The second Lana Del Rey release of 2021, comes seven months after Chemtrails Over the Country Club. Blue Banisters is a lowkey affair with spare instrumentation, many tracks with just a piano and some strings. The album was preceded by a trio of singles including first track “Text Book”. Del Rey sings “And there we were/screamin’ black lives matter in the crowd” over a slow tempo that gets amped in the chorus as she remembers her Dad. “Blue Banisters” its slightly surreal lyrics of being with friends and painting her banisters blue.
Several of the tracks date back several years including both “Thunder” and “Dealer” that were recorded with the Last Shadow Puppets in 2017. The latter features Miles Kane on the verses and adds a funky drum/bass to the affair while Del Rey screams the chorus. Relationship stories appear regularly – an ex gets told “Don’t say you’re over me/When they all know you ain’t” before adding bit of horns on “If you Lie Down With Me”. She sings of finding her life again after a break-up on the sweeping drama of “Violets For Roses”.
Like a lot of her work, Blue Banisters is a mood piece, a vibe. Her hazy torch songs evoke hanging out beneath the neon lights of a 7-11 but in black and white, while she wears a white dress and cars bumping hip hop slowly drive by. It’s an album to listen to and not study, with occasional moments appearing to grab your attention like the Ennio Morricone interlude that adds a modern beat. Lana Del Rey keeps her steady work pace going and Blue Banisters is another fine collection of her particular style of pop song.
September saw the 30th anniversary of Nirvana’s landmark second album, Nevermind. The album changed the music world, brought the alternative sound into the mainstream, and made singer Kurt Cobain into an icon. The album knocked Michael Jackson off the #1 spot on Billboard’s album chart on its way to selling over 30 million units worldwide. Two years before that, for a mere $606, the band recorded it’s debut Bleach with Jack Endino producing and Chad Channing on drums for most of the tracks. While initially selling just 40,000 copies, the album has gone on to sell over a million and it’s 20th anniversary edition adds a Portland concert recorded a few months after the album was released.
The first single released was a cover of Shocking Blue’s 1969 “Love Buzz”. An inauspicious start for the band but has the fine bass sound of Krist Novoselic that sounds similar to The Offspring’s “Come Out and Play”. The single is one of the highlights of Bleach. “School” features a hard guitar riff that captures the “grunge” sound in full force as Cobain sings about “no recess”. The ferocious “Negative Creep” walks the line between punk and metal while first song “Blew” adds in fuzzy guitars and bass.
The most familiar song for most listeners would be the original version of “About A Girl” that would later open their legendary MTV Unplugged show in 1994. The track is a standout with a bit more tune and melody plus clean production. The song is in stark contrast to the more sinister sound of “Floyd the Barber” whose lyrics are about being murdered and raped by characters from the Andy Griffith Show and “Paper Cuts” where Cobain sings about being locked in a basement with blacked out windows.
While the album does have it’s moments, it is letdown at times by the drumming of Chad Channing that seems to speed up in places. Three of the tracks have Melvins drummer Dale Crover sitting in. While recorded for cheap, it often shows in the production that doesn’t always bring out the best in the music. On “Scoff” there is a great guitar riff that could have been turned into a more compelling song but instead gets buried. While Cobain’s songwriting certainly improves, having Dave Grohl join the band and the production smarts of Butch Vig really do help elevate the band into a whole other level.
The live album captures the band in full flight with several tracks from Bleach and also adds several songs that would later appear on the compilation Incesticide. The Vaselines’ cover “Molly’s Lips” gets an airing as does “Been a Son” and hard riffing “Dive”. “About a Girl” appears in a sped up form, with Cobain’s voice straining to hit the notes before ending the concert with the growling, bass heavy “Blew”.