30 years of grunge rule
24 September 2021-
It's been 30 years to the day since seminal Seattle band Nirvana released their equally seminal second album Nevermind. And it hasn't aged a bit...
It takes a lot to come up with a tune so distinctive that everyone will recognize it under 3 seconds (1 second if you’re good). Chuck Berry, the king of intros, did just that: it actually takes less than a second to identify “Johnny B. Goode”‘s opening riff (again, if you’re good). The Beatles famously followed suit: you can immediately tell it is them on several of their songs. Think the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night”, the perfect vocal harmonies that kick off “Can’t Buy Me Love”, that deceptively simple “Twist And Shout” riff… Then you have “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
That comparison with the Beatles there seems pretty apt: in both instances, 1960’s Beatlemania and 1990’s Nirvanamania, the impact of each band’s work reaches far beyond the mere confines of music, either recorded or live on tour. Rather, these artists were somehow able to convey the zeitgeist of their respective eras. Which explains why, upon listening to Kurt Cobain‘s rugged guitar strokes, you not only instantly know that you are listening to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but it also takes you back to that era in the early 1990’s when a new generation came up with a new sound to define its new yearnings and aspirations. If you were alive then, that is.
And even if you were not: the incredible strength of Nirvana‘s second album, Nevermind, is echoed by the fact that younger generations have readily espoused the grunge ethos since. In fact, the sheer shock that the album and its lead single caused upon release has come to constitute a key turning point in musical history, comparable only to the aforementioned Beatlemania, the rise of punk in the late 1970’s or the more recent domination of hip hop (which, interestingly, first made headway right around the time Cobain and friends were doing their thing). The deliberate choice of keeping it simple (down to that infamously basic music video with a real life janitor playing… a janitor), aided by the fact that no one in the band had quite mastered their respective instruments, mirrored the desire to showcase a reality that was neither pleasant nor harmonious. This was grunge in all its (relative) splendor, as promoted by the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden or Pearl Jam. And its most undeniable manifesto came to be Nevermind.
The fact that the band only ever produced 3 records before the untimely passing of their lead singer in 1994 obviously added to the historical nature of that era, that genre — and that band. But it is obvious, much like with Amy Winehouse two decades later, that Nirvana’s work would have stood the test of time either way. Perhaps even more so had the trio had the time to create more material, which would definitely have been worthy of our undivided attention. While we will never quite know, what we do know is — Nirvana’s work remains eminently present today. Even with Nevermind turning 30…