The real-false controversy over the cover will not change anything. Released September 24, 1991, Nevermind is a record that changed the face of rock and the lives of its authors. Formed four years earlier in Aberdeen, Washington, Nirvana was still a confidential band when the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit the air on MTV music channel a few weeks earlier. And it’s a real explosion.
In a reconstructed gymnasium in a Culver City studio, singer guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl perform for an assembly of high school students at first intimidated, before going wild on the chords of this little bombshell who will become the anthem of a whole generation, tired of a decade of rockers clean to Bon Jovi. For the record, the title of the song was inspired by a graffiti of Kurt Cobain’s ex-fiancée, mocking the cheap deodorant he was using at the time …
A sound at the crossroads of punk and pop
If the talent of Nirvana transpired on some titles of Bleach, his first opus released two years earlier, Nevermind is a little miracle from start to finish. Saturated guitars, infernal rhythms and hyper catchy choruses… For some critics of the time, titles like “In Blood”, “Breed” or “Lithium” would be only a clever cross between the Stooges of Iggy Pop and the Pixies by Franck Black, mixed with Black Sabbath and Sonic Youth. Not to mention the bass intro of “Come as you are”, which sounds a little too much like that of “Eighties” by Killing Joke. So what ?
The history of music is an eternal restart and Nirvana offers it a grandiose resurrection, plus attitude. Half nihilist, half provocative, often both, Kurt Cobain is a lively skinned whose intimate torments reveal the dark side of theAmerican Way of Life. And it hits the mark: in less than a month, Nevermind will sell more than 500,000 copies. Since then, it has exceeded 30 million copies worldwide.
The birth of the grunge movement
In the wake of this phenomenal success, the majors of the disc will sign a whole slew of “noisy” groups born before or after the explosion of Nirvana. It’s the grunge movement with Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, the big rivals of Pearl Jam and of course Hole, the band of Courtney Love, the future Madame Cobain. Some will be a hit. But none will have the lasting impact of the trio.
Funny paradox: the singer will tell whoever wants to hear it that he hates from the beginning the sound of Nevermind, deeming the production of Butch Vig too smooth for his liking. Published two years later, In the Uterus, will be more “garage” in reaction, more extreme, more adventurous too. This will be the group’s last unreleased record, the singer taking his own life on April 5, 1994 in Seattle. He was 27 years old.
The untimely demise of Kurt Cobain undoubtedly plays a big role in the notoriety of Nevermind. It illustrates, in a terrible way, the sincerity of a singer uncomfortable with the demands of the recording industry, the hypocrisy of showbiz and the consuming expectations of the public. Faithful to their friend, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl will not imagine for a second to replace him. The first got into politics, the second into a successful second career with the Foo Fighters.
In 2005, Nevermind entered the Library of Congress. An honor that would undoubtedly have made Kurt Cobain laugh. But that is not necessarily contradictory with its message. Listening to the record again today takes us back to a time when rock had still things to say, where it undoubtedly embodied for the last time the outlet of a youth who has since turned to hip-hop, which has become the most popular musical genre on the planet. Nostalgic ? Without a doubt. Exciting? Always !
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