Saturday, March 12, 2005

Nirvana, the one-hit wonder...

Okay, so it wasn't just one hit, but you get the point. Nirvana released three studio albums before Kurt Cobain was killed (yeah, they say he committed suicide, but I like to leave the conspiracy possibilities open). The first, Bleach, was a solid, raw and immature punk-leaning grunge album. Tracks like "Blew" and "Negative Creep" are good examples of grunge, unadorned by major label money and production and pressure. For what it is, it's a really good album and it shows the promise that would explode into the mainstream with the next album. Nevermind is Nirvana at the peak of their short career. It borrowed enough pop from from punk and enough money from DGC to break out of a local underground scene and into the CD players of all of Gen X. The singles and most of the album tracks were pretty much good enough to stand alone. This album is the one hit to which I refer. But their last album is the one that I really want to discuss.

In Utero is a rotten album. Sure it was commerically successful, but it certainly wasn't the first record to ride on the coattails of huge critical and commercial success like Nevermind, so sales don't mean it was good. The singles were okay and "Rape Me" was kinda shocking even if it was a pretty lousy song. "Dumb" had a nice appeal for self-loathing Xers even if the song was only mediocre. But who wants to listen to "Frances Farmer..." or "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"? Not me. I'm pretty sure that I've never even listened to the whole album in one sitting to this day. The bulk of the album was filler. After that, Kurt died and there were no new Nirvana albums, so the question is, "Was In Utero just a weak followup to Nevermind or was Nevermind the only great album they had in them?" Considering that even the singles from In Utero sound like B-sides to Nevermind singles, that Cobain seemed to be quickly folding under the pressures of fame and that Nevermind's greatness stems at least in part from being in the right place at the right time, I tend to believe that Nirvana was really done, that Kurt Cobain was largely out of songs. Other than the strong Unplugged performance, I don't see any real indication that there was much left in the tank. In dying, Kurt Cobain became a legend (which is dumb, but that's another post) and also protected his legacy from coming under more scrutiny. More importantly, he never had to prove that he still had it. I don't think he did, but not even time will tell if I'm right or if I'm wrong.


Anonymous Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thank you, Bob! I thought I was the only one who thinks In Uterus is a piece of shite. Nirvana deserve their due for being in the right place at the right time when the world needed their cantankerous bombasts, but when all is said and done, even Cobain recognized there was very little to go beyond Nevermind. Did he kill himself from the sudden realization that everything he'd achieved on Nevermind was what you call it, a one-hit wonder? The world may call you and I blasphemers, but I see no reason to celebrate Nirvana beyond Nevermind. They inadvertently caused a musical revolution and I guarantee they had no clue it was going to happen. Nirvana was born out of the Melvins, whom Cobain idolized and hung around as much as he could, and honestly, the deeper you read into his background, he was a frigging poser!

On a side note, I did an interview with the metalcore Christian band Norma Jean recently and they get props for the most hilarious answer to my what's up for you after this tour section: "We're going to see what Nirvana's up to and we'll take THEM on tour!"

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Nirvana couldn't have seen the size of the impact they would make, but the record companies knew the possibilities where there for these bands to make an impact. Soundgarden and Alice in chains had already had major label releases and Pearl Jam were signed to a major by the time Nevermind was released. Nirvana were also on Geffen who were one of the most successful labels of the time. They didn't sign too many slackers so I think they thought there was a major market for this kind of stuff.

5:57 PM  

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