Nirvana loads up on fire, power and angst on Nevermind
By RICK ROOS
IT SEEMS THAT EVERY YEAR around this time, the alternative music press decides what is the big sound for the upcoming year. In the past, bands toasted by these critics enjoyed a great deal of success and even crossed over into the mainstream music pool; more often than not, their music was anywhere from dull and bland to purely excruciating. Two years ago, the "can't-miss groups" were those boasting the Manchester sound, bands like The Stone Roses, The Charlatans U.K. and Inspiral Carpets. While their music did sell records, it could best be described as Greg Brady on acid with an electric guitar and organ. Last year's recipient of this sure-fire ticket to stardom was EMF, whose musical ineptitude, silly lyrics and blistering hype campaign had these talentless British lads appropriately tagged New Kids on the Alternative Block.
This year, to my amazement, the target of these same critics' praise is a powerful, explosive band from Seattle called Nirvana. Almost every alternative publication has touted their new release, Nevermind, as a masterpiece of straight-ahead rock and roll music. The album simmers with an angry fire and angst unparalleled by anything since early Sonic Youth releases.
The band itself has been around since the mid- to late eighties and has enjoyed, at best, moderate success, with fair record sales and sporadic college radio airplay. However, in the past two years, as attention focused on their record label Sub Pop, the band was thrust into the musical spotlight. Fellow labelmates Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins, all characterized by the same grungy, unpolished sound, released major-label debuts within the last couple of years which were met with outstanding critical praise and sales. Soon, at the urging of Sonic Youth, Nirvana signed to DGC, a subsidiary of Geffen records, and recorded Nevermind.
The twelve tracks on Nevermind are all relatively simple but shine brilliantly thanks to the raw energy and stellar musicianship possessed by this young outfit. The first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," is an anthem in the making. Already generating a large-scale audience on alternative and album-oriented radio stations, the song is poised to become a classic. On the track, vocalist Kurt Cobain ascends from soft, melodic tones to swelling crescendos as the song slowly progresses. This, coupled with the work of David Grohl on drums, Chris Novoselic on bass and Cobain on guitar, make the song a ferocious, over-the-top masterpiece.
Other shining tracks follow a similar musical recipe. The song "On a Plain" further promotes Nirvana's simple, yet clever philosophy with its chorus of "Love myself, better than you, you know it's wrong, so what should I do. I'm on a plain. I can't complain." The song treads a fine line without falling into the chasm of the "shake-your-fists" metal music typified by Aerosmith and the dreaded Bon Jovi.
Another excellent cut is the two-minute sizzler "Territorial Pissings," which sounds like a cross between the dreariness of Sonic Youth and the three-chord frenzy of The Ramones. It boasts the refrain "Never met a wise man, if so it's a woman, gotta find a way to find a way, I had better wait."
The band demonstrates their "sensitive" side with the two cuts "Polly" and "Something on the Way." These songs succeed in that, though toned down, they still bubble with the band's attitude of frustration and dismay.
The true strong point of Nevermind has to be its depth, with each track sounding as fresh and biting as the rest. The band plays straightforward music untainted
by overproduction and overimagination. I have not witnessed genius of this level since the days of early H"usker D"u and Pixies recordings. Tracks, such as "Breed," "In Bloom," "Lithium" and "Drain You" are gems, with the band displaying their flair for creating basic, yet awe-inspiring songs. Even the less spectacular cuts, "Come as You Are," "Lounge Act" and "Stay Away," seem exceptional when compared to the swill that most other groups try to force down the public's throats these days. Nevermind is a must-have for any collection, and Nirvana is deserving of any and all hype heaped upon them by critics and listeners alike.