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”.
Bleach – 7/10
Live – 6/10