Saturday, September 24, 2011

COMFORT IN SOUND: Nirvana's "Nevermind" (A 20th Anninversary Special)

Comfort in Sound pays homage to some of my favourite albums of all time; albums that I return to again and again for both their greatness and their ability to make me draw on memories of times gone by...

Nevermind, the second studio album from Nirvana, was released exactly 20 years ago today, on 24th September 1991. At that time, I was eight years old. Now, granted, I was listening to a lot of great music by that time - The Eagles, The Beatles and Michael Jackson, for example, formed part of my daily soundtrack - but I was yet to discover the Seattle grunge scene. It wasn't until I was ten and was visiting my cousin's house that I heard the bass line for 'Come As You Are' and was hooked. He copied the entire album onto a cassette tape for me that very night and I went home, put on my father's headphones, sat on the sitting room floor by his stereo and took the sound of Nirvana in. I've been a fan ever since.

No one ever expected Nevermind to be as big of a success as it was. Despite Kurt Cobain's huge longing to have Nirvana's music moved outside of the restrictive confines of Seattle, the band and the album's record label were stunned when Nevermind climbed the American charts in January 1992 as a result of the popularity of its opening track and lead single 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', knocking Michael Jackson's Dangerous from the top spot. At that point in time, the album was selling on average 300,000 copies a week. 'Come As You Are' was released in March of 1992, with 'Lithium' and 'In Bloom' being released in July and November respectively. 

On its release, Nevermind was met with mostly positive reviews from newspapers, magazines and music critics alike, but to teenagers the world over it was so much more than a successful sophomore effort by an up-and-coming Aberdeen rock band. It didn't have quite the same effect on the innocent and sheltered 10-year-old me, but in the months (and years) to come I would realise the full extent of its now almost immortal status. Nevermind, for so many, was an exhilerating and liberating album. Its angst and rage-filled songs, seeping with the inner frustrations of the youth of the 90s, really shook people, right down to their Converse sneakers and Dr Marten boots. Nirvana's sound was authentic and honest, and for many teenagers, it stood out from anything they had heard before. That perfect combination of underground, alternative grunge and relatively mainstream appeal, along with lyrics that questioned and condemned the hypocrisy of the world and the alienating effects it could have on them, made the album something that young people needed at that time; there was a comfort in its sound. They could identify with it.

Nevermind propelled Nirvana to international fame. Within six months of its release the album was everywhere - playing constantly in record stores across America, and streamed across radio stations and music channels - and Kurt Cobain went from being a troubled youth struggling to get his music heard, to one of the most recognisable faces in music. People everywhere, regardless of what they were into or what way they dressed, loved Nirvana. Nevermind had a universal appeal that, in a rare instance in music at that time, allowed the underground to seep overground.

Six months after I had heard Nevermind for the first time, Cobain was found dead in the space above the garage in his home on Lake Washington Boulevard in Seattle. Although I was a massive fan of the album by this time, you have to realise these were the days before Google and MTV (well, in my house anyway), so an 11-year-old Irish girl had limited resources to fulfill her morbid curiosity. But I continued to listen to that album, almost obsessively. And In Utero, the album that followed it. And I guess it was really from that point on, six months after I heard that bass line of 'Come As You Are' for the first time, that I truly became aware of the impact Nevermind and Nirvana had on our generation. So much so, that it is now impossible to mention the word "grunge" without conjuring an image of Kurt Cobain, or to throw Seattle into a sentence without thinking of Nirvana. 

Twenty years later and the imprint that has been left behind is more apparent than ever; Nevermind, unlike so many other albums that came before it and have gone by after it, is still an authentic and exhilerating listen, still has a massive effect on people, and is still one of the very greatest albums of our time. 

It would just be plain weird to not close this special "Comfort in Sound" feature with this video, as obvious and predictable as that may be:

1 comment:

  1. Interesting discussions about the quality of this reissue's recordings here: