This album heralded a revolution. Sick of all the slick, cheesy hair bands that dominated the late ‘80s due to MTV, America’s youth embraced this album as a call to arms, and the music scene hasn’t been the same since. Shockingly coming from out of nowhere to knock Michael Jackson’s Dangerous from the #1 slot on the Billboard charts, Nevermind marked the exact moment when “alternative rock” music finally found mainstream acceptance. We can all debate whether that turned out to be such a good thing or not, especially in light of all the copycat bands that ended up making “grunge” a dirty word in most music circles. But for a while there radio and MTV were actually pretty exciting places, and all because of this album, which sounds almost as fresh today as the day it was released. And why is that? Primarily, it’s because Kurt Cobain was a superb songwriter, and the songs here are such a quantum leap beyond Bleach that it almost sounds like a different band. Also, the addition of Dave Grohl (one of the best rock drummers ever) takes the band’s musical chops and chemistry to another level, and the major label production is miles more advanced than on Bleach.
Of course, Cobain hated it, thinking it too slick and commercial for his purist sensibilities. He has a point, but the scuzzy sonics of Bleach could’ve taken the band but so far (commercially speaking), and this Butch Vig production does a good job of showcasing Cobain’s melodic gifts without sacrificing the vibrant energy of the music. As for the songs, the flagship single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (the one that “broke” the band) just might be the ultimate teen anthem ever, while “In Bloom” delivers a poppy sing along chorus to go along with crunchy power chords and Grohl’s pulverizing drum pop. “Come As You Are” is another all-time classic that’s led by an unforgettable bass riff, an incredibly understated intensity, a technically simplistic but ear pleasingly terrific guitar solo, and memorably prophetic lyrics (“and I don’t have a gun”). To me, it’s like the invitation from Nirvana to its fans. “Breed” is one of several songs (“Territorial Pissings” and “Stay Away” are the others) that rage along with a nonstop fury, while “Lithium” is an excellent example of what Grohl called “punk rock songs you could sing along to.” Elsewhere, “Drain You” and “On a Plain” are catchy rockers with just enough of an edge, “Polly” is a melodic ballad but with chilling lyrics, and “Something In the Way” is a shockingly understated (and successful) song that features sparse cello backing and Cobain’s barely audible voice, thereby foreshadowing their spectacular Unplugged showcase three years later. “Lounge Act” is the only song here that isn’t outstanding (and even that one is pretty good), and Nevermind was arguably the most important album of the ‘90s.
Many of these songs start slow but soon swell to explosive crescendos; this would become a slavishly imitated Nirvana trademark. There is a hidden track approximately seven minutes after the last listed song ends, spearheading one of the more annoying ‘90s trends.