Nirvana's 'Nevermind' was released 30 years ago this week


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Nirvana's 'Nevermind' is an album forged by contradictions. Photo: Google

Released 30 years ago this week (Sept 24), Nevermind was a generation-defining milestone that sold 30 million copies and made a tragic icon of Kurt Cobain.

Ranked the most influential band of all time by US magazine Spin last year, Nirvana's ethos continues to reverberate in artistes as varied as Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey and Frank Turner.

Nevermind was back in the news last month when the man who was photographed when he was a baby for the cover sued the band for sexual exploitation.

He was pictured naked, swimming after a dollar bill on a fish hook, in an image that became another iconic aspect of an album whose lead track Smells Like Teen Spirit was ubiquitous across MTV and radio stations around the world.

At the heart of the album's success were the strange contradictions of Cobain, who was torn between apathy and rebellion, sweetness and rage.

Nevermind united musical tribes that had been largely separate – punk, indie, metal – and added a pop element that made them accessible to everyone else.

"It's been building up through the years... Nirvana came along and delivered the goods," said Thurston Moore, of fellow grunge outfit Sonic Youth, at the time.

"It was very pop but very honest and very authentic of the whole American punk rock ethic."

In doing so, Nirvana made all the permed-hair, spandex-wearing posturing of 1980s rock look ridiculous.

"It was the album that made hard rock obsolete – the rock that was popular at the time: superficial, misogynistic, less intense," Charlotte Blum, author of a recent book about the grunge movement, told AFP.

Nirvana (from left) bassist Krist Novoselic, drummer Dave Grohl and  singer- songwriter, guitarist Kurt Cobainl. Nirvana's Nevermind, considered one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, turns 30 on Sept 24. Photo: FilepicNirvana (from left) bassist Krist Novoselic, drummer Dave Grohl and singer- songwriter, guitarist Kurt Cobainl. Nirvana's Nevermind, considered one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, turns 30 on Sept 24. Photo: Filepic

Cobain was ambitious, his diaries filled with intricate plans, ruthlessly firing drummers until they found the perfect fit in Dave Grohl (now of the Foo Fighters).

But the quadruple-platinum success of Nevermind was a nightmare for his punk-rock ethics.

He was traumatised at the idea that "yuppie scum in BMWs" were listening to Nevermind, and disowned its glossy production.

"I haven't listened to it since we put it out. I can't stand that kind of production," he told biographer Michael Azerrad.

Producer Butch Vig pointed out that Cobain had no problems with it in the studio: "If it had only sold 50,000 copies, he probably wouldn't have had any comments on whether it was too slick."

It ended in tragedy.

Cobain's suicide note was a long screed about the torment of "selling out".

But it was Cobain's monomaniacal dedication to the punk cause that gave Nevermind such a ring of authenticity.

From the immediately catchy riffs of Come As You Are and Lithium to the quieter anthems of Polly and Something in the Way, the sound was often furious, but the melodies simple – "like nursery rhymes", Cobain said.

It was down to the fact that Cobain loved not just underground hardcore bands but also The Beatles, Abba and Queen.

This combined with the raw power of Cobain's voice which somehow encapsulated both joyous abandon and tortured adolescence.

This photo taken 19 February 1992 shows Kurt Cobain, lead singer for the US grunge rockers Nirvana, performing at the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo during their 1992 Asian-Pacific tour.  Photo: AFPThis photo taken 19 February 1992 shows Kurt Cobain, lead singer for the US grunge rockers Nirvana, performing at the Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo during their 1992 Asian-Pacific tour. Photo: AFP

Crucial to the cult around Cobain was his anti-macho politics.

"If you're sexist, racist, a homophobe, or basically an a**hole, don't buy this CD. I don't care if you like me, I hate you," he said.

But while Cobain expressed disgust at the apathy of his generation, he also seemed to encapsulate an era marked by the end of the Cold War when political ideologies were dead and it was hard to know where to direct your youthful ennui.

In the end, he chose not activism, but a retreat from stardom, descent into drugs and ultimately suicide.

As the song says – perhaps in mockery, perhaps in exhausted dejection – "Oh well, whatever, nevermind." – AFP Relaxnews

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