Tag Archives: Smells Like Teen Spirit

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.”

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Nostalgic 1994 Songs: “Undone (The Sweater Song)”

Even if Weezer had faded away after putting out Pinkerton (which has since become something of a classic) their singles from The Blue Album would still be considered classics.  No other band in the 90’s combined pop hooks with loud guitars as well as Weezer.  Nirvana made taken their cues from punk and The Pixies, while Weezer used Cheap Trick as a influence, updating the pop sensibility for a rock radio format.  No other song from The Blue Album would endure as much as “Undone (The Sweater Song)”.  Everyone knows the chorus, and will joyously/drunkenly sing along whenever it is played.  Even the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” never achieved that, as famous as it is.

Even before the chorus, the opening guitar riff is hypnotic.  It’s the same note played over and over again for a minute.  The dream-like riff is pulls you in – you’re forced to listen to the song.  Even the conversation that takes place in the background of the song seems adrift compared to the guitars.  It takes over the conversation and perhaps that was Weezer’s intent – to force the listener to take in the song.  It feels like it could go on forever, reminding me much of The Beatle’s repeated riff at the end of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.  Weezer does it at the beginning of the song, but the effect is no less enthralling.

And this even before Rivers Cuomo starts singing.  The listener is already hooked, does it really matter what he sings about at this point? In most slow verse/loud chorus songs of this era, the singer would scream through the chorus as a form of catharsis. Undone does explode in the chorus with Cuomo suggesting, “if you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away.”  It’s so ridiculous, yet brilliant.  Everyone who heard that chorus the first time surely must have thought: “What the hell did he just say?”

The second chorus takes it even further.  “Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked.  Lying on the floor.”  And just as Cuomo finishes that line, the rest of the band chimes in and repeats it for extra effect.  “I’ve come undone!” Cuomo announces.  The band then takes lift-off, into a guitar-solo that never seems forced.  After the final chorus, the band itself seems to come undone – thrashing away for almost a minute.  But even among all the noise, Cuomo fires series of “ooo-ooo-ooooohs” that recall the signature riff at the beginning of the song,retaining the song’s pop elements.

“Undone” contains many stock elements of 1990’s grunge/post grunge songs.  Even by that time, the soft verse/loud chorus seemed to be dying a slow death.  But “Undone” is so different in its approach, that it seems unique among that style.  It’s little wonder that teenage kids who would later create their own bands listening to Weezer would see them as influence, and in turn take their rock-pop format foundation creating their own sub-genre of rock called Emo.

For me, Weezer was one of the first “new” bands that I grew attached to in the mid-90s.  I never had my own copy of The Blue Album, but instead had a dubbed copy of it on a cassette that I used to play all the time.  By the time “Pinkerton” came out in 1996, I had moved on to other artists.  That Christmas, I remember my brother Pete telling me I should buy “Pinkerton”, and for whatever reason I didn’t.  (I could have been ahead of the curve!)

I still enjoy many of Weezer’s songs on the radio, but like almost everybody else (and perhaps the band themselves as they are now playing The Blue Album in its entirety) I think they’ve never bettered The Blue Album, and more specifically “Undone”.

“Undone (The Sweater Song)”:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

1994 Nostalgic Songs: “Everything Zen”

(The single says it was released in early 1995, but I distinctly remember hearing it on the Baltimore’s WHFS in the fall of 1994.)

“There’s no sex in your violence,” Gavin Rossdale whispers in the bridge of “Everything Zen”.  At 28, I have no idea what the hell that phrase is even supposed to mean and I won’t pretend to, but to my 12 year old self, it was one of the most rebellious things you could say.  Not only did he mention sex specifically by name, but also violence – it was an R-rated movie put to music!

At the time, I thought Bush was dangerous and raw.  I had no idea that their “pseudo-grunge” was taylor made for radio and aimed at kids within age-range of me.  The guitars may have been distorted, but they were polished.  Rossdale may have been able to scream like Cobain, but you never feared he would actually lose his voice in the middle of the song.

Then there’s the line about his “asshole brother”.  In 7th grade, asshole was not only a dirty term, but you reserved it for those who really pissed you off.  The asshole was the kid who pushed you into the grass during football during recess, certainly not your brother.  What could Rossdale’s brother have done to make him that mad?

Because I went to a private school my bus ride was usually somewhere between 30-45 minutes.  (I kid you not.)  The radio station that the bus driver put on was something akin to Top 40 radio.  Bon Jovi’s “Always” was a staple on that station – the pain recently came back when I heard it on a radio in a bar recently.  Ace of Base was also played a lot.  Bush, was most certainly not.  “Everything Zen” was like a secret that I had.  When the song finally did come on, one of the girls (who I probably had a crush on) asked me who it was.  I pretended not to know for some odd reason before realizing I missed my chance.  Another girl chimed in before I did, “It’s Bush!  Duuuuuuh!”

Sixteen Stone is one of those albums that could have only existed in 1994-95.  It satisfied the public’s appetite for “grunge-style” music in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death.  For a generation of kids like me who were too young to truly feel the impact of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Sixteen Stone captures the feeling of an era.  It’s rough, but not too rough.  Music played just close enough to edge, but with guardrails on the side.  The perfect musical training wheels.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized