When Nirvana released their third studio album, Nevermind, in September of 1991, the band never thought that the album would be as regarded as it is today in music history. In 1999, just eight years after the release, the album achieved RIAA Diamond Certification (10 million albums sold) in the United States and in 2012 Rollingstone Magazine listed Nevermind as the 17th greatest album of all time. Not only has Nevermind achieved critical and commercial success but it’s also safe to say the album brought alternative rock music into the forefront of American and international popular music. But Nevermind may not be as good as everyone says it is.
Nevermind is definitely one of those albums that make you think about the themes that Kurt Cobain and Nirvana conveyed through their music. To begin with, the album cover of the naked baby in a swimming pool reaching for a dollar bill is one of the most iconic album covers in the history of music. It can be interpreted in many ways: a representation that people are taught to chase money from birth, a metaphor for Nirvana being sought after by corporate money, or simply as Cobain said, “it would make a cool cover.” How about the album title too? Nevermind as a title also has a greater significance. According to Cobain the title represents his struggle with social conformity. This struggle of his troubled him throughout his entire life, from his early childhood all the way to his suicide in 1994. Cobain’s depression and feelings of being an outcast are major themes throughout the album and is a main reason why Nevermind connects with people on more than just a level of entertainment, but acts as a narrative of many people’s lives.
The album opens with Nirvana’s #1 greatest hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song that glorifies and examines the unfairness of life. It’s a grim opening but it sets the tone of what’s to come from the deeply emotional album that is Nevermind. Cobain brings the energy right from the first guitar strum but the song takes a more mellow sound for the first verse with quick and light notes from his guitar. Cobain’s voice is smooth and watery. Then suddenly for the chorus the guitar, bass, and drums combine for a clashing of instruments and Cobain’s voice becomes heavy as he screams the lyrics. In one sense I admire the ability of Nirvana to combine soft and mellow sounds with loud and heavy sounds, but there is such a clash of sounds that it is excessive and unpleasant to listen to. The second song, “In Bloom,” continues with that same feeling, quiet verses and loud choruses. However, the third song, “Come As You Are,” stands out as one of Nirvana’s best songs. The song features a really nice guitar melody, great lyrics, and it remains calm and smooth throughout the entire song. For the rest of the album, the songs continue to have basic alternative rock rhythms and the screaming and clashing of sounds from Nirvana fail to form a more complicated and thoughtful album in terms of the sonic experience; the album lacks depth musically. However, the cohesiveness of the themes represented on Nevermind is something that does make the album stand out to anything else I’ve ever listened to before. As a listener you can get into the head of the artist (Cobain), a quality many music fans want from their favorite artists, and not many albums provide that experience.
If you are a Rock or Hard Rock music fan, this album is definitely for you. As a whole, Nevermind encompasses many of the qualities of rock and it is truly a classic album. But for those that may have a harder time with Nirvana’s clashing of sounds and loud music, listen with caution, you may appreciate the lyrics and messages Cobain expresses on this album.