Time sure flies. Nevermind, one of the greatest albums ever released, is now 20 years old. Such a fact seems small to some, but immensely huge to others and it’s simply because the album, the band, and most importantly that music, means a lot to some people. It’s one of those era defining records in a sense that; One generation has Revolver, one generation has Dark Side Of The Moon and one generation has Nevermind. If you were to pick one album that would represent the 90’s, it would be Nevermind, no question (although, being a Brit, I could definitely see people arguing that Oasis’ Definitely Maybe would take that crown, but THEY’RE WRONG!)
I’ll be honest, It’s really hard to sit here and talk about an album and a band that I really love for the simple reason of that I’m unaware of the context. I can research about how it “changed the world”, brought alternative rock into the mainstream and influencing bands such as Green Day, Weezer and The Vines, but it doesn’t feel right, because I wasn’t there. I wasn’t alive in September 1991 when the album was released. I’ve often wished I was, but I wasn’t a cool Alt-rock LA based teenager excited for my favourite bands new release, I was a 6 month old foetus in England. So it pains me to say, I don’t have a cool story of “where I was when the Teen Spirit video premiered” or “when I found out Kurt committed suicide”, I have no knowledge of the whole whirlwind that was the career from either an American or English perspective from the time, so that’s why I’d never get asked by Melody Maker, Rolling Stone or NME about Nevermind (also, because you know, not exactly a household name) other than “what’s your favourite track?”
But there’s other reasons albums like this get remembered, it’s not historical value, although that is significant in many classic albums, it’s how that record makes you feel. And I think that most people’s favourite albums are favourites because they connect with you on an emotional level, and Nevermind is no exception. It resonates with teenagers all over the world, Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium are obvious teen anthems, the latter’s lyrics of confusion and dis-illusionment maybe about drugs, but at the same time, could sum up all that awkwardness of adolescence and I guarantee anyone who’s 15 and can play guitar can play the intro Smells Like Teen Spirit. Its bittersweet acoustic numbers from the slow burning Polly to the haunting Something In The Way are both heart-breaking and tracks like Breed and Territorial Pissings stare down at you with such intensity that it’s almost a competition between you and the track to which will run out of energy first. Come As You Are is still this watery, trippy, dreamy experience that in the world of hindsight just feels tragic, and for the same reason, In Bloom’s lyrics of “Likes our pretty songs/likes to sing along/don’t know what it means” is almost like Kurt knew the impact it would have.
I kind of feel that I have to make up for the fact I don’t have a historical story about the album, thankfully I do have a personal story, which I’m going to share with you.
I first heard Nevermind when I was 13 back in 2004, before then I’d mostly listened to, and I’m not kidding, novelty albums. The only CD I had to my name was Goldie Lookin’ Chain’s album (a Welsh comedy rap group, think Insane Clown Posse but intentionally funny). I can’t remember what led me to listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit for the first time, and it’s clichéd to say it, but it was mind-blowing, this pop song bundled in a layer of heavy chords, and indecipherable shouty lyrics. I was this quiet, pretty messed up kid, hanging out with people who never liked me, being bullied and just generally having a shitty time, and then this music came along and just made everything that little bit better. I bought Nevermind in the winter of 2004, it was £16 (I’m amazed I remember that) and I remember someone teasing me about paying that much for it, but it was completely worth it. I only played the two songs I’d heard prior to getting the album the first couple of plays before actually listening to the whole thing and I think I can safely say it changed my life.
It’s strange becoming a fan of a band long after they’ve split up, you’re more a fan of a period in history than a band, something that’s been and gone and will never come back, but I listened to those songs repeatedly, and I knew even from the first time I heard it that Kurt had been dead 10 years, but I had this weird bit of denial, where I couldn’t accept that fact, maybe I knew that as long as we recognise his work, not for how popular it was, or for even what it means, he could never really have died. I think maybe that idea rooted something in my brain that still hasn’t got out. Cobain’s lyrics inspired me to start song writing, guitar playing, even singing briefly (Something which I slowly realised I wasn’t very good at and since vowed never to try again) and this led to an interest in creative writing in general, so I guess if it hadn’t been for one £16 CD, I wouldn’t have this website, I wouldn’t write short stories, I wouldn’t be studying English, hell I don’t know where I’d be without it.
And I suppose that’s what makes a classic album, something that can continue to be introduced to and that can influence people, be it 13 years old or 20 years old, and I don’t think anyone questions Nevermind’s status as a classic album. Maybe it doesn’t have the ambition of Smashing Pumpkins, or the swagger of Pearl Jam or the experimentation of Sonic Youth, but it perfectly creates a balance between pop and rock, it’s not too heavy for mainstream audiences and there’s really something in there for nearly everyone, so if you haven’t heard the album, try and pick up a copy on its 20th anniversary this week (don’t get the actual 20th anniversary version unless you love 4 discs of extras and demos, get the original 12 track CD). It’s truly a piece of musical history that deserves all the praise it gets. Iggy Pop may not like it, but he spends most of his days with puppets trying to sell you insurance, so take from that what you will.
And with that special message, I’m done and I can go home.