Because I am an asshole and because today is the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, let’s talk about Nevermind and how overrated it is.
And yes, I use the word ‘suicide’ intentionally because the people who contest that Courtney Love did it often do so with such disgustingly misogynistic language and write her off completely as a musician (often without ever having heard a Courtney Love song; “Violet” beats half the songs here) that I feel like playing for the other team will help even things out.
So, this record. It’s overrated because every song is structurally the same. If you hear an electric guitar in any of these songs, you just know it’s going to explode during the choruses because Kurt Cobain knows that dynamic shifts make pop songs pop. And regardless of whether the guitar is electric or acoustic, you just know there’s going to be verses, choruses and a guitar solo at the back because Kurt Cobain knows that guitar solos make rock songs rock, but the problem is these solos neither resonate artistically or emotionally (because guitar solos aren’t Cobain’s forte). Can a man get a slow-tempo waltz up in this biatch? No. No, he cannot.
But not only are these songs structurally the same, they’re also musically the same thanks to Butch Vig’s Costco-sized bottle of Mr. Clean. If you hear an electric guitar in any of these songs, you just know that the explosion in said choruses will be brought on by fuzz that sounds like it was generated by a fucking computer. Elsewhere, in every occasion except “Come As You Are” (which was plagiarized anyway), the bass is a guttural roar and never anything else, and though the band has a better drummer than they did on Bleach, Dave Grohl’s drumrolls can’t be heard without squinting because Butch Vig isn’t Steve Albini. “Stay Away” is particularly horrendous, a mostly distorted vocal thing that wants to be dirty but can’t, and a single idea stretched to 3 minutes because Kurt Cobain knows that albums full of songs are more successful than albums full of tracks.
But not only are these songs structurally and musically the same, they’re also lyrically the same. These songs often wallow in their own self-pity; I can’t get through “Lithium” because of how morbidly ironic it is. If not that, then Cobain can’t be bothered to write lyrics that mean anything; read any of these aloud and watch them crumple to dust (“Our little group has always been / And always will until the end”, “I found it hard, it’s hard to find / Oh well, whatever, never mind”, “Take your time, hurry up / The choice is yours, don’t be late”). The answer? Shout them! Shout them to show significance! (Or, slur them! Slur them to show ironic significance!)
There are exceptions, of course, and surprise, surprise, these exceptions are often the album’s greatest tracks. I like “Polly” from its purposefully carefree strumming of a common (power) chord progression, that the lyrics actually mean something, and because it’s an acoustic song, it doesn’t fall into the traps listed above; I like “Something in the Way” for similar reasons, but also because the cello is the only time the music evokes an emotion that isn’t angst (though a lot of psychologists will argue that “angst” isn’t even an emotion to begin with) (that being said, Kurt Cobain’s “Yeah”’s in the chorus are cluttering); I like the bridge of “Drain You” which counters my aforementioned complaint about the drumming; I like “In Bloom” because the way Cobain non-sings the “And he—“’s and the “But he—“’s in the choruses juxtaposes well with the way he sings the rest of the lines; I like “Come As You Are” because the tone of the guitars sound like it came from underwater and this record could’ve capitalized a lot more on other bright ideas like that.
And obviously, I like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I like it because it has a great title that reminds me of a couple of people, because the “twanging guitar notes accenting the opening bass line are readily recognizable rock ‘n’ roll formula” and because “the power chords that announce the song are familiar, recalling stadium rock of yore” (both quotations from Catherine J. Creswell’s essay, “Touch Me I’m Sick”), because the accented vowels in the chorus are catchy (“Hello, hello, hello, how low”, “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, a libido”) (but again, mean nothing) and most of all, because the melody is the album’s best.
Anything else? I love – not like, but love – their cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now” (available on the 20th anniversary edition, which isn’t worth your money unless you have lots of it), where the guitar solo is inspired, where Kurt Cobain’s frustrated sighing is more relatable because we can all relate to the anxiety about whether or not the girl’s going to ever come (and at 5 minutes instead of 2, all the more frustrating), and where you don’t have to succumb to a traditional song structure – a climax, wowee! Of all the bands who covered the Velvet Underground, this is the only one that’s easily better than the original song.
Is Nevermind important? Undeniably. Is Nevermind influential? Yeah, though I’m extremely dubious as to whether its influence was a good thing or bad thing (I lean towards the latter since this record likely inspired anyone who could play four chords and witnessed his/her parents’ divorce at a young age so they’d have something sad to sing about to be a singer/songwriter) (also, the fad of making hidden tracks after 30 minutes of silence was an abomination). Is Nevermind innovative? No. It’s nothing more than an amalgamation of indie rock, punk rock and rock & roll; sometimes more successful than its predecessors, sometimes not.