Instant Expert: Nirvana
You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each week, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: Nirvana.
Before Nirvana released 'Nevermind' in 1991, the only people who listened to punk rock were high school dropouts who came from broken families. Or at least that was the impression you got from the mainstream media. Punk sure wasn't being played on any conventional radio stations. Even most college stations were clogging their playlists with songs by more easy-on-the-ears groups like R.E.M. and the Cure. But 'Nevermind' sparked a musical revolution, a cultural shift that still reverberates through alternative nation and popular music in general. The Seattle band's 1989 debut album 'Bleach' is an abrasive work made by three punks who knew the value of an occasional pop-leaning hook. Two years later, they released 'Nevermind' on a major label, and things would never be the same -- not for music fans and not for the band. Nirvana's troubled frontman Kurt Cobain despised the spotlight and the rock-star game, and their 1993 follow-up LP 'In Utero' was a direct screw-the-mainstream reaction to 'Nevermind''s success, an open-wound, barely produced work that Cobain had hoped would turn off some of the band's new fans. It debuted at No. 1. A year later, he would take his own life at the age of 27, forever sealing his legend.
Two years after their scrappy debut, Nirvana were on a major record label and working with a top-notch studio team that helped shape 'Nevermind' into one of the most influential albums of the past 25 years. It was an immediate hit, reaching No. 1, and Cobain became a punk-rock hero for millions of kids across the globe. The album's opening track and first single, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit,' was a rallying cry for disenchanted youth everywhere. And modern rock radio would never be the same, as countless guitar-based bands quickly changed gears, adapting 'Nevermind''s primal assault as their new working template.
'Nevermind' is so overrated. If you really want to hear the pain Kurt Cobain struggled with every single day of his life, listen to the 'MTV Unplugged in New York' album. His emotions are so raw it hurts me to listen to them.
Nirvana sold out once they signed with a major label. 'Nevermind' is overproduced garbage. 'Bleach' is by far their best album -- it's so punk rock.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This
The best thing Nirvana ever did was to kill off crappy hair bands like Poison once and for all.