For an album that changed the course of music entirely, 30 is pretty young.
Nirvana’s “Nevermind” released Sept. 24, 1991, and its impact is undeniable. As Jon Stewart once said, “it was like the Beatles swallowed Black Flag.”
Following the reign of hair metal — the second take on ‘70s glam rock — grunge stormed the mainstream music scene using “Nevermind” as its Trojan Horse. The 12-track (or 13 if you include the originally secret “Endless, Nameless”) is chaotic, dark and goofy all the same.
The album was anthemic in a different way, a catharsis that remains relatable to angry and angsty teens everywhere. Kurt Cobain’s pained-but-playful wails — paired with Dave Grohl’s high-energy drums and Krist Novoselic’s methodic bass lines — were the pied piper for a generation of pissed off kids who grew up to show it to their pissed off kids.
As the child of a Sammy Hagar fanatic and Prince lover, Nirvana was a very different sound when I stumbled upon it. I had heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but one fateful day when a friend left their copy of the CD in my car, I found what would become one of my favorite albums of all time.
The record’s eclectic tracklist is just one of the features that makes it a permanent staple of music history. From the toned down “Something In the Way” — the best version of which is the Live at BBC recording — to the thrash-inducing “Stay Away,” Nirvana’s songs were all over the place in the best way possible.
Even some of Cobain’s digs at politics come off as familiar three decades later. The jab at Chet Powers’ “Let’s Get Together” during “Territorial Pissings” is relevant in a different way than the music of contemporaries “Rage Against the Machine” or even “System of A Down.”
“Come on, people, now / Smile on your brother / Everybody get together / Try to love one another right now,” Novoselic sings, his tune dripping with sarcasm before Cobain shreds a distorted guitar into the opening verse.
This might be the song I listened to most, blasting it through my poor car stereo at volumes I’ll likely regret later in life.
Even the mellower portions of the tracklist compete for greatness with the album’s heavier moments.
The gripping story told in “Polly” is grunge’s equivalent of an Edgar Allen Poe piece and “Something In the Way” is equally as horrifying, with Cobain using his vocals to make the track even more haunting. Both are riveting in ways that some might not expect from a trio who seems to idolize the Three Stooges.
And this wouldn’t be a proper overview of “Nevermind” if I didn’t mention the defining ‘90s anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
It was a song Cobain later came around to dislike — dropping it off of the setlist of the band’s last Chicago show — his talent for writing pop hooks catching up with his disdain for fame and the public scrutiny that came with it.
The abstract and oftentimes fatalistic lyrics often showed Cobain’s attempts at brushing off his problems, a masterclass in using melodrama as a way to cover deeper trauma.
“Well, whatever, never mind,” Cobain sings casually before exploding into the song’s final chorus. It’s the first step into the album and yet representative of all that Nirvana was and continues to be.
“Nevermind” can be streamed on all major streaming services.