Sunday, October 2, 2011

Return to Rock: Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)

Return to Rock is an exploration and reevaluation of the music that seemed important at a particular time. What was it like to get in to an album the first time, and has my opinion held up over time?

Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)

Let’s be honest with each other. How long has it been since you’ve listened to Nevermind? Sure, maybe you picked it up this week with all of the press around the 20th anniversary? But how about before that. One, two years? Is Nevermind an album that you pick up on a regular basis to give a few spins? For me, it has got to be at least five years since I spent some time really focusing on what Nirvana had to say all the way back in 1991. I’ve never even imported the disc into Itunes.

Nevermind , unsurprisingly, is a difficult album to talk about, as the myth and the music have conflated over the last two decades. This past week had really demonstrated this, as countless articles have explored how “Nirvana changed music forever,” something that must bemuse Dave Grohl and Kris(t) Novaselic to no end.

I think when I first heard Nevermind as an impressionable 12 year without a cool-older-brother to help guide and refine music taste, my affection for it was purely academic. It was something akin to, “I like this a lot because people are telling me that I should like this a lot.” That is not to say that I didn’t like the music, but rather that it was sold to me as something that I should like because I was trying to be cool, and since I liked cool things, I liked Nevermind. Parsing that sentence down, I liked that I liked Nevermind.

Back to my central statement, can an album be “The best of the 1990s” is it is rarely listened to? I am well aware that many of the writers for this site would cast their lots for OK Computer, myself included. Granted, Nevermind has worked itself onto mainstream AOR radio, where it has nestled it very comfortable next to Tuesday’s Get to Led Out Rock Block and Thursday’s Mandatory Metallica. (Next up, a double shot of Switchfoot.) Perhaps one of the testaments to Nevermind’s staying power is that more that tracks 1-5 show up in a playlist.

It is with this context that I picked up Nevermind for the first since roughly 2006 and let the ole’ stereo do its work. And yes, 1-5 remain awesome, but sadly awesome in the “I remember that!”type of way. We all know that there are gems here, and despite (or because of?) the More than a Feeling, connection, Smells like Teen Spirit in seminally amazing. A seemingly forgotten track, I was surprised about how forcefully Breed gallops out of the gate.

As a 15-year old, I am pretty sure that my favorite song was Drain You, although the coda always bothered me. Why does the song just lazily peter out on us?

But if we separate the academic deconstruction of Nevermind as the neo-Sgt. Pepper, what are the kick-ass songs that are left over? Truthfully, there’s not a stinker among them. Yes, yes, we may have all gotten sick of hearing Lithium, but let’s not forget that it’s a really really good song. Maybe, it’s in this niche that Nevermind has had its largest musical influence. On Nevermind, we have really good songs performed really well by really genuine people at a really opportune time[1]. So, I say somewhat begrudgingly, Nevermind remains a great way to spent 42-odd minutes.

[1] Unlike a lot of other artists, I’m not aware on any significant covers of Nirvana’s songs. Radiohead will play Neal Young and REM. Who plays Nirvana?

No comments:

Post a Comment