Six Degrees of Nirvana’s Bleach
It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it's not. It's the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we've deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
On their first outing, Nirvana sound like a garage band that's been left in the garage. The doors are locked, the windows blocked, the engine is running and you can't see for the fumes that are filling the room, but the band plays on and this is what happens. It's an album that chokes you with its ambition, even if the musicians aren't aware of it. Barely even housetrained, let alone studio-ready,... Nirvana spent almost a year recording Bleach, and not because they needed to get the hi-hat sound right. They just had other stuff going on gigging, mostly, and trying to survive. Plus, who cared? It would take another two years before more than a handful of listeners heard it, by which time the "sound of Seattle" was in full bloom. Here, on the other hand, it's territorial pissings, a grunge band playing grunge, aggressive even in the quietest moments, brutal when their balls are out. Glimpses glimmer. Cobain's lyrical genius is already in place ("Floyd The Barber," the pre-"Polly" horror of "Paper Cuts") and "Blew" and "Downer" experiment with the quiet verse/loud chorus routine that would soon become a trademark. But Nirvana prefer to deliver their punches without fussthe menacing "Sifting," the punkoid "Love Buzz," the power-poppy "About A Girl," the hardcore "Negative Creep." In other words, all the ingredients of future fame are here, lacking just that final whirl in the blender. Hindsight insists that those final adjustments were inevitable. The bulk of Bleach agrees.more »
The Tuneful Influence
Kurt Cobain once described Nirvana as the sound of the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag, and when you stop smirking at that ghastly analogy, he's right. The Hibernian Horrors might not have been known for dirty guitars and angst-ridden lyrics, but when Cobain stripped back the strident assault of his own compositions, there was pretty pop lurking in every corner. What was "Heart Shaped Box" if not... a melody to fall in love to? And as far back as Bleach, "About A Girl" curled its toes around a tune that you couldn't help but sing along with. Just like "Summer Love Sensation," just like "Shang A Lang" and definitely just like "Saturday Night," the Rollers' best known, best loved anthem, and one of the 20 well-chosen highlights of this surprisingly resilient tartan time capsule.more »
The '90s were a weird time in "alternative rock." On the one hand, there was an endless parade of bands that emerged with Nirvana pinned firmly to their foreheads, and on the other, there were those that would probably have denied having even heard of Kurt Cobain, if they thought they could get away with it. Suede (or London Suede, as the lawyers renamed them in America) fell firmly into the... latter camp, but the widescreen madness of their sophomore album could not have been conjured in a world without teen spirit, simply because it went so far out of its way to ignore the Washington landscape.more »
Alternately artful pop and sinister pop-art, oozing its creators' Anglo-glam obsessions, dogmanstar is Britpop in the gutter, a world of doomed heiresses and deathly beauties, needles and Pinter-esque imagery, fed through a production so dense that you could use it as a mosh pit. The classic Suede lineup broke up after this album, and no surprise. There was no way they could have followed it up.
The Age-Old Inspiration
It's common knowledge now that when Kurt Cobain came up with "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana were actually trying to nail "More Than A Feeling," the song that broke Boston into a mega-platinum behemoth, and which still, even after all these years, sounds like it could be brand new. Cobain was just nine when Boston was released, but it's a sign of how deeply it soaked into the national consciousness that... you can play through more than half the album and hear America's future rolling out before you a process that only changed course when Nirvana put their foot down. But as the guitars and keyboards swell to bursting, "Something About You," "Smokin'," and the epic "Foreplay/Long Time" will not be held back, and even in a musical landscape that still tips its hat to Nirvana's age-old influence (Bleach is 21 this year), there's still more than a feeling that Boston live on.more »
Quite simply, the Melvins didn't care. They didn't care about the music industry, they didn't care about grunge, they didn't even seem to care if we listened to them or not. The Melvins existed in a private bubble of such self-contained splendor that nothing on this set the band's first two releases can be realistically compared to anything else. First listen reveals little more than a succession of sharp, hard, pointed slabs... of noise that hang around for as long as they need tosome last less than a minute, one expands over six. But there's light and shade throughout, snatches of melody that dance around the feedback and yes, that is a Cars cover lurking amidships, although its own mother probably wouldn't recognize it. Shortly before work began on Ozma, drummer Dale Crover had a spell with Nirvana. He appears on three tracks on Bleach, and his presence shines through each; few drummers could anchor such undiluted energy so firmly. But he'd had practice. Gluey Porch Treatments is staggering, Ozma is amazing. And the Melvins probably still didn't care.more »