Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Whatever

Nevermind was released four years before I was legally able to buy a pint, so I'm hardly the go-to guy for the twenty-year anniversary reminiscences.  Nonetheless, the few pieces that I've read have been heavy on the mythology, and have successfully obscured the reasons why that record had the impact that it did.

Most have acknowledged the obvious - that the late eighties and early nineties were an extravagantly dreadful period in rock music's annals, dominated by bouffant, Harley-riding, leather-trousered egomaniacs.  It was an era of epic dick-measuring contests to determine which star could shove the most drugs up his cretinous hooter or cram the most weedly-weedly-weedly noises into his infuriating guitar solos.  In 1990, the hottest property in Rawk was the Hey-We're-Sensitive-Us acoustic ballad, delivered with an ovine earnestness that would've earned their composers the hand-smashing treatment meted out to cheats in Casino, in a just and fair world.

It was, in short, a bloody horrible period in the largely shameful history of the genre*.

Nirvana didn't look like a biker gang.  If anything, they looked like they couldn't care less how they appeared at all, like they'd fallen onstage off their sofas.  To a teenager, there's nothing cooler than people who just don't give a damn what anyone thinks. 

Nevermind didn't feature any bongo-backed ballads.  It didn't want to tell you about all the models it had boned or all the drugs it had shoved up its bum. It was lean, mean and - critical for a form beloved of hormonal teenagers - it was really pissed off about nothing in particular, to the point where the lyrics could mean more or less whatever you wanted them to.

The songs have no fat on them at all, just short intros into headlong battering beats and ridiculously raucous noise with triumphant, shoutalong choruses, the whole rattling shebang still so melodic and catchy that my Mum owns a copy.  In genre terms, it has some genius, primal riffs.  Half the songs take off like vodka hitting your bloodstream.  Like most of the best books you'll ever read and the finest films you'll ever see, it gets in, says exactly what it wants to say as succinctly as possible, then smashes its amp and stomps off in the huff.

All the rest - the whole freakshow it all became - is just details, by comparison.  In the end, the record didn't change the world, but for a short while there, it sure looked a lot like a planet-smashing asteroid that was finally going to wipe out the dinosaurs once and for all.


*Doolittle didn't make the top ten over here.  Extreme did.

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