Is it really a hipster’s mentality to state that a band’s earlier/earliest work is their absolute best? You know, there’s always that argument once a band actually “makes it,” that has some people claiming, including yours truly, that an erstwhile album(s) was better than this ‘new one.’ And sometimes, the decision blurs the reality on whether or not this is a subjective or objective opinion.
Nevermind, forget the whole subjective vs. objective approach because music is something aesthetic and expressive. But wait, can we not decipher and come to a consensus when saying that maybe Wowee Zowee is better than Slanted & Enchanted? Well, it’s more diverse but is it as sonically sound? Or wait, do you really think Organix is better than Things Fall Apart? Surely the latter, encompassing views of human strength and struggle, with some of the band’s best music is better than a scattered collection of unique ideas? Give me a second on this.
Recorded over three sessions with producer Jack Endino and cut for about $600, Bleach’s story has always been one that was more about legend than actual depth. Back in 1989, it was a tiny reference to where rock music was and where it was about to head. And although the band showed flashes of brilliance, with Kurt Cobain’s songwriting hinting at the greatness that was soon to follow, it is anything but a lost classic.
Those ‘moments’ where Cobain is able to write something as melodic as “About A Girl” and still be able to do it in a minor key are downright perfect. His voice holds that battered and torn demeanor with his unmistakable cadence and rough guitar riffs; Krist Novoselic’s backing vocals give the music that Beatles-esque (Cobain was a huge fan) touch where it actually comes off as a somewhat tender method. And the cover of “Love Buzz,” with its revolving bass, drum and guitar parts capitalizes on the strengths of the original. It’s completely obvious that this was a band going places; one that would crash into the music scene and leave an impenetrable impact.
But without a reliable drummer to propel the music forward and in Dave Grohl’s defense, to provide the punchy flair of menacing energy, the music is always enticing but never entirely mesmerizing. And let’s be clear about one thing, Nirvana were always a band – even before and after Cobain’s relevance had soared to unparalleled heights. There is a lot of stuff on here, like “Scoff,” that die-hards will eat up and that others, will frankly, be turned off by its redundant flashes of drive.
Now, you have to agree that when you really think about it, Nirvana’s Unplugged album is just as good and arguably better than Nevermind right? Did I just say that or maybe, I should admit that In Utero is my favorite. But see, that’s just the thing when discussing a band that is highly regarded as one of the best of its time, let alone of all time: that in reality, anyone can make a strong case for any album to be their untouched “best.” Calling a spade a spade, Bleach showed instances of promise and a few songs went on to become some of the best they ever wrote, but in comparison, it pales to the band’s later work. So take it all in stride because Bleach is surely for fanatics but certainly not for everyone.
This deluxe edition also comes with an unreleased live recording of a 1990 show held at the Pine Street Theatre in Portland. In some people’s eyes, the live music is as vital – if not more so – than the album’s music because it finds a band that is raw and rich with talent. Take the same “About A Girl” and listen to it pumped to a faster tempo, a harder force and an overwhelming amount of musicality: I’ll give you a hint, it’s exceptional. But when you’re Nirvana that’s expected, first album or not, right?
“About A Girl” by Nirvana