What­ever, Nev­er­mind

Twenty- five years on, Nir­vana’s most iconic al­bum still mat­ters.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHAEL CHEANG en­ter­tain­ment@ thes­tar. com. my

A QUAR­TER of a cen­tury ago, a cer­tain scruffy- look­ing rock mu­si­cian named Kurt Cobain first sang – no, YELLED those words in a song called Smells Like Teen Spirit, and boy were we en­ter­tained.

When Nir­vana – Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drum­mer Dave Grohl ( you may have heard of him as the cur­rent front­man of a lit­tle band called Foo Fight­ers) – launched their sem­i­nal al­bum Nev­er­mind 25 years ago, and it was an al­bum that com­pletely changed the course of rock his­tory.

In a mu­si­cal era sat­u­rated by an end­less con­veyor belt of man­u­fac­tured boy bands and pop stars, and with rock mu­sic seem­ingly on the wane, Nev­er­mind was a burst of rebellious teen spirit and pure unadul­ter­ated raw power that soun­tracked the lives of an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of rock mu­sic lovers and dragged the al­ter­na­tive rock move­ment kick­ing and scream­ing out of the shad­ows of the in­de­pen­dent rock mu­sic scene.

Re­leased on Sept 24 24, 1991 1991, Nev­er­mind wasn’t just a mu­sic al­bum – to some of us, it was a gate­way to a whole new genre of mu­sic, one that was rough round the edges, full of raw, rebellious en­ergy.

To oth­ers, it was just a great al­bum to blast at full vol­ume and head­bang to un­til the par­ents break do own the door to yell at you.

Even if you had not heard it in years, the mo­ment that iconic riff of Smells Like Teen Spirit kicks in, you are sucked back into that time when that wall of seem­ingly ran­dom sounds, jumb bled melodies and half- mum­bled, half- shouted words someh how seemed to form a hap­haz­ard yet co­her­ent stream of awe­some songs that was like noth­ing you had ever heard be­fore .

Af­ter the ini­tial 1- 2- 3 whammy of lead sin­gles Smells Like Teen Spirit, In Bloom, and Come As You Are, the al­bum de­liv­ers a sur­pris­ingly var­ied list of stun­ners, from angsty YEAH YEAH YEAH cho­rus of

Lithium, the quiet acous­tic Polly, all the way to the chaos of hid­den track End­less, Name­less. For Fuad Al­hab­shi, front­man of Malaysian band Ky­oto Pro­to­col, Nev­er­mind started a chain re­ac­tion that would see him em­bark on his own per­sonal jour­ney in rock mu­sic.

“The first time I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit was on a lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion in 1995 when I was 10 years old. It com­pletely blew my mind. Up till then I had never heard any­thing like it. “Prior to that I was prob­a­bly into the Backstreet Boys!” Fuad said in an in­ter­view over so­cial me­dia.

“Within that week, I went out to buy Nev­er­mind from the record store, and dis­cov­ered more and more favourites like Drain You and Polly. I think I had the whole al­bum on re­peat for prob­a­bly a good half a year!”

Ob­sessed by this new genre of mu­sic, Fuad be­gan talk­ing to his older cousins ab bout it, and they in­tro­duced him to other great grunge rock bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgar­den.

“In ret­ro­spect, I don’t think my mu­sic was di­rectly in­flu­enced by Nir­vana, but from the mu­sic that I started lis­ten­ing to af­ter Nir­vana got me into rock and d roll,” said Fuad.

“Af­ter Nev­er­mind, I picked up the gui­tar at age 11, and then be­gan my ed­u­ca­tion in mu­sic through learn­ing the craft of my favourite bands. And it ended up be­ing an ed­u­ca­tion in life its self.

“Learn­ing about their back­ground sto­ries and es­pe­cially their stum­bles when it came to drug abuse re­ally opened my mind and made me alert of the dan­gers of how easy it is to fall by the way­side.”

TV per­son­al­ity Rina Omar, who used to be part of all- fe­male rock band In­toX­i­cated in the 1990s, cred­its Nir­vana for get­ting her into rock mu­sic. “Sure, I grew up with par­ents who loved Black Sab­bath and Deep Pur­ple, but while those bands rocked, there was some­thing about Nir­vana that res­onated with me.

“It was a raw, al­most vis­ceral mix of angst and fun at the same time. I don’t know how to ex­plain it but I just fell in love,” she said, adding that she was in Form One when she “tran­si­tioned out of pop mu­sic and fell in love with rock”.

“When I was 14, my bestie Nora and I came up with the idea to start a band, and the first few songs we jammed were, of course, songs from Nev­er­mind,” she re­called.

“The chords were sim­ple enough for us to learn, but the real magic we dis­cov­ered was rock­ing out with­out a care about what peo­ple thought of us. Nir­vana was a huge in­flu­ence in In­toX­i­cated’s mu­sic and style, not to men­tioned the way we dressed as well. Kurt was king!”

Re­leased in a pre- In­ter­net mu­sic en­vi­ron­ment, it was no sur­prise that many of us in Malaysia were slightly late to get into Nev­er­mind.

In fact, Ham, lead gui­tarist of lo­cal rock band Seven­col­lar T- Shirt, ini­tially thought it was rather “tame”, com­pared to its fol­low- up

In Utero, which he heard be­fore Nev­er­mind. “My first Nir­vana song was ac­tu­ally from In Utero, so my orig­i­nal re­ac­tion to hear­ing

Nev­er­mind when I was 15 was, ‘ Eh this is tame com­pared to In Utero,’” said Ham, 38, whose full name is real name Muham­mad Ab­dul­lah.

“It was only in my col­lege years that I re­alised Nev­er­mind had good songs. Those chords are so sim­ple yet so fe­ro­cious, and it made me want to learn all those so­los and power chords.”

Even though he wrote ( or co- wrote) all the songs, Nev­er­mind wasn’t just Cobain’s show though.

With­out the con­tri­bu­tions of Novoselic and Grohl, the al­bum just wouldn’t have been the same. Can you imag­ine Breed with­out the fren­zied in­san­ity of the open- ing drum in­tro?

Ger­ald Sel­lan, founder and drum­mer of US- based Malaysian band Beat The Sys­tem, said that Grohl’s drum­ming was one of his in­spi­ra­tions.

“I was 15 years old when I was asked to per­form Come As You Are on the drums for a school per­for­mance. I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self, ‘ Wow, what an amaz­ing work of art this is!’

“When I first heard it dur­ing prac­tice. It was truly mind blow­ing!” he said in an e- mail in­ter­view.

“As a drum­mer, my in­spi­ra­tion de­rives mainly from these old time drum­mers when tech­niques, tal­ent, and skills are at the fore­front in the mak­ings of a great drum­mer.”

How­ever, self- pro­claimed “pro­duc­tion geek” Fuad said that the al­bum does sound a lit­tle dated to­day.

“The songs are def­i­nitely time­less. But it was made at the cusp of the evo­lu­tion from that re­verb splashed drum sounds and cho­rus- laden gui­tar ef­fects that were sta­ples of the 1980s and early 1990s,” he ex­plained.

“Nir­vana’s later al­bum ( In Utero) prob­a­bly stands the test of time bet­ter, when mu­sic pro­duc­tion for ra­dio started to favour much less ef­fect driven and more or­ganic sounds.

“I hon­estly think that there were bet­ter al­bums re­leased over the 1992- 1994 pe­riod. Soundgar­den’s Su­pe­run­k­nown comes to mind. How­ever, the beauty of Nev­er­mind is that it had as­tro­nom­i­cal hits on it that would be­come loved world­wide. It her­alded the end of flash- in- a- pan, hair metal- in­flu­enced rock on main­stream ra­dio.

“It com­pletely bam­boo­zled main­stream me­dia and forced it to have a se­ri­ous look at rock and roll, and by do­ing so cre­ated a new gen­er­a­tion of rock­ers such as my­self.”

Rina, who still has Nev­er­mind on her reg­u­lar playlist (“it works great for traf­fic jam stress!”), reck­ons that the al­bum wouldn’t have had such a big im­pact if it were re­leased to­day.

“The mu­sic still makes ME wanna head­bang and rock out, but I don’t know if the kids of to­day will con­nect with it on such a ba­sic level as we did back then,” she said.

Al­though she ad­mits that Nev­er­mind is not her favourite Nir­vana al­bum, it did open the gate to dis­cov­er­ing the band it­self.

“Back then, it was this beau­ti­ful raw dirty sound fu­eled by such en­ergy and pure aban­don, there was noth­ing I could do but fall deep into this black hole called Nir­vana and never want to climb back out!” Rina said.

Photo: Filepic

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The re­lease of Nev­er­mind went swimmingly well for Nir­vana – ( from left) Grohl, Cobain and Novoselic – back in 1991.

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Ky­oto Pro­to­col front­man Fuad says hear­ing Smells Like Teen Spirit changed his life.

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