Review Summary: It’s never too late to create your own nostalgia
You can only be a fan of a band for so long until you’re forced tear it a new one and admit to yourself that as a kid, you were pretty damn easy to impress. Let alone the fact that the band in question is Nirvana, one of the most polarizing bands to come out in the last two decades. Treated more as a cultural phenomenon then a band, heated discussion about them can rage on without a single note of the music being discussed.
Kurt Cobain was a misunderstood genius. Kurt Cobain was a whinny, self-destructive loser. Nirvana was the single most important band of the 90’s that defined a generation. Nirvana is a footnote in music history that didn’t change anything nearly as much as revisionist history and nostalgia has. Personally, I think it’s a little of all of the above, but enough of that. Screw the history. Screw the nostalgia. Is Nirvana’s debut album any good? The answer is an unsurprising, no. Not really.
A bit of music trivia. Bleach came out on vinyl in 89’ but wasn’t given a reissued CD release until 92’, and probably never would have if Nirvana hadn’t blown up the year before with a little sophomore album called Nevermind. But that’s another story. Outside of the band and maybe ten of Kurt’s friends, no one had really heard or cared much for Bleach when it was initially released. So you could be forgiven for thinking that Nevermind was Nirvana’s debut and for noticing that Bleach sounds so different.
While Nevermind gained a lot of attention for its sleek, top of the line production, Bleach sounds like a rushed venture by comparison. Ever wondered what Nirvana would have sounded like if they stayed in the garage? Wonder no more. The album sounds like three guys hitting their instruments as hard as they can, as loudly as the can, while hoping for some kind of melody. It’s all very raw and in-your-face. But instrumental it just sounds sloppy. “Blew” is a nice opener, with a catchy melody, and a surprisingly effective bass line. But “Floyd The Butcher” quickly establishes the norm by sounding like a jumbled mess. Loud distorted guitar and Kurt wailing some nonsense that he doesn’t care about, define this album from start to finish. One stand out to the cacophony is “About A Girl”, a surprisingly melodic, almost poppy song.
Kurt admitted he didn’t care for the vocals, so we already know they don’t have to make sense. But that level of care reflects on this album as a whole. There are more than a few decent melodies and ideas here. The before mentioned “Blew”, “About A Girl”, and “School”, for starters. But the poor recording, paired with the poor musicianship, mires the experience as nothing more than overhyped garage noise.
Kurt’s melodies are good enough on guitar, but there needs to be a special shout out to Krist Novoselic, whose bass playing has always been underrated. He is easily the strongest musician on this album and provides a heavy, constant rhythm that contributes to the album’s signature sound. As for drummer Chad Channing, you can be forgiven if you don’t remember him. Neither does anyone else. He hits hard enough and has a few good moments with some creative fills (“Mr. Moustache and “Downer”) but is a sloppy, rhythm less drummer. You start to understand why they decided to go with Dave, who’s never-stop-to-hyper, pounding became an integral part of Nevermind.
And that’s only about the 12th time I mentioned that album because, let’s face it. Yes, it was slickly recorded using pop music sensibilities, and yes, Kurt went on record saying he hated it. And it was BETTER. Bleach is very much the sound of a band that didn’t believe they had much potential. A decent debut album, but far from a classic album, despite whatever your made-up nostalgia may say.