Tag Archives: Kurt Cobain

30 Bands

Today, I hit 30, and in honor of my birthday, I’ve been working on my favorite 30 bands list for almost a year. My blog is actually inspired by music I grew up listening to. I have shuffle countless times ranking of bands back and forth.  It was really tough to leave few bands out. My basis of ranking is upon influence and discography.

Here it goes…

1. Led Zeppelin
2. The Beatles
3. Nirvana
4. The Doors
5. Pink Floyd
6. Queen
7. Radiohead
8. The Rolling Stones
9. Black Sabbath
10. The White Stripes
11. Pixies
12. AC/DC
13. Soundgarden
14. Rush
15. Jane’s Addiction
16. Faith No More
17. Arcade Fire
18. The Smiths
19. Rage Against the Machine
20. Alice in Chains
21. R.E.M
22. Aerosmith
23. Guns N’ Roses
24. Queens of the Stone Age
25. Muse
26. Foo Fighters
27. The Black Keys
28. Red Hot chili Peppers
29. INXS
30. Green Day

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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.


In Your Honor

With his band getting increasingly formulaic, culminating with the quite adequate but somewhat disappointing One By One, Dave Grohl needed a break. Enter Probot, Grohl’s heavy metal side project whereupon he co-wrote and performed songs with metal icons like Lemmy, Max Cavalera, and King Diamond. With the self-titled Probot album out of his system, Grohl and his main band reconvened for In Your Honour, easily their most ambitious album to date, and arguably their best since The Colour And The Shape.

The album is chock full of loud, anthemic rockers and contains a bevy of well-crafted soft rock compositions (a la “Walking After You”), the album’s sequencing and conception are seriously flawless. This is a 2-cd set, with the first cd containing 10 loud songs and the second showcasing 10 more slices of Grohl’s softer side. But all songs seem to blend into one another with several high profile cameo appearances from the likes of Norah Jones, Led Zepplin’s John Paul Jones, Kyuss/Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and The Wallflowers’ keyboardist Rami Jaffee. Fortunately, like I said before, almost all of these songs are good so the album is largely enjoyable anyway, even if I can’t help but think that a shorter set list that intermingled loud and soft songs was the way to go. That said, rather than focus on the albums flaws, let’s talk about its considerable strengths, shall we?

On disc 1, all the classic Foo Fighters elements are in place: Grohl and and Chris Shiflett’s guitars are crisp and loud, Hawkins and Mendel ably add heft to the bottom end, and Grohl’s alternately smooth and screaming rough vocals inevitably lead into the payoff: catchy chorus after catchy chorus. Although I marked down “In Your Honour,” No Way Back,” “Best Of You,” “DOA,” and “The Last Song” as highlights, almost every song here is a potential hit or highlight, even if the band lacks distinctive characteristics and the chance taking acumen to be truly exciting anymore. No, this disc is merely clean, highly professional arena rock (remember, Grohl has never worried about silly things like “indie credibility”) that doesn’t offer anything different but which rocks harder and with more consistent quality than any Foo Fighters album since the first two. As for the mellower second disc, it’s impressive and can never get boring. It’s largely due to the sequencing, as the songs are of a surprisingly high quality given that the band is usually much better at rocking out than on ballads. Personally, I prefer songs such as “Miracle,” “Over and Out,” and “On The Mend,” which are a little more instrumentally fleshed out, but there’s nary a truly duff track, and fans of Cobain (who “Friend Of A Friend” is about), Norah Jones (who sings the bossa nova flavored “Virginia Moon” with Grohl), and Taylor Hawkins (the band’s popular resident party animal who sings the livelier “Cold Day In The Sun”) should take particular note of those tracks.

Some albums add up to more than the sum of their individual parts, some add up to less (which is why track-by-track album reviews don’t really work), and In Your Honor is the latter case, strong though many of its individual songs are.


There Is Nothing Left To Lose

With new drummer Taylor Hawkins in tow, Foo Fighters returned with the desperately titled There Is Nothing Left To Lose, which was recorded as a three-piece at Grohl’s home studio. Now, I don’t normally quote press releases, but the one I received describing this album sums it up both succinctly and well: “the Foo Fighters remind us that it is okay to play loudly and in tune, that songs can still be about girls, and that not every band needs a goddamned DJ in the mix.

Indeed, Foo Fighters have little in common with much of what you’re hearing on the radio these days (the less said about that the better), as big pop hooks anchor catchy, commercial-sounding songs such as “Breakout” and “Learn To Fly,” the album’s soaring first single. And though Dave Grohl has rocked both melodically (“This Is A Call”) and softly (“Big Me,” “Walking After You”) before, this is easily the least likely Foo Fighters album so far to have the words “alternative” or “grunge” associated with it. Grunge is dead, after all (or so everyone says), and while I for one miss the great early ‘90s likes of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, Grohl has never been one to live in the past.

That said, this album has a classic rock influence that reaches back further than anything on their first two albums, and Grohl isn’t above borrowing from the past, introducing a Foghat-like riff on “Gimme Stitches” and a Frampton-styled talking fuzz box on “Generator.” Elsewhere, the band turns down the volume on the pleasingly mellow melodies of “Aurora,” “Next Year,” and “Ain’t It The Life,” while harder rocking tracks such as “Stacked Actors,” “Live-In Skin,” and “M.I.A.” likewise contain choruses that are highly melodic. Yet for all the album’s consistent quality it must be said that it could use a jolt of that old punk energy at times. Also, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, which was so named because the album was recorded before the band had a record label in place, offers consistently very good but no truly great songs aside from “Learn To Fly.” Still, this was another welcome installment by a maturing band that refuses to stay in one place, as Dave Grohl and company continue to build their own impressive legacy irrespective of Grohl’s glorious past.


The Colour And The Shape

One of the hardest things for a rock band to do is to follow up on a strong debut album, but the Foo Fighters smashed any thoughts of a sophomore slump with this stellar second album. I’m not going to get into psycho-analyzing Dave Grohl’s mindset with regards to Kurt Cobain; amazingly, Rolling Stone’s review of the album went through great pains to tell us all about Grohl’s alleged state of mind, while failing to mention much at all about the actual music on the record! What I will say is that Cobain’s death and Grohl’s then breakup with his wife seem to weigh heavily on his mind, as Grohl reveals much more of himself here than on his catchy but cryptic debut.

I’ll also note that The Colour And The Shape is more of a band effort than the Grohl-dominated debut, and that most of these songs follow a similarly soft and then loud pattern, with big riffs and an even bigger beat carrying most melodies. Grohl’s vocals are also rougher this time around, which is ironic considering that Gil Norton’s production is much smoother than what was offered up on the demo-like debut. As for the songs, the awesome power pop surge of “Monkey Wrench,” towers over everything else on the album (especially memorable is its incredible “one last thing before I quit…” section, which I always sing – make that scream – along to). However, the pulverizing (drum) pop and epic chorus of “My Hero,” the tightly coiled, extremely intense groove rocker “Everlong,” and the softly whispered ballad “Walking After You” were also deservedly popular radio tracks. Foo Fighters re-recorded a superior version of “Walking After You” for the X-Files soundtrack.

Other catchy, hard-hitting highlights include “Hey, Johnny Park!” and “My Poor Brain,” while “See You” is surprisingly sweet and melodic (actually, the album on the whole is mellower than the debut). The rest of the album is rock solid as well; maybe some of the shorter songs are on the slight side, but only the grating “Enough Space” fails to really add anything to this fine overall package.