Monday, February 15, 2010

Nevermind (1991)

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" It was clear from first encounter how good this album was—I will say by way of explanation that I was onto it early enough that I ended up with one of the pressings that inadvertently left off the hidden track "Endless, Nameless" (which btw has been A-OK with me anyway). But I, for one, never foresaw or even imagined the full dimensions of the greatest major label sell-out of all time. Ten million unit sales, nearly 20 years, and a generational earthquake later, it still sounds fine, though the debt to the Pixies is clear enough, in terms of its quiet-loud-quiet dynamic, opaque titling strategies, patent damage to vocal cords in process, occasional surprisingly clumsy resorts to cliché, and the overweening air of general disaffection. On the other hand, that singer/songwriter from Bleach, Kurdt Kobain, suddenly demonstrated not only that he could match Black Francis scream for scream and better him right down the line, but that he could write pop music circles around practically anyone within a 25,000-mile radius. Or, as he put it, "I think we sound like the Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath." Honestly, for all the debts that could be listed (all of the above plus Sonic Youth, Flipper, Husker Du, Saccharine Trust, Scratch Acid, yes of course Iggy, and we're just getting started), I think very few of them actually match Kurt Cobain's songwriting acumen, though I would also argue that the very best of it is not necessarily here. That's no criticism of anything on this album—it's an expression of how big a talent is behind it. (Wait a minute. "In Bloom." "Come As You Are." "Lithium." What am I saying?) Those still new to the various classic stylings of grunge, here's your starting point.

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