Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Well well, check who got their dirty little butts scooped up by the corporate ogre. Stuffed into the very same armpit as their beloved Sonic Youth, no less, surrounded by the smell of 200,000 units sold and great health insurance.
The Nirvana of Nevermind were drastically different from the Nirvana of Bleach. No longer burdened with concerns such as reaping the prevailing sound of their record label, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic entered the studio with drummer Dave Grohl (who'd impressed them behind the kit for the DC punk band Scream) and producer Butch Vig. Prior to Nirvana, Vig had overseen records by the likes of Killdozer, Die Kruezen, and Laughing Hyenas. Dirty, raw stuff. Yet the final product came out virtually reflective.
The idea of music sounding "too good for its own good" is pretty funny to me, but I guess I grasp the essential beef. Bottom line, Kurt sealed Nevermind's fate not with the hiring of Vig, but of Grohl. His power and precision turned Nirvana into a motional band.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit"--Yes, Virginia's daughter remembers where she was when she first heard (and saw) "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Bedroom lit only by the TV. Cliched guitar riff, murderous drums. Sepia tones, slurs giving way to screams. Over the years, my estimation of the track has oscillated. At first it was the most awesome thing I'd ever heard, then it became the most overhyped thing I'd ever heard. I've settled on viewing Nirvana's biggest hit as a microcosm for their brief career.
A scintillating surface concealing a deceptive depth, the sound is familiar yet fresh. Galvanizing or enervating--depending. The only element that's dated poorly is the lack of a cohesive message. Hate is horrible; apathy is worse. And if "Teen Spirit" is to be identified as an anthem, then it is one of meh, feh and snuh. See, for most of the decade, America had a decent president. (By presidential standards, anyway.) Rebellion was a game, with contradiction and confusion two of the more prominent play-pieces. His wordplay proves that Cobain didn't treat lyrics with outright disregard, no matter his protestations, but the overall attitude would still depress me even if the man were alive today. "Teen Spirit" reeks of a smart, sensitive young man who can't change it all, so he decided to change nothing.
"In Bloom"--Considering how Kurt stressed what he played over what he said, a song calling out lazy listeners is…bemusing. Also I think I can hear Dave Grohl killing Mothra here.
"Come As You Are"--The follow-up to "Teen Spirit" didn't scale the same heights commercially, but damned if it's not a better song. The cause of, and cure for, hypothermia.
"Breed"--Is this a brutal picketing of middle-class brat factories? 'Cause it just sounds so damn happy. And it makes me happy. Is that odd? I mean, you can absolutely kick a hole through a church door with a skin-cracking grin on your face.
"Lithium"--Single number three is, fittingly, the moodiest of the bunch. Probably the second-most infamous use of the soft/loud trick that they popularized, and still causes phantom pain in my back and shoulders. Love leads to loss leads to drugs leads to God leads to "YEEEEEEEAAAAHHHHH!"
"Polly"--Of the several versions available, the most-heard is the best. (It does work out that way on occasion.) A wretched situation described with such delicacy is a more disturbing listen than barely-articulated rambling over distortion.
"Territorial Pissings"--After Krist's bug-eyed homage to late Sixties feel-good activism, the filth begins funneling down. Do people who say Bleach is better get off on being measurably wrong?
(Side note: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge by Mudhoney in July, Ten in August, Nevermind in September and finally, Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger in October? Seattle was not fucking around in the 9-1.)
"Drain You"--Oh "Drain You," you're the one. Remember when you left the rubber ducky on the stairs, and I tripped, and you broke my fall? Remember, do you, how green were my bruises?
Elucidation is overrated. Allow words to melt.
(One member of Bikini Kill inspired the most famous track, another member inspired the best track. Eh, I still like Bratmobile better.)
"Lounge Act"--Regularly relegated to the rear when people deign to rank the songs on Nevermind. What a McDuckian load of hooey. "Lounge Act" applies the soft/loud blueprint to the vocals. Is that why it underwhelms in the minds of many? Does the bass make the insecure little boys out there shrivel up?
Who can say. I'm content to sit back with an Old Fashioned and a tank top, waiting for the world to narrow.
"Stay Away"--No, I'm not letting this go. This "first is always best" philosophy is such crap. Case in point, me. I'm the youngest of seven children, and guess who just sold their first short story this week?
Bitching about Nevermind failing to sound sufficiently "punk" is as useful as bitching that Jaws didn't use a real shark. Guess who wanted to be a rich rock star? Kurt fucking Cobain. You think he wanted to keep living hand-to-mouth, playing shows in front of 100-200 mouthbreathers, calling up Sub Pop HQ to complain about distribution, all while trying to resuscitate his dealer?
You want me to talk more about the actual song? Oh I bet you do. Check this: the drummer steals the show, yet considering that two security guards watched the whole heist without moving a muscle, does it truly count as theft? Oooh, thinker emoji is thinkin'.
"On A Plain"--A boy and his blocks: emotional, social, creative and of course, that big one resting on his shoulders. Kurt's eagerness harmonizes with his shame, and I can't complain either.
"Something In the Way"/"Endless, Nameless"--Confession time: I have listened to "Something In the Way" in its entirety a total of three times. Just too sparse for my taste. Forgive me, disciples of the wheat-haired Jesus.
The hidden track, though, boy howdy. Who are you (not really) talking to right now? Youth-ful trip back up the birth canal, hell yes and more please and thank you.
Seattle trio blow record industry to smithereens. Mumble-mouthed wise-ass named generational spokesperson. Thirty million people worldwide sure as sheep shit can be wrong, but in the case of Nevermind, they weren't.