September 24, 1991 was a day that most couldn’t pinpoint unless they looked online, but it would change the entire music industry for seemingly the last time because never again would a band have such a defining impact on the whole world. It was the day the Nirvana released “Nevermind”, and while the majority of the world wouldn’t really catch on to its brilliance for a couple months, when it finally did there was no shortage of madness.
Everyone knows this album and maybe it’s been a bit since you’ve heard it, but it’s time to take a listen to remember the overall angst that we all felt in the flux that was the 90’s. VSQ’s tribute to “Nevermind” will be released soon, so keep an eye on this blog for more information about it. But what was it that made this record worthy of a Masters Series Tribute?
Nirvana's Nevermind played such a key part in altering the musical landscape and creating the world we have today where the industry is dying, the line of indie and major label has begun to dim, and everyone has a home recording studio. This record not only pulled the mainstream away from the hair band, cock rock music of the 1980’s, but it pushed the attitude of the 90’s. In some terms, it gave a voice to the slacker, the misfit, the anti-social, the outcast, and the punk, while infecting everyone with the pop sensibilities hidden behind Kurt Cobain’s ragged look. This album was a perfect storm in a way, because everything in the industry and in the world seemed to be in just the right place for Nevermind to achieve ultimate success.
Attitude and grunge fashion aside, Nevermind blew up not just because it was something different, something new, something approachable yet designed to keep the unworthy away like a rabid raccoon. Simply put, it’s because this album has some of the best songwriting in the last 30 years. There are very few albums that are solid all the way through, and Nevermind is at the top of that list. From the first notes of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to the orchestrated destruction of the hidden song “Endless Nameless,” this album never pulls any punches and keeps prodding the conservatives that Cobain despised. Though in the end, even the people he hated couldn’t get enough of Cobain’s music because it was just that good.
Looking at the construction of Nevermind helps one understand the album a bit more. Cobain was completely focused on getting the music right first before bothering with the lyrics. In fact, he was writing them up to the moment before singing them. His guitar tone was revolutionary to most listeners and countless bands after him would attempt to match or surpass his sound. And the rhythm section of the band was a force to be reckoned with as well, with the booming bass of Krist Novoselic and the relentless drumming of Dave Grohl. Each song seems to go a bit further than the last, which seems hard to do with such a huge song like the opener, which became everyone’s favorite song.
“In Bloom,” the second song on the album, was another huge single for the band, as was the following track “Come As You Are”. Both tracks were starkly different, but played with the quiet/loud dynamic that became the band’s trademark through many songs. This technique made the chorus hit that much harder in contrast to the quiet verses. The next track “Breed” continued a lot of word play that Cobain loved and featured some huge drums from Grohl. “Lithium” was probably the second biggest single off the album and was probably the best representation of the quiet/loud technique overall. “Polly” was a nice interlude featuring acoustic guitar and creepy lyrics about a kidnap victim. “Territorial Pissings” is a barn burner all the way through, leading up to the amazing “Drain You” which features a scream from Cobain that could have defined his generation. The next three songs are even more great pop masterpieces, “Lounge Act”, “Stay Away”, and “On a Plain”. The album slows it down one more time for the somber “Something in the Way”, that harkens back to Cobain’s shambled town of Aberdeen, WA. And finally, the album crescendos in the destructive, madcap “Endless Nameless” that features a good amount of destruction that would be a signature of Nirvana’s live show.