I tried to omit this. I really did – but I can’t.
Unlike the other entries in my “20 Albums” category where albums are relatively obscure I won’t go through it track by track. There’s no point, it’s so widely known. Intsead i’ll offer my own musings on what was a truly great album, scratch that, a truly great band, for a wide range of reasons.
I have not listened to Nevermind in its entirety for over a decade. I just can’t listen to it. Why? I cannot really say…. It’s best left alone for me right now.
I guess it’s the whole Kurt Cobain thing – what you got was a genuine artist that you could see in the era that followed this album was deeply uncomfortable with the fame that Nevermind brought.
When Nevermind came out I was disappointed at how the album looked. It looked like a full on commercial album. The band had signed to the major label Geffen. As I brought the album back to a mates girlfriends flat on the bus I was also bemused to see the spelling of Kurt’s name had been altered to make it look more mainstream too. At this point I had not heard the album, I was beginning to have doubts.
Where the album triumphs is that it’s like the band sense they have to play the wider field, for the label, or whatever. They just go for it – and boy, does it work.
I saw Nirvana at Goldwyns in Birmingham in October 1990. That would have been the short U.K. tour to promote Sliver, the single that sits between Bleach and Nevermind. When they encored they played 3 new songs. I’m pretty sure they played Smells Like Teen Spirit as one of these three then unheard tracks really was immediately miles more accessible than the Bleach material. Cobain looked transformed for the encores. It may have been a backstage dabble, but he looked fired up, mischievous, and in contrast to the main set where he’d looked slightly disinterested he looked like he was really enjoying it. That remains my fondest Nirvana memory, the band really going for it and showcasing some incredible new material.
Back to Nevermind. On the first listen, 3 of us listened to Side One pretty much in silence. When the needle skated off, we just put it back on Side One again. It was that good. It was like Nirvana had bulldozed their way to the front of everything. Everything. When the music was “now” it was really fucking cool.
Everywhere you went, house parties, etc – Nevermind was on. Really everyone loved it. Punks, students, dance kids, metal heads, the album appealed to the generation.
After the dust settled I can remember thinking to myself – how can they follow this? Nevermind really was alternative music pushed to the max. It single-handedly wiped the floor with R.E.M, The Pixies and all the post punk material that had influenced it (Black Flag, Sonic Youth, etc). How it managed to push so many correct buttons all at one time I still cannot fathom out.
We all know how the tale plays out. When the picture of Kurt (below) appeared in the music press I began to have worries. It’s heralded as one of “rocks great photos” – but straight away you could see that was not a staged shot, he looks damn upset. If I was to draw a parallel and, say that shot was of Axl Rose, i’d have thought “what’s he got to worry about – he’s loaded and in a hugely succesful band”.
That’s the difference, you could see / feel that Nirvana had ventured too far. I imagine the band would have been much happier with a 10th of the success, less even. It wasn’t what they were about and stadium gigs with Bon Jovi fans must have irked them hugely.
The difference between when they played Reading in ’91 and ’92 was notable. In 1991 they were on before Chapterhouse about 4pm in the afternoon. It was an astonishing show – all what rock n’ roll mayhem is about. In ’92 they already had a mythical status, a status I firmly believe destroyed them.
Yes, their were other factors at play. I can’t imagine Kurt’s relationship could have been an easy one, this coupled with having a new born child and the widely reported heroin use couldn’t have helped.
When he died people were upset like to the extent that a family member had died. It hit hard. People were angry. Not only from a selfish point that we wanted to see how the music would have played out – but people actually cared. Damn rare. When I saw the images of the Converse trainers and the covered up body on Sky News I was off work and watching it on my own. It was a truly upsetting moment. These images came a day after the news broke, that’s when it really hit home – he’d gone. What a true tragedy.
Phew! Excuse me.
Anyhow. I pointed out that I wouldn’t go through the album track by track as I usually do that whilst listening to the album i’m writing up.
Hopefully in a few years I can / will revisit the album in its glorious entirety. I’ve found writing this up oddly theraputic. Maybe i’ll recapture some of that feeling the album gave me the first time I listened to it.
Damn they were a great band.