Tag Archives: Nirvana

Wasting Light

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When did the Foo Fighters become this classic band? I’m not exactly sure, but they’re as much if not more of a radio presence, both on current and “classic” stations, as hipper bands such as Nirvana. I still think they’re a great singles band who make merely good to very good albums, but this album definitely falls in the “very good” category, and there’s no denying the number of first class individual songs the band has released over the years.

If you’re not a fan, I suggest you check out the excellent Back and Forth documentary that was released in conjunction with the promotion for this album. It documents the recording sessions for the album but also presents a thorough career overview, warts and all, but I know that I gained a further appreciation for the Foo Fighters as a band and the band as individuals after watching it. Anyway, back to this album, which was recorded by old friend Butch Vig (who remember had produced Nirvana’s Nevermind) in Grohl’s garage using analog equipment, as the band wanted to keep it real and capture the raw, unprocessed sound of a band playing live. The strategy worked very well, because the sound is definitely a throwback to their earliest (best) records, and the album is also aided by several guest appearances, including singer-guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Krist Novoselic (ex-Nirvana), singer Fee Waybill (The Tubes), and keyboardist Rami Jaffee (The Wallflowers), plus Pat Smear is back with the band as a permanent member (having already rejoined their touring ranks since 2006).

As per usual, this album will likely be best remembered by its often-played anthemic singles, and “Rope,” “These Days,” and “Walk” are all very good efforts if not among their absolute best. What distinguishes this album from their prior album is how consistently strong it is from top to bottom, as “Bride Burning” is a hard-hitting opener with a lighter catchy chorus, and “Dear Rosemary” is moodier but still rocking, with Mould adding his trademark intensity and memorably weird vocals. Elsewhere, “Arlandria” is a grower track with another big chorus, “Back & Forth” manages to have a raw sound and still be poppy, with yet another easily singable chorus, and “I Should Have Known” is an emotional ballad (mostly) whose last minute-plus (where Novoselic really shines) is among their most intense ever.

Even the lesser songs (typically the less hooky ones such as “Miss The Misery”) usually have some cool parts that make them worth listening to, as this veteran band shows that they’re still capable of surprises after all

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Siamese Dream

 

Gish got people buzzing about the band, and an excellent contribution to the essential Singles soundtrack (“Drown”) furthered an alleged connection to the grunge scene and bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Next came a severe case of writer’s block for Billy Corgan before he penned the brilliantly uplifting anthem “Today,” a significant hit that put the Pumpkins on their way to stardom. The grungy power chords of “Cherub Rock” starts the album off with a classic rocker that’s an angry putdown of the indie community who had shunned them for not having “paid their dues.” Sorry, but greatness couldn’t wait, and with this big (in every way) second release the band blew away their competition (See ya, Pavement).

Layers upon layers of guitars seamlessly intermesh to form the backbone of louder tracks like the rumbling “Quiet” and brilliantly epic arena rockers such as “Hummer” and “Rocket.” The band also proves adept at switching gear, as their dreamy melodies often erupt into blasts of power chords and shards of feedback. The band’s reliance on these soft-to-loud dynamics (the changes in volume of which can be quite jarring) can seem inevitable at times, but the end result still thrills on songs such as “Today,” “Soma,” and “Mayonnaise” (my favorite song here which also has an absolutely gorgeous guitar intro going for it). Elsewhere, “Disarm” (a major hit), “Luna” (which ends the album on a beautifully optimistic “I’m in love with you” high), and “Spaceboy” (about Corgan’s disabled half brother Jesse) are all highly impressive, lushly orchestrated ballads.

If the album has a flaw it’s in a little too much doodling down time (after all, progressive rock is a primary influence), but though the willful experimentation on songs such as “Silverfuck” seemingly overstays its welcome, the band becomes well worth indulging when the screeching guitars search for transcendence. Apparently the album caused much friction among the band members, as it was later revealed that band leader Billy Corgan insisted on playing the majority of the guitar parts himself, untrusting that his cohorts could capture the many textured splendor of the sounds roaming inside his head.

So call Corgan an arrogant control freak if you must (he thankfully let Jimmy Chamberlin put in an incredible drumming performance, which has to be heard to be believed; check out the dynamic “Geek U.S.A” for starters), but don’t deny that with Siamese Dream he crafted a landmark early ‘90s masterpiece.


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


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.


Surfer Rosa

Pixies first full-length album was also an import-only affair back then (small wonder that the band was much bigger overseas!), but it still caused quite a stir among the indie community as its noisy, abrasive guitar assault, when combined with a keen melodic sense, made it uniquely different from anything that had preceded it. Come to think of it, it doesn’t sound like any other Pixies album, either, and for that much of the credit belongs to recording engineer (he hates the term “producer”) Steve Albini, who would later be hired by Nirvana for In Utero primarily on the basis of their admiration for his work here.

This is a raw, abrasive sonic onslaught, with a huge drum sound, yet many of these (generally very short) songs, particularly on the far superior first half, are also eminently tuneful and catchy at the same time. Francis’ vocals, which can be silly, grating, and awe-inspiringly psychotic in equal measure, are often incoherent, and what lyrics can be made out often come across as gibberish, anyway. His off center, at times effeminate vocals certainly are unique, though, and he’s often joined by Kim Deal on some delicious harmonies. She gets a lead vocal too, and wouldn’t you know it if “Gigantic,” simply a great pop rock song, became their biggest hit to date, much to Francis’ chagrin.

Other highlights, again almost all of which appear on the first half of the album, are oddly catchy (dare I say it, cute) songs such as “Bone Machine,” “Break My Body” (that’s one hell of a groove there), and “Broken Face” (all 1:30 of it). Even better is “River Euphrates,” which features a lovely intermingling of voices, though Francis also screams his head off as per usual. I’m not sure if there even are actual lyrics to this song, but it sure sounds good, and so does the dreamy, melodic “Where Is My Mind,” the album’s most memorable song which joins “Gigantic” as Surfer Rosa‘s inarguable classics (p.s. it ends suddenly because they ran out of tape!). Unfortunately, the rest of the album is seriously underwritten, making it somewhat less than the “masterpiece” reputation that many have accorded it. Still, even the tossed off songs are generally entertaining even if they could’ve been more fully fleshed out, and the album’s short between song snippets (Albini’s idea), though also hit and miss, generally add to the album’s charming overall ambiance.

Aside from “Vamos,” an unnecessary remake of a Come On Pilgrim track (this version is much longer though not better), and “Brick Is Red,” the stellar finale that’s based around a simple, melodic guitar solo, I’d be hard pressed to recall much about the rest of side two’s songs, which tend to blend together in my mind. Yet I suppose it is the album’s excitingly schizoid sound, especially those aggressive, razor sharp guitars, that makes Surfer Rosa a classic (albeit a minor classic) rather than its individual songs, excellent though several of those are. This album has tons of character, plain and simple, and the band’s innovative use of dynamics and their thriving band chemistry would greatly influence the subsequent Lollapalooza generation (BMG’s music catalog once described alternative music as “sounds like the Pixies”). That said, for all the album’s undeniable strengths, the hit-or-miss songwriting ultimately leaves me with the impression of an incredibly promising young band that hadn’t yet reached their full potential.