In 1991, a sole band crushed the popularity of an entire genre, and subsequently changed the face of music forever. Everyone’s heard the story; Nirvana brought grunge to the forefront of music sending MTV in a rampage. They ultimately destroyed the incredibly popular hair metal genre that dominated the 80’s. Hailing from Seattle, Nirvana, among other grunge giants, brought a new culture to music. Fashion became jeans and flannels, haircuts became normalized compared to the glam metal days, and concerts did not revolve around a spectacular show filled with imagery and explosives. Essentially grunge combined elements of classic rock, metal, and alternative rock, while discussing social issues that impacted many Americans. I love hair metal, but I have to say the lyrics were pretty bland when you compare them to the lyrics of grunge music.
Nevermind was truly the album that sparked the grunge revolution. Nirvana became the most popular band in the world and their singles are constantly played on radio stations to this day. Kurt Cobain wrote some truly incredible songs on this album, and although some are much more popular than others, all of these songs are worth listening to.
The album begins with the seemingly immortal “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Cobain’s guitar intro leading into Dave Grohl’s drumming will forever be one of the greatest album openings in history. Practically everyone has heard the song, filled with Cobain’s ridiculous shouts. Describing the song, Cobain states “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard” (Fricke). The album continues with another single, “In Bloom”. This song is catchy, yet meant to describe fans who didn’t really understand Nirvana’s message. Another single, “Come As You Are” follows. The song discusses contradictions, stating “Take your time, hurry up, choice is yours, don’t be late”. Until recently, I hadn’t heard Killing Joke’s “Eighties” yet the intro to “Come As You Are” sounds almost identical. It’s actually a miracle that Nirvana didn’t get sued. “Breed” rounds out the first four songs, and is my personal favorite off the album. Cobain delivers again with some brilliant lyrics and this song has pure Nirvana sound and energy.
The last single of the album comes next. Titled “Lithium”, the song deals with religious undertones, the notion that religion can possibly save (Al and Cake). The acoustic “Polly” follows, which is a nice change of pace from the overall heavy grunge sound of the album. The song has some nice lyrics. “Territorial Pissings” is the next track. Similar to the “Breed”, the song has a great sound with raw energy. There’s a lot of distortion, and Krist Novoselic’s lyrical intro is classic: “Come on people now smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” “Drain You” is the eighth song of the album, and was mainly created by Cobain on the spot (Cross 233).
“Lounge Act” comes after and is one of the hidden gems of the record. Novoselic has a memorable bass line, Grohl’s drumming is spontaneous, and Cobain completes the song with nice chords and great vocals. Something about Cobain shifting from speaking to singing to screaming is fantastic and this song really showcases it. The song drowns out right into the beginning of “Stay Away”. Another song with great bass and drumming, “Stay Away” is actually pretty similar to “Lounge Act”. Both are good songs that aren’t as well known as the singles. “On A Plain” features some incredibly deep lyrics from Cobain, including the chorus “love myself better than you. I know it’s wrong, but what should I do?” The album concludes with “Something in the Way”, which tells the alleged story of Cobain sleeping under a bridge in Washington. Novoselic and others have confirmed the untruth behind this, but did state this area was a popular area for teenagers of the scene to hang around (Cross). After the song, ten minutes of silence follow before the very experimental hidden track “Endless, Nameless” begins. This final track really foreshadows what Nirvana would do with their next album.
Overall, Nevermind is one of the classic albums of the 1990’s that altered the musical landscape. In a year dominated by incredible albums (Ten, Badmotorfinger, Blood Sugar Sex Magic, Metallica), Nevermind takes the cake as the best. The album has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and certainly surprised many when it became such a huge hit. Grunge was never supposed to become mainstream, but Cobain and crew made it so. The cover is classic and has been mimicked throughout popular culture (Weird Al, Simpsons). Every song is worth a listen, as Cobain’s lyrics are filled with mysterious content; content that will forever be analyzed.
Al and Cake. “An interview with…Kurt Cobain.” Flipside. May/June 1992.
Cross, Charles R. Heavier than Heaven. Pg 233.
Fricke, David (January 27, 1994). “Kurt Cobain, The Rolling Stone Interview: Success Doesn’t Suck”. Rolling Stone.