Category Archives: Nirvana

In Utero

Kurt hires legendary noise maker Steve Albini to produce the follow up to ‘Nevermind’ and Geffen get worried. So much so, several songs were ultimately re-mixed by the ‘Nevermind’ production team, much to the disgust of Steve Albini himself. Going into the sessions for this album, it seems Kurt wanted a much rawer, more spontaneous sound that had appeared on ‘Nevermind’, but that following recording, with everyone telling him the album was ‘un-commercial’, he got cold feet or something. Anyway, the re-mixed songs aren’t glaringly out of place or anything, in fact, it’s not obvious which one’s they even are, they flow into the course of the album very well. First, and rather underwhelming single ‘Heart Shaped Box’ was one of the re-mixed songs. It hardly matters, the opening ‘Serve The Servants’ is stupendous and ‘Scentless Apprentice’ very clearly bearing the influence of Steve Albini in the bass and drum sound. Kurt screams and screams through the song, and it’s a thrill when he does, a fantastic performance. ‘Rape Me’ rather mischievously opens with the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ riff, but when Kurt starts singing, your jaw drops open. ‘Rape Me’? This is provocative stuff, it’s also a truly fantastic song with another impassioned vocal performance. Another great song arrives with ‘Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle’ and things are looking particularly great for this ‘In Utero’ album, ‘Heart Shaped Box’ and the ‘Polly’ re-tread ‘Dumb’ included.

The second side of the album opens with the kind of primitive riffing punk thrash that would have sat quite easily on ‘Bleach’. ‘Very Ape’ is pretty good though, ‘Milk It’ rather strange but Kurt screams very well. Nobody could scream quite like Kurt Cobain, another Pixies influence brought into Nirvana, obviously. ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ has lyrics that sound like they were made up in the studio just prior to recording, and the whole song sounds strained and like it’s about to collapse, but not in an enjoyable way. This is very difficult listening. ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ isn’t so great either, although the Punk thrash of ‘Tourette’s’ is an exhilarating, brilliant ride. ‘All Apologies’ closes the album, closes it well. This was one of the songs re-mixed, but it’s a fabulous song in any case, another wonderful vocal performance.

‘In Utero’ survived an initial media back-lash to become recognized as another important and more importantly, great, album by the group. For me, there are a couple of songs here that probably shouldn’t have been, that prevent this quite reaching the heights of ‘Nevermind’. This is still a damn fine album, though.


Nevermind

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.


Bleach

Nirvana’s roots lay in the underground scene. Sonic Youth were early mentors, ‘Surfer Rosa’ by The Pixies a big personal favorite of singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain. Krist Novoselic met Kurt Cobain in 1985, Nirvana were formed in 1987 with Chad Channing on drums and they soon signed to Sub Pop records. ‘Bleach’ was produced and engineered by Jack Endino, a guy who was experienced in the underground scene, ending up producing the likes of Tad, Mudhoney and Babes In Toyland. Nirvana’s debut doesn’t deviate radically from the sound the likes of Mudhoney were achieving at the time, although a song like ‘About A Girl’ certainly had a poppier edge than anything many of Nirvana’s contemporaries were producing. ‘About A Girl’ is a wonderful song actually, and a signpost of what was to come later. First we have two loud, distorted pieces of guitar music, growled or semi-shouted vocals. ‘Blew’ is nothing to write home about, ‘Floyd The Barber’ has good dynamics and works well. Following those two songs, ‘About A Girl’ stands out a mile, a lovely melody and vocal performance. ‘School’ has an addictive sounding, dirty guitar riff and a very powerful, screamed vocal performance. ‘Love Buzz’ had actually been a very early Nirvana single, but it doesn’t sound very out of place here, the bass guitar is good and the screamed ‘chorus’ rather entertaining! ‘Paper Cuts’ opens messily, a weary, pissed off Kurt comes in but the song never really goes anywhere and is less interesting than songs before it on the album.

‘Negative Creep’ opens the second side of the album with a fabulous guitar and bass riff, wonderful ‘alternative anthem’ style lyrics, screamed, stupendous vocals. With ‘About A Girl’ and maybe ‘School’ this works as a highlight of the record and really, is what ‘Bleach’ is all about. Another great guitar groove opens ‘Scoff’, ‘Swap Meet’ has more dirty riffing guitars – you get the idea. ‘Swap Meet’ is actually a favourite of mine, but there you go. ‘Mr Moustache’ is a thrashy, messy kind of song, ‘Sifting’ more considered, ‘Big Cheese’ slightly daft, but highly entertaining all the same. ‘Downer’ ends the album with more of the same, more grunge guitars, more screaming. ‘About A Girl’ apart, the album suffers from a lack of variety, suffers from the same sound being used all over the record. Having said that, this album is very easy to listen to if you like this kind of music.