On the Record: Nirvana – Nevermind

Quite surprisingly, the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s groundbreaking Nevermind doesn’t make me feel as old as the fact that it’s also the 10th anniversary for The Strokes’ Is This It? and The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived with Nevermind so fully since it seemingly single-handedly changed the face popular music in 1991. It arrived a full-fledged, timeless classic. When it debuted Nevermind sounded like nothing on mainstream radio or on MTV. Through the album’s B-sides, and the band’s other recordings, Kurt Cobain’s influences become clear, but Nevermind never sounds like anything else. Coming off of 1989’s Bleach, Nevermind finds the band in full form, and at their creative peak – no matter how good Bleach and In Utero are.

In the years following the album’s release, Cobain rallied against the sound of Nevermind, likening it to a Mötley Crüe record, but it sounds absolutely perfect in it’s final product. For contrast, the newly minted “Super Deluxe Edition” of the album comes with a disc labelled the “Devonshire Mixes,” early mixes done up by producer Butch Vig. These mixes don’t sound drastically different, though it’s a little rougher around the edges. Funnily enough, Vig’s mixes sound more dated than the glossed up Andy Wallace ones. Yet, what comes through no matter how you listen to the album, is that Nevermind is a pure and perfect pop record at its heart. Big singles like “In Bloom” and “Lithium” have huge, infectious choruses, but so do the album’s deeper cuts like “On a Plain” and “Lounge Act.” Cobain’s personal, off-beat lyrics are alternately harrowing, frightening, and surprisingly, fun.

I’m pretty sure at least two songs from Nevermind have been played on rock radio every single day in the two decades since the album’s release, which might make listeners not take note of this re-release as they should. Sure, it’s reassuring to hear “Come as You Are” on the radio on the drive home from work, but it’s not the same as revisiting the album in its whole; it’s a captivating, haunting, and energizing listen. Nevermind turned heads and made the world take notice in 1991, and it still has that power today – it’s a self-assured, magnificent album from start to finish. The rest of Nirvana’s catalogue is all essential, but there are few albums as singular, staggeringly brilliant, and timeless as Nevermind.

About James Hrivnak
The H is silent.

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