Revisiting the heavier than heaven debut Nirvana album “Bleach”

Nirvana released their first album in 1989

Revisiting the heavier than heaven debut Nirvana album “Bleach”

Proudly recorded by $606.17 as it states on the back cover, Nirvana’s debut “Bleach” it’s perhaps the only legitimate Grunge album they did. Released on June 15, 1989 on Sub Pop, the record features a selection of Grunge songs that approach the style used by some of their Seattle peers, such as The Melvins, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden or TAD, a slow and sludgy Grunge Rock with influences of Punk and 70’s Heavy Metal blend in together (and on “Bleach” case, even influences of Celtic Frost). Eventually, while Alice In Chains or Soundgarden would find success using that formula, Nirvana dropped it shortly after, evolving into a musical path much closer to Mudhoney, Sonic Youth and the U.S Northwest Punk music scene of bands such as The Wipers. All these influences came to shape what it’s now perceived as the Nirvana’s signature sound, that became quite distinct from most commercially successful Grunge bands at the time. Most of the songs on “Bleach” were written by Kurt Cobain between 1986 and 1988, “Floyd, The Barber” and “Paper Cuts” (and later bonus track “Downer”) were even recovered from their first demo tape featuring Dale Crover from The Melvins on drums. Unable to get a final result with Chad Channing that sounded as good, the band decided to remix the songs and use it on “Bleach”. Lyrically, the album it’s not as alienated as “Nevermind”, but according to Cobain, most of the lyrics were written in a rush on the night before the recording begun. Even if most are “negative” and written on a rush, there are quite good lyrical moments such as the line “Yes I Eat Cow I Am Not Proud”, on “Mr. Moustache” or “I’ll take advantage while You hang me out to dry But I can’t see you every night, free” on “About A Girl”, also the chaotic almost apocalyptic scream of “I Said So Nirvana” and the prophetic line “And very later I have learned to Accept some friends of ridicule My whole existence is for your amusement And that is why I’m here with you!” on “Paper Cuts”. But indeed, music it’s the most important or significant part of “Bleach”. “Blew”, that opens the album it’s a song that mashes together Punk and Heavy Metal to the point where we can’t guess where one influence begins and it ends. “Floyd, The Barber”, a song that tells a story about the claustrophobic small city of Aberdeen in Washington, where Cobain and Krist Novoselic met and grew up, it’s essentially the story of a forced haircut. “About A Girl”, maybe the most acclaimed track on the album it’s classic Nirvana, a Beatles influenced song, which Cobain stated having written after a day listening to The Beatles second album “With The Beatles”.

The Beatles influence on Kurt Cobain’s songwriting played a pivotal role on Nirvana music from the very beginning , and “About A Girl”, it’s the best early example of it, almost like a hint on “Bleach” telling their Grunge Rock peers that their musical direction was about to change and they wouldn’t be doing slow heavy Grunge for years to come. “School” it’s the first Punk track on “Bleach”, a song that became a staple for Nirvana live concerts until their last tour. “Love Buzz” denounces the Psychedelic Rock influence on Nirvana music, the song, originally recorded by 60’s/70’s Psychedelic Dutch band Shocking Blue (the same band who recorded “Venus”), was perfectly transformed from slow Psychedelic to a powerful Grunge song with the addition of one of Cobain’s best guitar solos to be featured on record touched by feedback and noise. “Paper Cuts”, slow, sludgy, heavy and chaotic, reminiscent of The Melvins signature sound at the time, Dale Crover being on drums does help to it. “Negative Creep” it’s another Punk song with a Metal embodiment, one of the most powerful musically and lyrically in the album. “Scoff”, “Swap Meet” and “Sifting” are more classic Grunge Rock songs using the formula they would drop later, “Mr. Moustache” it’s a fast upbeat song leaning more into the Punk Rock side. Additionally, on the German CD pressing of the album and also when it was reissued, in 1990 and in 1992 post-“Nevermind”, two bonus tracks were added, “Downer”, a fast and short Punk song featuring spoken verses with a strong bass line and drum presence by Dale Crover (remixed from their first demo), and, “Big Cheese” (the original 1988 B-Side to “Love Buzz” which replaced that same track on the original U.K pressing of the album) one of Nirvana’s best songs, with a nice dark New Wave feeling to it blend with 1970’s Hard Rock. Overall, “Bleach” it’s a five-star album. It’s quite amazing when comparing it to other albums from Sub Pop at the time, and noticing how Nirvana was destined to become something bigger. Ironically, at the time, they were not the Sub Pop’s priority, and actually, after their initial single “Love Buzz” in 1988, the label had planned an EP not a full album, but after a few months and the recording was concluded, Sub Pop was able to gather enough funds to release a full album. Also interesting to notice the line up of Nirvana on “Bleach”. The drumming differences between Chad Channing and Dave Grohl are the most notable difference. While Channing’s energetic drumming is perfect for the Grunge formula Nirvana was using on “Bleach”, it’s uncertain if he would be capable to move on to a direction of songs such as “Come As You Are” or “All Apologies” with the same versatility that Grohl did. Jason Everman, who is credited as the guitarist, didn’t actually played on it, he covered the recording costs of “Bleach” and so the credit was given as a thank you gesture from the band. Soon after, Everman was fired from Nirvana and joined Soundgarden for a short period of time. Jack Endino, fetish producer of Sub Pop, assured the production of “Bleach”, he would never work with the band again on a studio album but still produced other songs for them before they moved to Geffen and Butch Vig in 1990, recommended by Sonic Youth. “Bleach” deserves its place on Rock history, not just because it’s Nirvana’s debut album, but also because it marks a period and shifts on music history. It’s almost like a final stab in the 1980’s commercial Rock music scene, a revolution about to begin with the sepulchral screams and angry guitar of Kurt Cobain that remains timeless and relevant as it was back then. Soon after “Bleach” was released, Nirvana embarked on a low budget and first European tour, “Heavier Than Heaven”, together with Sub Pop friends TAD (the band that Sub Pop was actually investing more in promoting). In less than two years, Nirvana would be one of the biggest Rock bands in the world and leave a mark on Rock history forever.

All tracks written by Kurt Cobain, except where noted

Side 1
1 “Blew”
2 “Floyd the Barber”
3 “About a Girl”
4 “School”
5 “Love Buzz” (Shocking Blue cover, not included on the 1989 UK release and replaced by “Big Cheese”[50] but included on the 1992 UK CD reissue) Robbie van Leeuwen
6 “Paper Cuts”

Side 2
7 “Negative Creep”
8 “Scoff”
9 “Swap Meet”
10 “Mr. Moustache”
11 “Sifting”

Tracks included on the 1992 reissue:

12 “Big Cheese” Cobain, Krist Novoselic
13 “Downer”

Kurdt Kobain: vocals, guitar
Krist Novoselic: bass guitar
Chad Channing: drums
Jason Everman: credited as a second guitarist, although did not perform on the album

Additional Personnel
Dale Crover: drums on “Floyd the Barber”, “Paper Cuts”, and “Downer”
Tracy Marander: photography
Charles Peterson: photography

Produced by:Jack Endino
Recorded during:January 23, 1988 June–September 1988 December 1988–January 1989 at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington
Released:June 15, 1989
Label: Sub Pop

“Love Buzz” Released: November 1988
“Blew” Released: December 1989

Strongest tracks:
“Blew”, “About a Girl”, “School”, “Love Buzz”, “Negative Creep”, “Paper Cuts”, “Sifting”, “Big Cheese”

Watch footage of Nirvana promoting “Bleach” live at Rhino Record Store in Los Angeles, June 23, 1989

Also watch Nirvana Live in Linz, Austria, during their “Bleach” European tour with TAD, November 20, 1989

Listen to the album “Bleach” on Spotify

Watch more Nirvana related videos


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