“Nevermind”: A Pop Mix Inside A Punk Test Tube

Nirvana’s “Nevermind” defined and changed Rock music forever in 1991

“Nevermind”: A Pop Mix Inside A Punk Test Tube

With the release of “Nevermind” on September 24th, 1991, Nirvana changed the Rock music scene drastically, in such ways that many of the former successful 1980’s Rock bands would called it quits after being unable to find a way to compete with the raw and crude sound of the Seattle band.

While many of the 1980’s Hard Rock bands built a sound that laid heavily on guitar virtuoso technique, well tuned vocals, a marketed stage presence and image together with “macho” attitude,  Nirvana were literally the opposite of it all, they were  no music virtuoso’s nor they ever claimed to be (Cobain stated once that he  may never “be able to play like Joe Satriani”, but Satriani would never be able to play like him neither), Kurt Cobain’s voice was as organic as could be, reminiscent of singers such as John Lennon, Nirvana didn’t wear tight spandex or flamboyant stage customs, instead they would wear their worn out Salvation Army like clothes and long locks of greasy hair, and as opposed to the “macho” attitude, they were loud voices and advocates for women’s and LGBT rights. Just a few months before September 1991, Nirvana were practically an unknown band, keeping a small army of followers since their debut in 1989 with “Bleach”, their second album “Nevermind” was the first to be recorded and released to a major label, DGC, which was where Geffen Records signed small bands with some potential to sell a few records. Sonic Youth, one of their major influences, were also big Nirvana fans and being on Geffen they suggested the label to sign them, back then many of the U.S northwest Rock scene that was named Grunge,  were being signed to major labels such as Alice In Chains and Soundgarden.  In 1991 Nirvana recorded “Nevermind” with producer Butch Vig, they released the first single from it “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, in September 1991 and on the 24th, the album. By then some of Rock fans already had started to get acquainted with the band due to the music video of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that proved to be the smash hit from “Nevermind”, but when the full album was released, it was the Alternative Rock revolution taking the 1990’s music by storm in a short period of time.

A smart and unique blend of Punk, Metal and Pop Sensibility made Nirvana sound distinctively different from other Seattle bands, the songs in “Nevermind” have the Pop appeal that at the time, bands like Alice In Chains or Soundgarden didn’t had, most of the songs  in “Nevermind” are pure Pop mixed into a Punk test tube that gives birth to a new hybrid of Rock. Songs such as “In Bloom”, “Come As You Are”, “Polly” or “Lounge Act” consists in a mature songwriting that is exquisite for a band as young as Nirvana were back then. There was no way that bands like Mötley Crüe , Cinderella or Poison could compete with that formula which sounded easy to do but in fact, it’s highly complex unless you have the natural talent Kurt Cobain had to write songs. “Breed”, “Territorial Pissings” and “Stay Away” are fast Punk songs heavily influenced by the British form of it.  “Drain You” and “On A Plain” features non sense lyrics that sound perfectly fine to what the message is. “Lithium” it’s the ultimate blend of several music styles, a beautiful and delicately constructed song that achieves it’s finest version on the album, and the acoustic “Something In The Way” is the attempt to put Classical music into the mix by using a cello in a Beatlesque way. A pure explosion of music flavors heavily charged with electricity that defined the early 90’s Rock scene and got the attention of a worldwide audience. By 1992, “Nevermind” had kicked the King Of Pop Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” from No.1 in the charts, it was all too quick and too fast for Nirvana that were no longer unknown, they were standing side to side with some of the biggest Rock bands in the world such as the Guns N’ Roses, Metallica or AC/DC, however, they also were a world away from them. “Nevermind” changed not only the landscape of the music scene in the 90’s, but also changed culturally the mentality of a whole generation and killed somehow the idea that Rock music needed to be made for Rock fans only. Their alert to a consumption society was flat showed on the cover of the album, the now iconic circumcised  baby swimming naked underwater to fetch a dollar bill. It became one of the most recognized album covers of all time and represents the best and worst in people, the symbolism of it is overwhelming and fitting. Nirvana appeared as the usual outcasts that everyone met in their life at one point or other, and their songs spoke to not just a new generation of outcasts but also to older generations that saw the band as a music salvation that gave back integrity to Rock. Everything in “Nevermind” is in it’s right place, Dave Grohl’s drums are the energy beat that is essential to most of the songs, Krist Novoselic’s bass lines are the melodic rhythm section that stands in when Kurt Cobain’s guitar sometimes gets lost on purpose,  and Cobain’s voice is a loud scream deep from his lungs that speaks to the hearts of a worldwide audience of society outcasts, even if it’s just a wordless scream. Though Cobain always stated that the lyrics were not the most important part on his song composition process, “Nevermind” proves the contrary. The poem cut technique that he uses in “Nevermind” was influenced by beat poet William Burroughs, with whom he would collaborate later, it consisted on cutting parts of several different poems or texts and glued them together to build a lyric. It worked perfectly in “Nevermind”, but Cobain would retreat from that process later on when he composed the band’s final studio album “In Utero” in 1993. “Nevermind” release on CD features a hidden track that is a fantastic spectacle of noise and sound, “Endless, Nameless” an experimental song that is reminiscent of Sonic Youth, it’s the contradiction to all the songs in the album.

For some, “Nevermind” it’s maybe not their best album, it is their successful that is sure, the polished sound the band obtained with Butch Vig was perfect and fitting for it,  those songs could had never been done like the heavy slow Grunge on “Bleach” or the corrosive raw formula used on “In Utero”. It was a period  in time where music was at one of it’s finest moments, “Nevermind” it’s a remembrance of that time but, the freshness of it’s sound and music echoes to this day and passes on to new generations that keep listening to the influential songwriting of Kurt Cobain.

Side 1
1 “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic)
2 “In Bloom”
3 “Come As You Are”
4 “Breed”
5 “Lithium”
6 “Polly”

Side 2
7 “Territorial Pissings” (Cobain, Chet Powers)
8 “Drain You”
9 “Lounge Act”
10 “Stay Away”
11 “On A Plain”
12 “Something In The Way”
13 “Endless, Nameless” (Hidden Bonus Track on CD only)

All songs were written by Kurt Cobain, except where noted

Kurt Cobain: (credited for the “Monkey Photo” as Kurdt Kobain) – vocals, guitar, photography
Dave Grohl: drums, backing vocals
Krist Novoselic: (credited as Chris Novoselic) – bass guitar, vocals on the intro of “Territorial Pissings”

Additional Personnel:
Chad Channing: cymbals on “Polly” (uncredited)
Kirk Canning: cello on “Something in the Way”

Craig Doubet: assistant engineering, mixing
Spencer Elden: infant in cover photo
Robert Fisher: artwork, art direction, design, cover design
Andy Wallace: mixing
Kirk Weddle: cover photo
Michael Lavine: photography

Recorded during: April 1990; May 2–19, 1991 at Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, California Smart Studios, Madison, Wisconsin
Produced by: Butch Vig
Release Date: September 24th, 1991
Label: DGC

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” Released: September 10, 1991
“Come as You Are” Released: March 2, 1992
“Lithium” Released: July 13, 1992
“In Bloom” Released: November 30, 1992

Strongest tracks:

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “In Bloom”, “Come As You Are”, “Lithium”, “Polly”, “Drain You”, “Breed”, “Something In The Way”, “Territorial Pissings”

Watch the 1992 Nirvana music video of “Come As You Are” based on the “Nevermind” album art

Listen to “Nevermind” on Spotify

Watch more Nirvana related videos


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