Review Summary: This album contains some of the most powerful moments in music history, but isn't really worth buying if you already have all the Nirvana albums.
Most people will come across an album that has a real impact on their musical tastes at some point in their life. Some may even find a life-changing album. A few examples of these albums may be Blues For The Red Sun
, The Wall
by Pink Floyd
or, on a more important note, In Utero
. To me, the latter is by far the most important of the three, but despite it's importance, and despite the importance of the Unplugged
DVD (which only counts loosely as an album, really), there is another Nirvana album that I owe a lot more to. Having listened to Come As You Are
, Smells Like Teen Spirit
almost endlessly for weeks on Youtube, I was already going through the process of change. I decided to get hold of a Nirvana
album, although I had no idea which one I should go for. Tied between Nevermind
and Greatest Hits
, I was swayed towards the Greatest Hits
by listening to The Man Who Sold The World
. Yes, I know everyone thinks Greatest Hits albums are pointless, but at the time I didn't particularly care for music. That was around two years ago now, but despite everything that's changed, I'm still glad I bought their Greatest Hits
I first listened to it with my friend on a Wednesday morning, during a week long drama workshop. I had been sleeping over at his house, and came home to find a package for me in the kitchen. Knowing what it was already, both me and my friend were really excited, and we rushed upstairs to use my new CD player for the first time. I popped the CD in, pressed play and turned up the volume. The opening notes of You Know You're Right
came out of the speakers, and me and my friend looked at each other in bewilderment. The strange sounds of a guitar being played right up above the neck were nothing like the hard rock of Smells Like Teen Spirit
we were expecting. Then, suddenly, a slow paced guitar groove hit, backed by quiet drumming and smooth bass. My friend still looked slightly surprised, but I was smiling. Cobain's voice sounded as imperfect-yet-wonderful as I expected, singing quietly until the distortion of the chorus came in, where he screamed with the kind of energy only he can generate.
After the opening song, me and my friend listened to Come As You Are
, Smells Like Teen Spirit
before having to set off for the drama workshop. No chance of listening to the CD in the car, unfortunately. When I got home, I went straight upstairs to listen to the CD again. Only then did I really take in the full details of the songs, listening to it endlessly for the next few days. As I listen again now, You Know You're Right
sounds as fresh as ever. The low guitar and bass sounds just as great as the first day I heard it. Cobain's vocals sound slightly worse during the verse than I remembered, but his screams still sound energetic and full of emotion, and still manage to make me smile like nothing else. About A Girl
is the only track off of Bleach
, supposedly influenced by The Beatles
. The 'I Do's in the verse do sound reminiscent of early Beatles, as do the unspectacular but fully functional verse-to-chorus changes. The solo is fitting, but nothing to write home about. The whole song feels like it may have been the band's first, as it seems to incorporate everything an average song might have. The guitar strums along, the drums sound slightly rushed, probably thanks to the fact that Dave Grohl had not yet joined the band when this was recorded, and the vocals are predictable but still good. What shines is the bass, with enough fills to make any bassist happy, high enough in the mix to add a lot to the song. The song is nothing on You Know You're Right
, but is good enough for me to want to keep listening.
Been A Son
is perhaps the albums lowpoint. It sounds like Cobain may have rushed it, and the bass solo in the middle sounds sloppy, strange from a usually excellent bassist. The production is probably the worst thing about it, particularly the bass solo, which sounds out of place. Cobain is far from his best here, but the lyrics are funny enough, and the song is still decent. Sliver
was my least favourite track when I first heard it, but it really has grown on me since then, Cobain being the shining point over the typical distortion driven guitar, which is quite low in the mix, and the great bass part. The lyrics aren't much on their own, but the way Cobain turns a simple story into his first truly great vocal performance of the album (You Know You're Right
was a really good performance, but the vocals needed the guitar and bass to back it up) is amazing. So far, no noteworthy drumming performances, but no bad ones, either.
Everything seems to change with the start of the next song, however. As the famous 4-chord riff of Smells Like Teen Spirit
comes in, the mood is set. The bass is just root notes, but that's the only bad point of the song that I can find. The drumming is a real change, with Grohl taking drumming duties for the first time (apart from You Know You're Right
, but that was hardly excellent). During the chorus, Grohl manages to really find a fantastic set of fills, as well as the main beat being spot-on. I can't think of a more fitting drumbeat to the song than the one he conjures up. The guitar may be simple, the solo may simply be repeating the vocal parts, but it's still incredibly catchy, even though it may as well not exist during the verse, playing two notes which almost sound out of place in the song. Cobain is in his element here, with screams that only he could make sound so good. His casually tuneful singing during the verse is partly what makes the song, but again he manages to transform some unspectacular lyrics into a truly memorable performance.
Come As You Are
is probably my favourite song off of Nevermind
, and the famous chorus-driven bass intro which could so easily be mistaken for an incredibly smooth guitar just makes Cobain's once again amazing vocals sound even better. The drumming is simple, but more effective than it has previously been on the album. The little details make all the difference, with subtle snare-drum hits and pauses in the bass drum which are brilliantly pulled off. The lyrics are perhaps Cobain's finest pre-In Utero
, and he manages to never go overboard with the screams, even the howl of the chorus sounding well-contained. The solo is the weak point of the song, following exactly the same formula as Smells Like Teen Spirit
with a short feedback build-up and a very similar tone repeating the verse vocal melody. However, it's still enjoyable, and Come As You Are
is a fantastic song. Rip off of Killing Joke
? Not at all, the two sound only very slightly similar, to be honest.
finishes the trio of super famous Nevermind
songs on probably the lowest note of the three. Not to say it's bad, it's a difference between a classic song and a near-classic song. Cobain's lyrics are funny to say the least, and the interplay between the guitar and the bass is great, with the bass at it's clearest on the album so far. That's not to say it's best, as it sounds fairly monotonal throughout, apart from the bridge where t produces some great fills. The guitar is some of the more complex pre-In Utero
that Cobain has written, which isn't exactly high praise, but it's decent nonetheless. The drums are simple but Grohl yet again uses subtle (and not so subtle) fills and tiny details that really do make a difference to the song. Nothing incredible, but certainly very good.
So far I've spent ridiculous amounts of time on each song, with a paragraph for the last 3 songs. The thing is, despite my criticisms, they all deserve a paragraph for them. I'm not making this review as an easy read, I'm making it as an expression of my thoughts. I'll probably start saying less about each song now, anyway.
hits you straight away, with a loud distorted riff and the drum fills giving the first few seconds a breakdown feel. The intro goes into a bass and drum driven verse, with another set of funny lyrics from Cobain. The solo is a noise fest which Cobain obviously wanted more of in Nevermind
, with the overall feel of the song being polished, but seeming to try and break the polished feel at the same time. Heart-Shaped Box
is a surprise considering the polish of the last few songs, the smooth guitar and glaring bass quickly cutting out for the chorus into ugly distorted riffs. The bass really feels like it's doing something in the song, though it can be a bit overpowering during the verses. Cobain's lyrics are fantastic, as are his vocals, with more clear singing during the verse, and strong shouts during the chorus. It's a very dark song, and showcases everything good about In Utero
is a much debated song, some fans claiming it shows Cobain's raw emotion, and others saying it just sounds too simple. More great lyrics from Cobain join a melodic bass, picked guitar chords and a power chord chorus. The solo is probably the high point, with Cobain really writing something different from his usual. The song almost makes me think of a dark version of About A Girl
, but I like it much more. The drums are still an important part of the mix, Grohl never sounding over the top. Not a classic, but very well done. The infamous Rape Me
is probably what Cobain wanted Smells Like Teen Spirit
to sound like, but the Nirvana formula has become slightly tedious by this point. The bass needed to lead the song a little less, and it should have been shorter. The lyrics are painful to listen to, but not necessarily bad. Luckily, Dumb
rescues the album. It's what Pennyroyal Tea
didn't quite manage to be; Haunting. The cello creates a very solemn atmosphere, and the lyrics are top-notch. The harmonies are also a high point, but we still haven't reached the peak of Cobain's mellow songs yet.
is the first Unplugged
song on the album, but is by no means a poor live rendition of the song. Cobain's singing is perhaps his best ever vocal performance, and the lyrics go from powerful ("Sunburn, freezer burn, choking on the ashes of her enemy") to absurd ("What else could I say, everyone is gay"). They aren't meant as offensive, and are clearly tongue-in-cheek. The quiet outro is the highlight, with Cobain and Grohl harmonising as the instruments fade out. The Man Who Sold The World
begins with that famous intro, and some great bass playing. The drumming is very quiet, but little details again make a difference. The vocals are clearly the best thing about the song, but Cobain's voice was just not quite as good as Bowie's. The guitar solo at the end isn't how Bowie's originally ended, and unfortunately fails to live up to the splendour of the original, but the song is still a classic Nirvana song.
The final song on the album is apparently not on most people's versions. I'm from England, so it may only be on the UK version. The Leadbelly cover that is Where Did You Sleep Last Night
is a perfect ending to the album, with the drums and bass coming in quietly, almost creeping up on you. Cobain's vocals are the most haunting he's ever managed, and although you can't really congratulate him on the lyrics, since they aren't his, he really makes them his own. The song has a very folky feel (since it is a Leadbelly cover), and halfway through the song, the band builds up, the drums and bass getting louder, joined by a cello. These die down to make way for the most powerful moment in Nirvana's history, as Cobain is left to sing and play on his own, and then he screams. The band comes back in here, and the final words of the song, are held in a way no other singer could manage. You really need to watch the dvd for this song, Cobain gives a very brief look which is almost terrifying. It is undoubtedly the best Nirvana song, and ends the album that changed my views on music nearly single-handedly.
If you're new to Nirvana, buy this. If not, don't bother. This is intended as a personal experience as much as a buyer's guide, so bear that in mind before criticising me.
You Know You're Right
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Come As You Are
Where Did You Sleep Last Night