Nevermind is the second of three studio albums released by Nirvana. While Nevermind, as well as Nirvana itself, exploded almost immediately upon its release in 1991, more than 25 years later it has since left behind an undeniable legacy that few albums have topped. Its fame and icon status has since made Nevermind arguably one of the greatest albums of all time, in part due to a plethora of factors.
Listening to Nevermind for the first time, as a twenty-year-old adult, was a tricky experience. There were all sorts of expectations going in – with Nevermind being one of the most iconic albums of all time, going in with a clean slate was tough (I had never heard anything from the band besides Smells Like Teen Spirit before sitting down to write this piece). That said, listening to one of the greatest albums of all time, holding each and every song to that mantle, was tough to steer away from.
But for a band consisting of only three musicians, Nevermind’s sound is absolutely explosive from beginning to end.
There’s a lot of meat in this album that’s a little difficult for me to put into words. While there’s a certain grunge that Nirvana has come to identify with (and is featured prominently on the opening track, Smells Like Teen Spirit), the other side of the coin features some kind of softness under the album’s menace.
One such slower track, Come As You Are, beautifully blends soft, gloomy riffs with a dark, heavy bridge without any forced transition. Come As You Are also precedes Lithium, a song with a similar mesh of the beast and the beauty of Nirvana.
But besides the balance between soft and heavy, or light and dark, Nevermind ushers in lots of distinct musical styles to suit any listener. Territorial Pissings and Stay Away have classic punk roots embedded. In Bloom has a vague stadium-rock feel to it, whereas Lounge Act, in similar punk-fashion, feels distinctly garage-y.
All of these styles would be nothing, however, without the album’s masterful production. With Butch Vig at the helm, Nevermind feels as much a DIY effort as it does a major-label outing. Everything from the bass to the vocals feels just raw enough to dirty up the polish, yet Nirvana is careful to not capitalize off of that essence.
There’s a whole lot more I could say about Nevermind, but to channel the cliché, there’s almost nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. Nevermind is nothing short of a classic album that, in a combination of styles and mixings that work just right, truly stands out as a shining example of rock music.
Discussing Nevermind’s legacy in the music world is like discussing the legacy of 12 Angry Men or The Wizard of Oz in the film industry: it is truly a game-changer of an album.
Upon its release in 1991, sales for Nevermind skyrocketed after the success of its lead single, Smells Like Teen Spirit. The album has since been certified diamond by the RIAA for sales of 10 million copies within the United States, with over 30 million sold worldwide since its release.
On a longer-term scale, the album has been ranked #17 on Rolling Stones’ “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and was featured on similar listings from Time magazine, Guitar World, and Entertainment Weekly. As evidenced by these rankings, Nevermind is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums of all time.
Artists from across the music industry have been outspoken about the impact that Nevermind has had on them:
“You could just listen to that thing on repeat, it never dipped,” said Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. “Just hearing that tape…it had an impact. It felt like a change.”
Flea, of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, spoke of the leading single’s radio success in comparison to his band’s single at the time, Give It Away. “I kept hearing this Nirvana song and was like, "God, that's a great fucking song. But are they going to play 'Give It Away'?" And then they turned out to be the greatest band in the world.”
The successes of Nevermind caught its members by surprise – despite having a platinum album at the time with Nevermind, they still found themselves touring in their van for venues that held less than a thousand people. Drummer Dave Grohl still lived in his friend’s guest room after the album had sold ten million copies: “I think we were all in shock after it happened. I went to Benihana with a credit card like, ‘Oh my God, this thing works!’”
Perhaps the only person not allured with the Nirvana sensation was the frontman himself – the legendary Kurt Cobain.
“I think it's embarrassing to have so many expectations of us,” said Cobain. When asked if his band weren’t prepared to become superstars, he responded affirmatively.
“We're not going to be [superstars]. We're prepared to destroy our career as it happens.”
Nevermind has since left its legacy perhaps as a relic of what once was Nirvana – the band disbanded after Cobain’s 1994 suicide. In light of the band’s sudden end, it’s still imperative to recognize the sheer impact that Nevermind had, from within the music industry, to the punk/grunge scene, to the millions of young-adults finding their place within the 90’s finest piece of musical work.
Given that Nirvana disbanded after Cobain’s 1994 suicide, it’s hard to determine what the future has in store for Nirvana’s legacy. That said, there’s no denying that the legacy still present isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Drummer Dave Grohl, after Cobain’s death, went on to form his own band, Foo Fighters, which have also seen international success in the music industry. Their latest album, Sonic Highways, released in 2014.
While Foo Fighters has been on indefinite hiatus since 2015, Grohl has assured that the band is remaining intact, having scheduled the band to perform sporadically in 2017.
Next week’s review: The Who’s “Tommy”