Nirvana: Bleach (1989, SubPop)
When I think of Nirvana, I think of the Melvins.
Many people give 100's of other influences on Nirvana, but the core influence IMHO is Melvins.
Pretty sure I heard Melvins for the first time heading to some debate camp or another in my old reliable car. Pretty sure my first time hearing Bleach happened about the exact same way.
At the time I had no idea Kurt had been a hanger-on with Melvins, but it sure didn't surprise me once I found out.
I had been a Melvins fan for a few years at this point and wondered if there was a way the Melvins ultra heavy grunge sound could ever be transformed into something even a bit more commercially appealing (I will admit, I did not call their sound "grunge" at the time).
This in itself is an odd thought. I liked Melvins, loved that they had a sound that was hits the ears like Guinness hits the taste buds (like complicated but explosive sludge), so why would I care about how palatable they were to the global tastes?
I still do not know the answer to why this mattered or matters but for some reason it did and does. I guess I wanted everyone to be able to experience the gut-punch of Melvins?
Anyway, Bleach was the answer to this "problem" the first album I ever heard with the core Melvins "sludge" but with catchier melodies.
Melodies so catchy they made people tap their toes.
Melodies so catchy that people almost forgot the guitar and drum sound was like walking through an aural sewer pipe.
Just listen to that nasty bass on Blew
So, if that is the case, why in the world isn't this about Melvins (well it kind of is)? The reason is because Nirvana is the lens through which most of the world experienced a snippet of Melvins IMHO.
Nirvana is a Melvins Mitzvah :)
That pretty much sums things up.
What Was Grunge?
Not sure I ever cared that much about the label "Grunge."
Bleach is probably the album I associate the most closely with the actual meaning of the sound (Some have suggested it came from Heart or some other area bands - see the Seattle episode of that Dave Grohl series on HBO) but to me it is a straight line from King Buzzo, through Cobain, to Mark Arm.
Sure, like everyone else, I like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains (and Mother Love Bone, Tad, and Green River etc.). There is also a special place in my heart for Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh. But I am sticking to my guns, Grunge came from the Melvins (And yes, I know Arm and Turner were in Green River).
For me the music has this rotting dark heavy core surrounded by melody (sometimes, as if like a pretty bow on a pile of earthy mulchy poo).
And grunge also wasn't really only limited to Seattle (or the Pacific Northwest) I also was a big fan of the band "Paw" in the same vein (from Lawrence Kansas) at the time.
Also was always into Jesus Lizard who were originally from Austin (I think).
Last but not least, apologies to people with other views on what "grunge" represents. I am not saying my definition is accurate as much as saying it is how "I" define "grunge."
Yes, the world knows Nirvana because of Nevermind.
Some of us listened to Nirvana before Nevermind. Nevermind is an incredible pop album, it is maybe the best integration of noise music into pop music in the history of the world.
But I am deep down a punk, not a pop guy.
This is also a good time to shout out Chad Channing who was the drummer on Bleach. Most people associate Dave Grohl with Nirvana for good reason, but he was the last of a string of drummers. Chad Channing was the drummer on Bleach.
Dave Grohl is one of the best drummers ever in alternative music, but even as a drummer I still love Bleach more and In Utero (yup, I am that guy - I also prefer Weezer's Pinkerton FYI - I even prefer some songs on Incesticide to many of the songs on Nevermind).
I don't dislike Nevermind, I have listened to it plenty (just like everyone else). But I prefer Bleach and In Utero. And it all started for me with Bleach.
It is a nasty, brutish, and short feast of dirty, nasty, sludgy punk goodness. If you haven't listened in a few years, plug in and enjoy!
And, yes, I know below I reference Dave Grohl who doesn't play on Bleach (but was nice enough to tip his cap to Nirvana's "other" drummers by name including Chad Channing at the Rock Hall induction). I include Dave's book because it is really great (mostly in covering DC punk).
What are your favorite albums from the Grunge period, what does Grunge mean to you? Who are your critical Grunge artists? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!