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Nirvana - Bleach
by the Grand Pooh-bah of Tools

This is Favorites, so this will be about one of my favorites. Deal with it. Are you a Nirvana fan? Cool, but if you are a casual Kurt fan who only likes the big hits that radio plays, you have two choices here - get out of here now, or prepare to open your mind to some great music.

Long before Nirvana became the latest greatest thing on MTV thanks to Nevermind, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and quite a few different drummers had built up a bit of a local buzz in their home base of northwestern Washington state. Unlike what some idiots will try to tell you, they were not some band concocted by some fat corporate executive in a record label office. They built their following the old school way, by going out and playing gigs and delivering their own music without compromise. Kurt and Krist worked relentlessly on their tunes, but finding a drummer to stick with them was a real pain in the ass. They had a good thing going with a guy named Aaron Burckhard, but Burckhard thought the band would never amount to anything, it was just for fun, and he wanted to stick at the Burger King he worked at because he hoped to become the manager, so he quit. Bad career choice, eh? He never did make manager and now he calls himself a modern-day Pete Best. If you don't know who Pete was, please, get some music history into your brain.

Still determined to carry on, Kurt and Krist enlisted their good friend and Melvins drummer Dale Crover to sit in with them to record a ten-song demo of originals at a small Seattle studio. The producer was so blown away by it; he asked the band to let him keep some copies for himself. He passed one along to Sub Pop Records, and they decided to record Nirvana. One problem: the band members were dirt broke. Luckily, the drummer had a friend who lent the band the money to record. (Jason Everman, you have my eternal gratitude.) So, for the princely sum of $606.17, the genius of Kurt Cobain was unleashed upon the world. OK, the world knew Jack s*** about it, but 35,000 copies sold is damn good for a debut album by an unknown band on an indie label pretty much unknown even in its home town of Seattle.

OK, enough history lesson, let's talk about why you should own Bleach. I won't get into any lyrical content, buy a book on the band if you want interpretations. I don't know what most of these tunes are supposed to be about, all I know is that they rock. This record is not glossy like Nevermind is, you get what you get for $600. If you've heard the box set, think of somewhere between the home demos on Disc 1 and Butch Vig's "SLTS" mix. It's just the band (Kurt, Krist, and Chad Channing) playing live in the studio with vocals and guitar overdubs tacked on later. The guitar sound is way thicker and raunchier sounding than on later Nirvana releases, and the vocals are pure raw Kurt with no studio effects. When the greatest rock singers lists are compiled, Cobain belongs on them.

"Blew" starts the disc off with a deep, rumbling metallic bass riff, then the band kicks in. It's so heavy-sounding because they tuned the axes down a step, and then forgot they did and tuned them all the way down to C. Kurt's voice goes from a cool almost J Mascis cigarette growl to full out metal raunch, and the guitar solo will surprise people who think Kurt's skills are defined by leads like on "Come As You Are". Heavy song. "Floyd The Barber" is more punky, very Melvins-like, probably because the drums are played by Dale Crover. Dave Grohl rocks the kit, but the best drummer to sit on Nirvana's throne was Dale. Rocking tune, and funny too. Next is "About A Girl". We all know it from Unplugged.. . but here it's electric, sounding more like Smithereens than Beatles. "School" is simply good old riff metal, with another surprising nice Kurt solo. Solid drumming by Chad. "Love Buzz" is a cover. The original sucked, but Krist liked it, so Kurt did it. Kurt makes it rock. Maybe Kurt's best guitar work is on this tune. Excellent bass work by Krist too. "Paper Cuts" also features Crover on the skins, and Kurt's vocals and lyrics are awesome on this one. This one's pretty harsh, it might scare off some fans who like the poppier Nirvana, but it's a great tune to me. "Negative Creep" - pure punk fury. I'm a negative creep, and I'm stoned. My anthem. "Scoff" and "Swap Meet" are two good punk/metal/rock tunes with nice drumming from Chad, and cool lyrics and quirky guitar riffs/leads by Kurt. "Mr. Moustache" is Nirvana just rocking out. "Sifting" is Nirvana's best take on sludgy stoner metal (along with "Big Long Now", an outtake from this session later released on Incesticide). "Big Cheese" is punk rock, but with pure Kurt pop in the choruses. "Downer" closes the disc, it's the same song which was released later.

This record, like Nevermind, has no filler. Put it on and let it spin away. It's the perfect soundtrack for when you're pissed at the world and you just want to drink some brews and hear angry tunes. Nothing mellow here. But it's still good when you feel happy, it's just great music. Give this CD a listen. It's the best album Nirvana released.

CD Info and Links

Favorites: Nirvana - Bleach

Released: June 1989
Billboard Peak (Album): #89 (1992)
Billboard Peaks (Single - "About a Girl"): #1 Modern Rock (1994) - #3 Mainstream Rock (1994) - #29 Top 40 (1994)

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