Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bleach - Nirvana

Sub Pop SP 834

This is the double-album expanded reissue version of Nirvana's debut album originally released in 1989 on Sub Pop as SP 34.  It is pressed on white vinyl.  The original album is on one LP and there is a second LP of a live show at the Pine Street Theatre in Portland from February 9, 1990.  There is also an album size booklet full of vintage photos of the band from the late 1980s and some reproductions of contracts, record sleeves and other record company ephemera.  I first obtained this album on a CD which I purchased after hearing "Nevermind."  I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not pay any attention to Nirvana prior to their rapid rise to fame and was not even aware of this record upon its original release.  At the time I was working two jobs and writing my Ph.D. dissertation so I did not have much time for music.  Also I was bummed out about the demise of the vinyl record which greatly diminished my interest in music collecting at the time.  I think if I had heard "Bleach" when it was first released, I would have been very impresssed.  Record collector extraordinaire Kurt Cobain synthesized all sorts of disparate influences to come up with a hard rock sound that pushes all my buttons.  The album kicks off with the hard-riffing "Blew."  The lyrics are simple and a bit obscure, but introduce the negative vibe that pervades the record reinforced by Cobain's tortured vocal.  "Floyd the Barber" is a perverse spin on "The Andy Griffith Show" driven by a primitive, pounding riff reminiscent of pop-metal bands like Kiss or AC/DC.  "About a Girl" was written about Cobain's girlfriend and is the most pop oriented song on the album.  It is my favorite track on the album.  It is a love song, but it is a pissy love song, no straight ahead romance for this dark record.  According to Charles Cross' bio on Cobain, Kurt listened to "Meet the Beatles" three hours straight prior to composing the song which might account for some of its melodic flavor.  "School" is a return to hard rock with a killer riff and Cobain screeching about not having recess at school.  The lyrics are dumb and repetitive but the song is so highly charged that they are still amazingly effective.  It is a testament to the breadth of Cobain's musical tastes that he selected Nirvana's cover of the obscure "Love Buzz" by Shocking Blue (originally released on "At Home") and made it his own.  The song is driven by Krist Novoselic's hypnotic Middle-Eastern flavored bass riff over which Cobain drapes layers of distorted guitar noise and fast paced runs.  His vocal sounds slightly goofy adding some much appreciated humor to the record.  This is my other favorite track on the album.  It is followed by the ultra-heavy sludge of "Paper Cuts" which is for me the creepiest song on the record.  Cobain sings of being imprisoned by some maternal figure.  It has vivid details of his degradation and is unrelenting in its evocation of misery.  The side concludes with the punky "Negative Creep" which is full of primitive energy.  Side two opens with "Scoff" which is driven by a heavy power riff as Cobain howls for alcohol in between scathingly reproachful and nihilistic lyrics.  "Swap Meet" sounds like a heavier version of the classic Nirvana track "Sliver."  I believe Cobain is mocking hippies in the song.  "Mr. Moustache," "Sifting" and "Big Cheese" ridicule authority figures. "Mr. Moustache" is a fast-paced punk-style tune, "Sifting" is lumbering and metallic and "Big Cheese" is grungy.  The punk influenced "Downer" is vaguely political, but mostly it is Cobain venting his spleen.  I suppose that is true of most of the album, it is full of anger and negativity.  The live album comprises six songs from "Bleach" namely "School," "Floyd the Barber," "Love Buzz," "Scoff," "About a Girl" and "Blew."  I particularly like the noisy and raucous version of "Love Buzz" which blows away the studio version and the passionate interpretation of "Scoff."  It is the non-album tracks that make this live album special though.  It features a throat-shredding performance of "Dive" from the "Sliver" single which is one of the highlights of the show.  There is also a terrific work out on "Spank Thru" which saw its first official release on the "Sub Pop 200" compilation.  There is a rocking cover of the Vaselines' "Molly Lips" which appeared on "Hormoaning" and "Incesticide" in a performance recorded for John Peel's radio show.  There is a punchy version of "Sappy" with an exciting hoarse vocal from Cobain.  The song made its first official appearance as an unlisted track on the "No Alternative" compilation album.  There is also an energetic performance of "Been A Son" from the "Blew" EP.  The live album has excellent sound quality and the band plays with a lot of power and enthusiasm.  It makes the purchase of the deluxe version of this album worthwhile, I'm really glad to have it.  Nirvana fans of course already have the original album, but I think this upgrade is worth the expense.  If you are not a Nirvana fan, this is a great place to start.  Unlike a lot of records from that era, it has hardly aged at all, after 24 years it still sounds fresh and exciting to me.  With this record, Cobain drove a stake through the heart of the 1980s and anyone who suffered through that decade ought to be grateful.  Recommended to people who think it is better to burn out than to fade away.

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