TGR Part 18 – Nevermind

TGR Part 18 - Nevermind

TGR Part 18 - Nevermind

TGR is a series of articles I am writing about my reevaluation of classic albums after years of non-musical context, memories and old opinions have changed my listening experience. I try and listen to the actual music of the album as clearly as possible and see if it changes my opinion, which was likely formed on faulty information years before I matured as a person.

This time, I am listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t know if that is altogether true; I mean, I’m very familiar with my arms but as I stare down on them while typing this, I don’t harbor any ill will towards them.

Nirvana’s Nevermind album on the other hand (that is not an arm pun) is an album that I feel so irrationally sick of that I have to listen to the Devonshire Mixes from the bonus tracks of the anniversary edition right now, just to allow myself to hear the album at all.

With that in mind, Nevermind is a shining example of why I started my TGR series in the first place. When I listen to the album, I do not hear the same music coming off of the disc as a new listener would. I hear learning to play it on the drums, hearing it on ratty acoustic guitars at school, over the speakers while waiting for bands to come on stage, I see music videos and live versions and everything and anything but the actual album.

If I was pressed to choose a song that I hate, I’d probably think of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ because it is overplayed. I know that historically instrument shops had a ‘No Stairway To Heaven’ policy, but if I owned one it would be a ‘No Teen Spirit’ policy.

My instant reaction when ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ ever comes on under my jurisdiction is to skip it if its on a controllable audio system, change the channel if its on tv, or to roll my eyes and tune it out if its somewhere else unavoidable. Almost as if in some hipster way I have to prove to some higher authority that I am too cool to like such a popular track.

Maybe I could try and justify it by saying that I don’t feel comfortable having that song be used by the public as a dictionary definition of rock music, because that is my hobby and I feel so invested in it. That would be a lie though.

You could then argue that the real reason is probably because when I was young and therfor childish, it was cool to dislike popular things in an ass-backwards definition of cool. That would also be a lie however, as I identified that this was a stupid thing to do early on and tried to avoid it. I do have an ass-backwards taste according to a lot of people, but it isn’t being contrary, I do actually like the things I like and actually dislike what I dislike. At a push, my contrariness extends to an ‘I’ll judge for myself’ attitude, but not much further.

Regarding the violent reaction I feel towards Teen Spirit; the same thing can arguably be said about ‘In Bloom,’ ‘Come As You Are,’ ‘Polly,’ and ‘Litium.’ Increasingly, it can also be said for ‘Breed’ too as I have played in a total of five bands in the last decade that have covered that song in practice rooms.

So, with a total of six out of the album’s twelve songs giving me the physiological symptoms of extreme stress, this isn’t an album that I just stick on anymore. Which would seem crazy to someone who just got into Nirvana or rock music in general… “One of the biggest selling, most influential and most popular rock albums ever made gives you panic attacks? What is the matter with you?”

Listening to the album again (even in this alternative mix format) I realize that the roots of this contempt run deep, deeper than anything else in this series so far. I takes such a force of will to hear the music on the disc and not just a cloud of polluted mental energy that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to this album on a regular basis ever again.

But that being said I don’t hate the album, or even dislike it. The reason that I feel this way is all based on the fact that this was a damn good album. I mean, the whole world wouldn’t tell me it’s a classic all the time if it was bad, it wouldn’t be on TV and the radio all the time if it was bad, I wouldn’t have got it in the first place if it was bad… and my close personal friend in high school wouldn’t have played such a large contributing roll in my dislike for it by loving it too much if it was bad.

I remember a time when ‘Lithium’ was one of my favourite songs in the whole world, and if I hadn’t read a billion articles about Nirvana, watched too many sloppy punk-attitude live shows, and learned to play it on the drums, then it probably still would be.

I have actively avoided this album for about nine years, which is weird considering I only heard it for the first time two or three years before that. It doesn’t seem like a fair balance, but it is what happened.

With that nine-year quarantine this Re-Listening has actually been really enjoyable. I’ve had to skip ‘Polly’ because it was too overpoweringly tainted with memories, but otherwise I have strongly enjoyed every song. Even ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’

The thing is, when I actively concentrate on the music that is on the disc, it is a very enjoyable and well-crafted bunch of enjoyable songs. The memory I have of the album is as a sloppy collection of badly played, punk music that is deliberately raw. Maybe that is because of all the amateur cover versions I’ve heard, or maybe it is because of Nirvana’s punk influence and punk ethos in the live environment.

I never liked Punk, sometimes I’ve even actively disliked it. I don’t like the idea of being bad at your instrument, I don’t like the idea of leaving in loads of mistakes and I don’t like only allowing yourself to write short aggressive songs. I also don’t like the fact that so many punk bands stopped being punk despite how much of a virtue they claimed that punkness was.
I totally agree with Punks that raw intensity and passion are great, and that being pompous and overblown is bad and therefore its not as if I don’t understand it or something. I know why people like punk… but I don’t personally. You can be intense and honest enough for me while still being well produced and musically impressive.

The punk thing is an off-putting thought for me when Nirvana come to mind, but on this Relistening I discovered it didn’t really apply. Kurt talked in interviews about being a Punk band, and some of their stuff is raw, sloppy and deliberately badly played… but not Nevermind. I don’t know if it is just the Devonshire Mix version or something, but on this Relistening what I am hearing is a professional and radio friendly rock album; one that isn’t over-angsty, isn’t all that punky and basically doesn’t really contain the things that I think of when I ask myself why I don’t like Nirvana anymore.

I guess I do remember Kurt also said that Nevermind was a sell out and that it was too commercial and radio friendly. Now I understand why. ‘On A Plain’ for example is a big fun summertime song in all but the lyrics.

Overall; this is an album that I really enjoyed listening to today. Unfortunately I think that the negative feelings towards it got into my mind too deeply, before I was mature enough, and consequently it will be forever locked into my mental filing cabinet’s ‘avoid’ category. I’ll freely admit that it isn’t the album’s fault, this one is all me.

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  1. “professional and radio friendly rock album”. Exactly right. I also think that ‘punk’ can be applied to more than just the attitude to playing and professionalism. It’s like you said about death metal that time about how it uses certain scales and that. Punk exists in riffs on well produced albums too, at least what I’ve always thought of punk as sounding like does.

    And you loved Green Day. Same thing? Maybe not. I don’t know enough about them.

    But Nevermind got to be so massive because it’s so good. The songs are big and brilliant, well written and sing- and play-alongable throughout. I didn’t listen to the album for years but I never hated it. I still skip “Lithium” and “Polly” and some of the others but some of the songs on there are amongst my favourites ever. No problems with “Teen Spirit” at all. Great way to open an album and introduce a musical figure in Dave Grohl to the world at large.

    How different is the new mix, if you remember the original?


  2. Oh, and Carcass would be cool for First Impressions. Whichever you like, I guess. If you did Necroticism and then Swansong, I’d be really interested in your thoughts on the whole “sell out” angle and general liking of those albums.

    And I want you to contribute to our new blog as soon as it’s rolling properly. Your way of thinking is fascinating and impossible to replicate and would be a feather in our cap.


  3. I’ve had Swansong for about 7 years. Love it, very Pantera/Machine Head.

    I’ll do Heartwork, then, since its in my library but I’ve never listened to it.
    I’ll get I and Winter in too.

    I’ve got I but not WInter. Do you want to buy me a copy, drop it in a box and share that box with me ?


  4. Right, box is being boxed.

    I’ll get on that invite as soon as I can, I don’t know how to do it (or if I even can) but I’ll see to it that it’s sent out as soon as. Basically you’ll be able to log in yourself and post whatever you like. So far I’ve not written anything there that I’ve also posted on my own but you can post whatever you like. Double up if you want to I mean. There’s no actual plan for it yet so in theory you can write about whatever you like, like it’s not a music or film or anything else blog. One guy’s planning on writing about sports. I’ve only used it for messing about but I’ve a few ideas. The idea is that we support each other with each other’s connections and friends which leads to increased interest and traffic for our own respective sites. Several posts a day is the plan. It was all Donavan’s idea seeing as he couldn’t find the time to post as often as he liked while wanting to be involved in something regularly updated. So yeah, your input’ll be totally boastable. I guess in theory if we had someone as good at music as you, someone like Don who’s big into TV, Coyle on sports, Luke on games and me on whatever’s left – WE’LL WIN THE INTERNET!

    You can get to the link on my blog, it’s a few posts down. Not much to see yet, of course, but still…


  5. Sounds cool. Like a network homepage for individual projects ? Like the Escapist. Or Whatever network of things Joystiq belongs to.
    You could do a podcast at long last.


  6. I’d still rather do one with just you. Let’s see how this goes so we can work towards something like that. The network idea is a neat default but it’d be even better if it had exclusive content.Anyway, glad you’re onboard, let’s do words.


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