Twenty years ago this month, Nirvana’s sophomore album ‘Nevermind’ was released. The band’s major label debut (first record ‘Bleach’ had sold on modest independent Sub Pop), it unexpectedly came to define a generation of disaffected youth and sell 30 million copies.
Many view ‘Nevermind’ as being responsible for bringing alternative rock crashing into the mainstream, with its usurping of Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ at the top of the Billboard charts in 1992 signifying a dramatic shift in popular music among the masses.
Undeniably, the album is a classic. From the opening riff of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to the carnage of ‘Endless Nameless’, a hidden track buried nearly 14 minutes into album closer ‘Something in the Way’, ‘Nevermind’ pulses with energy, imagination and introspective lyrics. Propelled by killer singles like ‘In Bloom’, the album tore the mainstream to shreds, ringing the death knell for the rock monopoly held by 80s hair-metal bands like Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses. Bombast was out, flap hats and torn cardigans were in.
Nirvana sounded like nothing you ever heard, and yet there was a familiarity about them; from the Beatles-esque melody of ‘On a Plain’, to the punk-heavy medley of ‘Territorial Pissings’. Even ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, so gamechanging and timeless, owed more than a passing debt to The Pixies. Kurt Cobain himself admitted he was ‘trying to rip off the Pixies’ when he penned the tune.
Everything about the album was iconic. From Kurt, bedecked in a leather jacket, flipping the bird toward the camera in the album sleeve, to its front cover depicting a baby in water pursuing a dollar on a fish-hook, Nirvana were suddenly the band of the moment, capturing the ‘why ask why?’ apathy that was the post-Desert Storm zeitgeist. ‘Nevermind’ spent a whopping 253 weeks on the Billboard 100 chart and features frequently on ‘Best Albums’ lists to this day. It’s no surprise then that Universal Music is repackaging the original disc into a 4-CD/1-DVD edition packed with bonuses to commemorate the album’s 20th anniversary.
The ‘super deluxe’ definitive edition will feature b-sides, unreleased recordings, alternate mixes and radio interviews, including the full pre-Nevermind demos recorded at Butch Vig’s Smart Studios in Wisconsin. Infant versions of anthems like ‘…Teen Spirit’ and ‘Come As You Are’ will also appear, offering insight into how the songs started life.
As well as that, one of the CDs is a full concert recorded at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre on October 31, 1991 – a month after the album’s release. This also appears in DVD form in the set, along with a 90-page book full of never-before-seen photos, documents and visual artefacts of the Nevermind era.
While the original record was produced by Vig and repolished in a mix by Andy Wallace, the 20th Anniversary edition will include the ‘Devonshire Mixes’ – the full album as produced and mixed by Vig. (Cobain famously expressed his disappointment with just how polished the original album later sounded to him, stating that it sounded ‘closer to a Motley Crue record’. Few agreed.)
A veritable treasure trove for Nirvana fans then, and a fitting tribute to one of the finest album’s in music history. There’s little doubt which of the five CDs I’ll be reaching for though. The original twelve-track album (thirteen, counting ‘Endless Nameless’) sounds as fresh and vibrant now as it did in 1991. Long live Nirvana.
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