Tag Archives: Nirvana

Late 90s Nostalgia….?


Nostalgia seems to be a buzz word these days. With the upcoming 20th Anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind, early 90s nostalgia is about to reach its apex. Even more indie-oriented bands such as the Pixies and Pavement have taken to the road in recent years. If the Rolling Stones decide to tour again, aging baby boomers will once again be taken down Nostalgia Row.

Much of the music I listen to was recorded years (and sometimes decades) before I was even born. To me, “Ruby Tuesday” and “Like a Rolling Stone” have always existed. I can’t look back and fondly remember “Behind Blue Eyes” playing in the background as I made out with my first girlfriend.

I was too young for Nirvana and Pearl Jam, though I remember them playing in the background as a kid. As a teenager, the artist that should have defined my generation took a completely different route. Perhaps to counter the anger of grunge, artists such as No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, and Blink 182 took a more juvenile and laid-back vibe. Even rap, in the wake of Tupac and Biggie’s deaths became flashy. There was little substance to hang onto – at least in the mainstream music world.

By the late 90s, even the bands that had once stood for something, got caught in a downward spiral. R.E.M. lost their drummer and decided to make elevator music. U2 took excess to a whole new level with the Popmart Tour. Even the “newer” bands like Weezer and Green Day who came to prominence in the mid 90s, seemed bloated and bored by the end of the decade. Who knew that those two bands would see a resurgence in the early part of the 2000s?

So it’s hard to be nostalgic about the late 90s, because even then I knew a lot of the music was a let down. Even the bands (and artists) that “defined” that time seem stuck in that era. Beck’s Odelay as great as it is, is a product of the late 90s and it doesn’t make much sense now. Radiohead’s OK Computer  in retrospect seems more like a stop-gap between their guitar heavy early days and the ambience of Kid A.

So now as Blink 182, Limp Bizkit, and No Doubt gear up for new tours and albums, I can’t help but feel a little cheated. No, not because I want to see them. But every other generation has had seminal bands that folded and re-unite. These days, Generation X has Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. The Boomer Generation has The Stones.  Bands that actually meant something to the youth at the moment.

I’m not necessarily that these bands re-uniting for a quick cash tour are always good. I’m not necessarily sure I would go.  Instead I’m just left with “feel good bands” from the late 90s, whose party-vibes seem even more out of place as the stock markets continue to crash.

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Could Another Album Capture the World’s Imagination Like Nirvana’s “Nevermind”?

(Note: I was going to use the original album cover, but I read somewhere that Facebook banned it.)

 

Spin recently put an issue solely devoted to the 20th Anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. There were numerous tributes by musicians and artist who talked about how the album influenced their lives.

I was nine when the album was released, so I was too young to realize its significance at the time. I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from my older brother when he returned home from college and I thought it was one of the greatest things I had ever heard. The guitars screamed from the speakers and yet there was a catchiness to it that couldn’t be denied. Even though I had no idea what the lyrics were, but I knew the song was special.

But its true impact was lost on me. I had no idea that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ignited a revolution, and broke punk rock in the mainstream.  In the following months, Pearl Jam was the band that seemed to be everywhere.  I read the issue of Time Magazine with Eddie Vedder on the front while waiting for my mother in the doctor’s office.

In the years since, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Nevermind. On a purely musical level, I find it to be over-rated. Yes, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a great song and anthem, but the album seems to be cluttered way too many half-baked songs.  The ones that do work for me – “Drain You” and “Lounge Act”  – only seem good in comparison to the lackluster ones and are drowned out by the greatness of “Teen Spirit”.

That being said, I can’t deny Nevermind’s significance. Everybody had a copy of that album and got caught up in its energy. Even rap-stars such as Chuck D and Lil Wayne had professed their love for Nevermind. It really did get the world excited, proving that music can be a force for change and a form of catharsis for an alienated generation.

Millions of identified with Cobain because he seemed like a nobody who achieve greatness. In the late 70s and 80s rock had become too flashy and the lyrics became unidentifiable to many. Bon Jovi may have had massive success, but the big-hair and excessive left many feeling cheated. This was rock and roll to have a good time to, but if you were looking for something more, hair-bands weren’t going to offer it.

Cobain looked and acted like the guy next door. His hair was a mess; he wore Chuck Taylors, and dyed his hair different colors. And like Bob Dylan, he proved to a mass audience that you don’t have to be a technically good singer to make people get inside the songs.  On the outside, Cobain was everybody.

20 years later, and Nevermind might the last album that became a rallying cry and had an impact outside of the musical landscape. No album since then has the same influence across the board.

Could a new Nevermind capture the current world’s imagination? Spin suggests that the reason for Nevermind’s success had to do with the anger of the youth, and the conservative swing of Reagan-era America. If that were all it took (and a damn good band and a couple of great songs), surely this new musical revolution would have already happened. The world seems in a worse place than it has in years, and people are pissed at the economy, the war, and many other things.  As the country gears up for another election, it seems more divide than ever. Just look at the recent Debt Crisis talks. Our leaders  -the ones who are supposed to be in charge can’t agree on anything.

So much has changed in the last twenty years that is sometimes hard to comprehend how far we’ve come. The Internet barely existed in 1991, and CDs still sold well. The combination of the Internet’s presence and the lack of CD sales would make it extremely hard for an album to galvanize a generation the way Nevermind did.

People looked to Kurt Cobain because he expressed sentiments that they didn’t know they felt. As the Internet gave birth to blogs, suddenly everyone who didn’t have a voice was able to post their thoughts instantly. Who needs someone to express your thoughts for you, if you can show the world exactly what is on your mind?

As digital albums climb, and sales of CDs decline, the sentimental value also drowns. It’s harder to be attached to something – emotionally or physically – if there’s only a file. Numerous articles have stated that more people listen to music than ever before. But we’re not sitting listening absorbing it. IPods might be convenient, but music has become something to put on in the background whether it’s while running or riding a subway. Putting on a whole record and taking in the artistry of a song has become something for music obsessives and teenage “freaks”.

The emotional attachment to a song might become a thing of the past.

There have been some artists and artists since Nevermind that have achieved a legendary status beyond the music. Yet they’ve never managed to leap into the cultural stratosphere. Radiohead’s Kid A, while love by hard-core and critics, is too cold and atmospheric.  Kanye West is too polarizing and controversial, despite having a string of brilliant albums. Lady Gaga comes close as a voice for the LGBT community, but it’s still hard for some to take a pop artist seriously.

All of this makes the success of Nevermind even more perplexing. There’s no doubt that it came out at the right time and right place. But no one was betting on it to change the world when it came out, least of all Nirvana. Change like that can’t be predicted, and maybe the next musical revolution will happen when an artist isn’t even trying. Or maybe it already has occurred and no one has noticed.

As Cobain would say, “Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.”

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Revisiting Nevermind

I have a love hate relationship with Nirvana.  Sometimes (okay most of the time) I think they’re over-rated.  I find that Nevermind is too slick, and those who think (and I know you’re out there) it’s a raw record, well just listen to Raw Power and get back to me.   I’m listening to it now for the first time for in a few years and perhaps I’ve been too critical of it.  Perhaps a bit of perspective will do that.

Among my observations:

– All of the songs are good. There’s really not a bad song on it.  They’re not all great, but there’s none that are as unlistenable as I previously thought.

Drain You might Nirvana’s best song.  It’s break-down instrumental is like the punk-rock version of Whole Lotta Love.  Feedback and a noise orgy instead of Robert Plant moaning while Jimmy Page masturbates with his guitar.  Awesome.

Something in The Way is a hauntingly beautiful song.

My biggest complaint is that the instrumental at the end of Something in the Way is 10 minutes after the song ends.  This is one of the best moments of the record.  While I am one for preserving the actual album in the digital age, can we also make this track download or at least split up on Itunes?

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NME Calls “Nevermind” Overrated. I agree.

Luke Lewis blog on NME’s website says what I’ve been saying for years – Nirvana’s Nevermind is overrated.  While I love lists of best albums and songs, I’m always frustrated that Nirvana is at the top of the list.  I admit that I liked them when I was younger, their music is good for that.  Many teenagers have their Led Zeppelin and Nirvana phase.  You know – the phase where all they every think about is sex (see Led Zeppelin) or feel angry (see Nirvana.)

I love when musicians talk about the album in retrospect and suggest that it was “so raw”.  Please.  Anybody ever listen to Raw Power?  It’s also laughable that Kurt Cobain is considered a great guitarist.  But as far as influence goes, I think Nirvana’s influence gave rock music one of its worst genres – post grunge.  Bands like Creed, Nickleback, Shinedown, Papa Roach and other insist on using the soft verse/loud chorus song arrangement like they’ve never a song written any other way.  

That being said, I don’t totally hate Nirvana.  I think their Unplugged CD is great.  But unfortunately at the same time, the best performances also happen to be the songs that aren’t theirs.

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