Twenty Years Later: Nirvana
Nirvana – Bleach
June 15, 1989
Sub Pop Records
Victim of Loudness War? No
Music is a very subjective entity, with opinions on the topic varying from person to person. Very few statements about music can be taken as absolute fact, simply because there will always be advocates and detractors for any thought voiced on the subject. There are, however, some concrete truths about music and its vast history that can be stated without fear of backlash. Among those statements: Nirvana changed the musical landscape with the release of their 1991 album, Nevermind. The rock scene was forever changed by Cobain and Co. with their sophomore record and it hasn’t been quite the same since.
But before that monumental album became a fixture of record store racks, Nirvana released a little-known and still overlooked gem by the name of Bleach. Emerging on the small but essential Sub Pop label in the early Summer of 1989, Bleach remains the blueprint for where Nirvana would take the entire rock music genre a couple of years later and truly gives hint to just how powerful a songwriter Kurt Cobain was. Although it does not possess the superior production values or start-to-finish cohesive nature of its successor, Bleach is a fine collection of songs that remain just as important as those that would follow them on subsequent Nirvana records.
On the surface, Bleach comes across as a raw nerve, an unhinged piece of punk rock that risks having its wheels come off at any turn. But right from the first song, Cobain demonstrates there is depth to his noise. Album opener “Blew” is riddled with subtle vocal harmonies, which make the chorus catchy and memorable, even amongst the scathing guitars and pounding drums. “About a Girl,” which saw later recognition when included in the band’s set on MTV’s “Unplugged” television showcase, shows a pop sensibility that mirrors that of The Beatles or early Rolling Stones and instantly glues itself to your memory. The album is simply loaded with hooks and memorable lines, establishing Cobain as a songwriting force to be reckoned with.
But that’s not to say that the album is secretly a piece of pop, easily digested and disposed of. On the contrary, Nirvana managed to balance their pop sensibilities with an astute ability to incorporate some heavy instrumentation into the mix. Classic track “Negative Creep” is a prime example of this, with its raspy vocals and blistering guitars masking the sheer hook of the song as it would appear on paper. “School” follows along these same lines, as does the mid-album favorite, “Paper Cuts.” All of these tracks lay the foundation for Nirvana’s other strength: the ability to keep things heavy without alienating the listener in the process.
The bottom line is that although they would go on to reach greater plateaus in the brief but prolific period the band existed, Nirvana has rarely sounded more appealing than on their lesser-known debut. Sure, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are” would become the songs the band would be most identified with. But a fair number of their true classics, the songs that really define the band and its approach, are contained on Bleach. The album deserves to be in every record collection and needs to receive the attention it deserves. After all, there would be no Nirvana without it.
– Ian Rice
To purchase a copy of Bleach, please click here.
No comments yet.