthralled to The Beatles and John Lennon in particular. Realising Nirvana’s upcoming album – initially intended to be called ‘Sheep’ – was their first for major label Geffen after they left Sub Pop, Cobain accepted there was a real risk of accusations of the band ‘selling out’, something which he was acutely sensitive to. The problem was duly addressed and solved in Sound City, Hollywood, by Butch Vig, who double tracked and condensed the songs to within an inch of their lives, before Andy Wallace, Slayer’s very own mix maestro, came in and mixed the album down. Pop sensibilities were at the fore beneath a sheen of gloriously frayed noise.

It’s still striking today at exactly how heavy the album is. Cobain contained a gift for nail-gargling vocals and guitar abuse, but it is how he works in combination with Dave Grohl’s nuclear drumming and Krist Novoselic’s underrated, funky as hell bass playing, that makes the album so marvellous. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ may be the reference point for many casual listeners, but ‘Nevermind’ really is an archetypal all-killer, no-filler album from beginning to end: twelve musical gems of near perfection. And therein lies the beauty; Nirvana never wanted to change the world, and perhaps they never really did. They did however make kick-ass records with kick-ass tunes. If only every multi-platinum band in the world could concentrate on doing the same thing.

Words by Karl O’Keeffe

Nirvana – ‘Nevermind’
Released: 1991
Producer: Butch Vig
Musicians: Kurt Cobain – vocals, guitar, Dave Grohl – drums, vocals, Krist Novoselic – bass, vocals

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’

1991: In The News
US basketball star Magic Johnson announces he has HIV
The Soviet Union is formally dissolved.
Terry Waite is released from four and a half years’ captivity in Lebanon.
Freddie Mercury dies, aged forty-five.

1991: The Albums
U2 – ‘Achtung Baby’
Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion’
Cypress Hill – ‘Cypress Hill’
Mercury Rev – ‘Yerself Is Steam’

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