20 years is a long time.. Nevermind is the epiphany of Grunge, released in 1991 on the major record label Geffen, or DGC. After 89's hate filled Bleach, Nirvana took to touring and recording fuller, lengthier and more assessable material for the 91 catastrophic change in music. Today Nirvana are one of the bands that get thrown about when name dropping, especially in the UK where an estimated 80% of males will name drop Nirvana as a favourite artist. This will be with the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Oasis and The Stone Roses respectfully. This is a shame because at the time Nirvana were a cult band with a dedicated fan base who respected the band and looked forward to more material. This album changed the way I see music, in a retrospective form. It helped me admire commercial music to an extent, because that's what Nevermind is, it's commercially successful, it's not unknown or notorious for it's avant-garde features. If Nirvana self released this album in 91, would they have the same amount of 'fans' and attention??
Production, production, production, is a key factor for Nirvana's sound. Where Bleach sounded incredibly stripped back and raw, Nevermind took on layered guitars and heavier drumming to accompany that already significant vocal given by Kurt Cobain. 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' stands alone as a teenage rebellion track. The vigorous guitar riff and pre-chorus make the song what it is, a chart topping alternative banger. The chorus is heavy and features distortion and screaming by Kurt, giving the listener increased attitude and control towards the music. I don't know many people who haven't heard this song. On the same note, I don't know many people who don't like this song, those that do could criticise the childish image the band portray with the unnecessary rebellion and basic structure, but overall this is one of the best songs from the 90's without a doubt.
The thunderous drumming and heart thumping riffs of both guitar and bass make up 'In Bloom'. As the verse enters, the guitar fades to allow a dark atmosphere, only for the song to erupt with faster drumming, increased vocal work and a hard hitting bass riff. The guitar solo towards the end is magnificent and compares Nirvana to a commercially viable Melvins. As far as guitar riff's go, 'Come As You Are' tops many peoples list as one of the best and most memorable. The slow, echo sound is drowned out over time by Kurt's energetic vocal and the steady bass work aligned to the initial guitar riff. It's that opening eight seconds, which I crave for. This is considered one of the best tracks on the album, although this statement is a little invalid as the whole album is incredibly strong both lyrically and musically, allowing the more educated listener to look at the album as an entire piece and not just focusing on two or three tracks.
Fast paced drumming is common within the later stages of Grunge, something which drummer Dave Grohl can actually do whilst sounding compact and in time with the guitar work, which is fucking amazing on 'Breed'. With Kurt using his vocals as an instrument, everything sounds so refined, unusual given the style of music. It's something bands like Boris have taken influence on with albums such as 'Heavy Rocks'. Unlike the previous four tracks, 'Lithium' has a slower guitar riff with a symbolic drum beat and light bass, before erupting into a track of well produced noise. The vocals never sound false or separate, they sound well recorded and that's what makes this song so good. The actual instrumental isn't that loud compared to the other songs, so Kurt's vocals are heard and to great effect as the dynamic shift takes effect and the song ends.
The acoustic sounding 'Polly' is beautiful with the layered vocals and heavy bass work. The riff is repeated throughout the whole song, with tremendous focus on Kurt's vocals. At just under three minutes long this is the shortest song and I'm glad it doesn't erupt like say 'Territorial Pissings', which just sounds messy and Punk like. The whole aesthetic of Territorial Pissings just doesn't please me, but you can hear some amazing guitar work when the track actually breaks down, but the repeated chorus doesn't do anything for me other than make me turn the music down as Kurt screams at the top of his voice and the bass follows the same pattern it did with the previous few tracks with very little variation.
'Drain You' starts with my favourite guitar riff on the album which then explodes in the same form as Lithium did, but with harder, faster guitar work. This track is one which has aways stuck out as a key track, the great lyrics and emotive vocals add to the already notorious guitar riff and steady bass work. The following track opens with a heavy bass riff to be accompanied by a slower guitar riff. 'Lounge Act' doesn't belong on this album to me, it doesn't have the same sound, it's far more progressive in structure than anything on this album. You cant knock the final few minutes where Kurt explodes with anger and screams his heart out in to the microphone, which sounds amazing because you can feel his voice cutting you deep.
Not much changes with 'Stay Away', it has a steady bass riff, but in general it's not that exciting other than the chorus which lyrically doesn't give much as Kurt just screams "Stay away, stay away, stay away, stay away". Take it as you will, but I see it as a sign of regression from Kurt, the song surrounding the chorus is very light with vocals and everything is relying on the chorus. The vocal brilliance on 'On a Plain' allow the listener to hears some great lyrics and amazing vocal harmonies mixed behind all the rough guitar work and drumming. The chorus is nice and everything goes well together. We can note how this sounds different to the others, something which Nirvana manage to do specially well. Every song sounds different on this album, sure the same guitars and pedals are used and the drumming is very monotonous, but overall everything has various differences.
As an album closer, 'Something In The Way' starts with possibly the best lyrical segment on the album with.. "Underneath the bridge, my tarp has sprung a leak, and the animals I've trapped have all become my pets, and I'm living off of grass, and the drippings from my ceiling. It's okay to eat fish, cause they don't have any feelings". This being the verse, with the chorus repeating the song title to great effect. The bass is extremely heavy and guitar work is lacking the heavy, dirty feel which it has had the majority of the album. This is my favourite Nirvana song and is strong in structure and imagery.
Nevermind surpassed expectation by both band and label, it eclipsed the Grunge label and made Kurt Cobain a household name. It started the next generation of Rock music when American bands like Pavement became known and 'Indie' began to take shape. Nirvana are not to the whole markets taste, this is perfectly fine and common, but for those fans, this is among the best albums ever. That's a bold statement and one I don't agree with, I would place it among the top 200 albums ever, but let's be realistic, everything has it's downfall. I cant criticise Nevermind for sounding like this, it's still heavy and stylistic taking forward what they created with Bleach and combining it with 'Pop' like structures, which in turn gives them accessibility. The help from DGC only eclipsed Nirvana into the mainstream, where they have stayed for the last 20 years and will remain for eternity.