Nirvana's Iconic Album "Nevermind," Turns Twenty Five
On September 24, 1991, A band from Aberdeen Washington released their first major label record and the world was never quite the same place again. It was the classic situation where the right people were put in the right place at the right time. The place was DGC Records a subsidiary of Geffen Records. The time was a point where most of the world found itself bored out of its mind. The band was, Nirvana, the album was Nevermind.
It’s hard to believe it but the groundbreaking breakthrough album by Nirvana is as old today as Sgt. Pepper’s lonely-hearts club band (the legendary album by The Beatles) was the day Nevermind came out. That may seem like a comparison that I randomly pulled from a place we all don’t care to hear about, but Kurt Cobain (lead singer and songwriter) was very much influenced by The Beatles. Even going as far as recording a hauntingly beautiful cover of the song “And I Love Her” which was left unreleased until just last year. But more important the comparison is used to show just how long twenty-five years is.
Twenty Five Years Later
Twenty five years before Nevermind came out, the year was 1966. The generation Kurt Cobain led a slacker revolution against, were themselves in their teens and twenties. So those of you who are good at math already get that the twenty fifth anniversary is an ironic one for Generation x. Gen x who now find themselves torn away from millennial’s much like the boomers were torn from them, they are all grown up now.
The grunge kid now has kids in high school or college. They have mortgages and two cars to pay for. They have 401k’s, pay into annual IRA’s and have vacation time-shares in Florida. They have become in a lot of ways everything they did not want to be. Well most did, we all know a few exceptions. But most of them did what most people do, they got jobs and became adults. They became in a lot of ways their parents.
Given the age of the album the baby in the Iconic cover is now at least twenty-five years old. Which is an accomplishment considering he probably faced years of humiliation after having his ransom baby photo become one of the most recognizable photographs in the entire world. He is probably just out of college and looking for a job to pay off his massive student debt. Chasing the same dollar on a hook as on the cover. The metaphor has become literal.
But much like how Kurt Cobain had his problems with the generation before him yet still loved its music. The Generation that followed him seems to feel the same way for his generation, yet still love the music. Especially when it comes to the music of Nirvana. Go to a mall or a skate park, you can still find a grungy looking teenager wearing a Nirvana tee shirt.
It’s not all that hard to imagine that kids born in the 1990’s would still love a band like Nirvana. If you turned on an alt-rock station in the 1990s to mid 2000s, you would likely hear three Nirvana songs played in any given hour. You could not hide from the music of Nirvana in those days. So naturally bands like Nirvana is the music the Millennial generation grew up to. Much like how the Gen Xer’s and Kurt Cobain grew up to the music of The Beatles and other bands of that era.
Only So Much Time
But unlike The Beatles, Nirvana had only three albums to leave such a lasting mark. Of the three albums made before the untimely death of Kurt Cobain, Nevermind left the deepest imprint in pop culture. Almost every song on the album is iconic to the grunge and alternative music genres. The album produced four hit singles when it was first released and another five after the death of Kurt Cobain meant there would be no more new singles to release.
After this album Nirvana would only release one more studio album In utero in 1993. Kurt Cobain was found dead on April 8, 1994. He allegedly had killed himself three days before on April 5, 1994. An assumption made by the Seattle Police Department that (due to the gross mishandling of the scene of death and other evidence involved in the case) is still disputed and will continue to be disputed for many years to come.
The album begins with one of the most Iconic guitar intros in the history of the instrument. A real simple riff played in the first position produces attitude and sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became an anthem for a generation. Quite a remarkable thing considering most people could not understand what Kurt Cobain was saying. Weird Al Yankovic famously made this point when he parodied the song as “Smells Like Nirvana”. He gargled water and sang the song with marbles in his mouth to prove the point “I can’t understand him”. But words were not what this generation was looking for in an anthem. They wanted the songs pure and raw emotion.
The song is followed by “In Bloom” a song with a catchy melody reminiscent of The Beatles early music, even going as far as doing a fun Ed Sullivan themed black and white music video for it. The next few songs follow a similar formula of choruses with simple chord progressions played through thrashing distortion with hard-hitting drums and catchy yet dark lyrical melodies (Even a good ole popish “yeah” chorus shines through on the song “Lithium”), Into melodic bridges that really showcase the talent of Kurt Cobain as a song composer.
Some songs on the album's second half rev it up from the formula, like the songs “Territorial Pissing” and “Stay Away” which takes a straight forward thrash/speed-punk like approach. The song “Lounge Act” is also reminiscent of a lot of early punk rock songs. The album then shifts back down to the main formula in the song “On A Plain”. One of the catchier songs on the album, sets precedence of the decline in tempo into the album's closing song “Something In The Way”
All great albums have great closing songs. This is one of the most unbreakable rules ever applied to anything. When it came to the judgment of Nevermind’s great album worthiness, no exceptions were given. “Something In The Way” is one of the best album ending songs ever made and (dare I say) might just be my favorite. In the context of an album that keeps revving up the chaos all the way to the final two songs, “Something In The Way” is somehow a soothing therapeutic escape. It is that despite its sad and depressing lyrics like “it's ok to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings”. Other than lyrical content the song is a complete departure from the rest of the album. A bold move on an album that uses bold moves as the album's main concept.
Nevermind still holds up as an amazing album twenty-five years on. Also stands well against albums that have come after its release. As with all good art this album will be taken in by many future generations. Do not be surprised when you hear your future grandchildren listening to this very album turned up in their bedroom with the door locked. Just know that this has become a modern rite of passage into adulthood, "The Nirvana Phase". By then you can say "We've all been through it."
I hope you enjoyed this trip back. Please comment on what you liked about the album and pick your favorite song on the album in the poll below. Thank you and don't forget to share.