Throwback Thursday: Nirvana’s Nevermind
1991: a time when hair metal and Michael Jackson dominated the music charts. In September of that year, the most unlikely candidate would change the game. A movement was growing in the Seattle, Washington area that would redefine pop music. That movement is Grunge. Grunge began to evolve in the late 80’s. It combined punk, heavy metal, and other genres that jaded teenagers who had nothing better to do than drink, smoke, and play guitar gravitated towards. But it was Nirvana who brought the genre to the mainstream, mostly due to their single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
The song brought Nirvana and their peers to the masses. MTV showed the music video constantly, and the song played on the radio a ton as well. Nobody expected this success from a band that expected to sell maybe a couple thousand albums, but as of today their album Nevermind has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
The album itself is amazing. The lyrical style of Kurt Cobain is almost unmatched. Even besides “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the album has so much to offer. Cobain writes about everything, from love to social alienation to rape. No stone is unturned by his pen. A great thing about his style is that the listener has to work for the meaning in the song. Cobain writes lyrics that rely on metaphor. Take the song “Polly” for example. A news article that Cobain read in 1987 about a 14-year-old girl who was abducted and raped inspired this song. Cobain took this story and wrote a song about it, using the metaphor of a bird named Polly. At first listen, it would be very hard to decipher this meaning from the song.
Besides the lyrics, the sound of this album is raw and pure. Cobain’s voice expresses emotion beautifully. He makes the listener feel what he feels. He can sing quietly and despairingly like in “Something in the Way”, but he can also yell and put all his energy into the song like in the second half of “Lounge Act”. While Cobain’s guitar-work is not overly complicated, it is focused on the power, much like his vocals. It’s clean for sure, but grunge is driven by dynamic changes: clean guitars on the verses, juxtaposed with blaring distorted sounds on the choruses.
Krist Novoselic’s plays the bass superbly. Take the bass-line in “Stay Away”, or even in “Lithium”, a song where the bass hides behind the guitar more, but still adds so much to the track.
Finally, the drumming of Dave Grohl completes the album. Grohl left everything on the stage. He broke drumheads constantly. While he is never in the forefront, the power and backbone he brings to the album holds it together. A great track to listen to for this is “Breed.”
Almost twenty-five years after the album’s release, and 21 years after the death of Kurt Cobain, Nevermind still impacts millions of listeners. Kurt Cobain remains a pop culture icon, and Dave Grohl is still active in the music industry with his band Foo Fighters, along with numerous other projects. Nirvana may not be playing shows any longer, but they will never be truly gone.
Image via flickr.