Nirvana’s Nevermind 20 years on – Track by track
The 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s historic second album Nevermind will no doubt cause some to reminisce on the way it shaped the musical landscape, while others will see it as nothing more than an excuse for a record company to make some more money.
But regardless of which side of the fence you fall, the celebrations do mark an opportunity to introduce a new generation of music lovers to an unadulterated rock classic. With this in mind, here’s a track-by-track analysis of the record that gave the 90s a much-needed kick up the backside.
Smells Like Teen Spirit - The anthem that started it all, Smells Like Teen Spirit is as fresh today as it’s ever been. The song introduced the world to the raw, scuzzy guitars and guttural vocals that were Nirvana’s signature sound, while inspiring countless youngsters to go out and buy their very first axe.
In Bloom - With its melodic, almost nursery-rhyme-like chorus and throat-destroying harmonies, In Bloom is as instantly catchy as a modern pop song can be. However, it reminds you exactly where its real roots lie just before the three-minute mark, with a solo that rips through you like a chainsaw.
Come As You Are - After an upbeat opening double act, Come As You Are takes things down a notch. The meandering bass line and pleading lyrics build towards an energetic mid-section, but for the most part things remain soulful and evenly paced – shifting the whole tone of the record.
Breed - If, however, you thought things had taken a turn for the more melancholic, you couldn’t be more wrong. Breed comes at you like a spider monkey, with Cobain roaring his twisted manifesto for family life and Novoselic’s thunderous, effects-heavy bass supplying a dark yet tuneful backdrop.
Lithium - If Dave Grohl was, at this point in his career, one of the greatest rock drummers of his generation, this was him at his absolute best. Similar in its nursery rhyme-like choral style to In Bloom, Lithium is a self-deprecating love song with a playful heart and a tortured soul.
Polly - An acoustic version of a track that was originally planned for the band’s first album Bleach, Polly found a fitting home on Nevermind. The song was written in response to a news story about a teenage girl who had been abducted and raped, and serves as a haunting intermission.
Territorial Pissings - Just as Breed’s energy follows Come as You Are’s melancholy, Territorial Pissings blows Polly away with screaming vocals, pounding bass, crashing drums and clanging guitars. This is Nevermind at its most frantic, most urgent and most raucous – delivered by a band enjoying every precious minute.
Drain You - While there are elements of The Beatles that can be heard in much of Cobain’s writing, the opening to Drain You could almost be a cover. The chorus takes things to a much gloomier, off-key place, but throughout, the incredible harmonies give a melodic pop sensibility to the whole torrid affair.
Lounge Act - Fairly typical in terms of Nirvana’s sound and reminiscent of the fuller, rounded sound that would play a big part in their follow-up album In Utero. While it is, arguably, one of the weaker moments of Nevermind, it still stands above against anything being offered up 20 years later.
Stay Away - Another track that provides a blueprint for Nirvana’s style, Stay Away acts as something of a sequel to Lounge Act. Originally known as Pay to Play, it’s one of the many tracks that were revised and rewritten before Nirvana signed to Geffen and benefited from Butch Vig’s production.
On a Plain - A lyrical stream of consciousness incorporating self-hatred, indecision and Meta references to the song-writing process – all delivered as a direct communication with the listener. Brilliantly, the fun fades to a vocal track that ushers in the final proper track of the album.
Something in the Way - Often cited as a biographical slice of Cobain’s past life, Something in the Way is as strange as it is beautiful. Dark, gentle acoustic verses swell into yearning cello-fuelled chorus sections to create a lo-fi but somehow fitting end to a classic record.
Endless, Nameless - A hidden track for many releases of the record, Endless, Nameless is a sonic opera of feedback, booming drums and spirited bass that echoed some of the band’s live spirit.
While the legacy of Nirvana lives on in the music they created and the bands they inspired, this is an album that will go into the history books as so much more. 20 years on, it still sends chills down the spine and serves as a reminder of the impeccable talent involved. Many have tried to emulate its energy and beauty, but it has, in my opinion, never been surpassed. Good luck to those who try, but to the rest – Nevermind.