Record Shop: Nirvana – Bleach

Today is my 40th birthday. Taking that leap from your thirties to the big “Four-O” is a bit daunting. I mean, I’m officially a “middle-aged man” (depending on who you ask). While my body certainly feels the effects of my age, my mind functions just like it did twenty or thirty years ago. When I started the Record Shop posts on this site, my goal was to share the music that I loved with the world. The first entry in that series was for Nirvana’s Nevermind album – a record that literally changed my life. Despite the fact that I’m now many years older, I remember my introduction to Nirvana like it was yesterday. For many, myself included, Nevermind was the album that introduced the world to Nirvana. But in reality, it was not their first release. Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, dropped two years earlier. After having fully consumed every lyric and note that Nevermind had to offer, I found myself hungry for more. Once I learned about Bleach’s existence, I made it my goal in life to find a copy.

At the time, none of my local record shops had a copy of Bleach in stock. I actually had to drive nearly an hour away to the city of Atlanta to find a copy of this rare gem. I remember holding the jewel case in my hands, seemingly hypnotized by the negative image/monochrome color of the album art. I knew that the CD I held was going to represent a band I have come to love, but a version of them that was less polished, and perhaps a little rougher. I couldn’t wait to get home and dive into it. So, without further ado, let’s do just that.

1: Blew – The record starts of with a rather raunchy-sounding bass line. It is immediately followed by a beep of feedback and Cobain’s buzzy guitar. Kurt Cobain sings his melody in tandem with the guitar riff until the chorus hits. The chorus features his now-famous guttural growl. After the second chorus we are treated to a classic sloppy-Cobain style guitar solo… Everything about this track screams “Nirvana”. This opening song actually ends up being the perfect blueprint for the sound that ultimately makes the band famous.

2: Floyd the Barber – This is one strange song. The riff is catchy and grungy. The lyrics paint the picture of a twisted scenario in the world of Andy Griffith. This song is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but personally it is one of my favorites from the record.

3: About a Girl – This is arguably the most famous song from Bleach. It was introduced to the world as part of Nirvana’s Unplugged concert. It’s a sappy pop-song featuring Cobain’s classic clean-twang guitar sound for the verses and the fuzzy distorted chorus. A fan favorite.

4: School – Another fan favorite. Also, a favorite of the band’s. “School” is a song that stuck through Nirvana’s concert set list all the way until the very end. This track is one of the rare occasions that actually gives listeners a glimpse into the mind of Kurt Cobain. In it, he depicts his disdain for his high school years, among other things. It is a Nirvana classic.

5: Love Buzz – This track is actually a cover. Originally performed by Shocking Blue, Nirvana takes this track and makes it their own in a way that only they can. Another fan favorite.

6: Paper Cuts – Here’s where things start to get weird. “Paper Cuts” is a funky, drumbeat-driven noise jam. The lyrics are obscure, yet nonetheless disturbing. The pounding rhythmic verses are littered with feedback and random noise only to break into a strange hypnotic pre-chorus. On the choruses themselves, Cobain wails and grunts like a constipated banshee. The end result is a very odd, but unforgettable song.

7: Negative Creep – Here we have a driving grunge jam with a catchy chorus. The vocals alternate between Cobain’s raspy scream to more banshee-like shrieking. This track was another staple at live shows for many years.

8: Scoff – This track is another drum-heavy grunge jam, not unlike “Floyd the Barber” or “Paper Cuts”. Catchy, but weird enough to be ignored by casual fans.

9: Swap Meet –  This track is considered by many to be one of the weaker tracks on the album. But personally, I’ve always found it to be one of my favorites. Many of the tracks on Bleach have a very unique sound, this is a perfect example of that sound.

10: Mr. Moustache – Another “throwaway” track in the minds of many. But again, one of my personal favorites. This is a grungy, groovy rock song and a favorite riff of mine to play for warm-ups.

11: Sifting – Here we have another mellow-but-heavy groove song. It is another perfect example of the “Bleach” sound.

12: Big Cheese – This is another fan favorite track. “Big Cheese” is infamous for being a stab at the personalities behind Nirvana’s record label, or so the legend goes. This was a song that I used to jam on with my garage band back in the early days.

13: Downer – This song is technically a bonus track, but I include it here because it’s featured on nearly every release of Bleach you can purchase today. This is probably my least favorite track on the record, but one of the more fast paced.

Personally, this is one of my favorite Nirvana records. But it’s not one that most casual fans are going to enjoy. The production is not nearly as polished as Nevermind and the songs are much less radio-friendly. Despite that, it is a record that every serious Nirvana fan should own and cherish.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. The original release of Bleach sounds just fine in my opinion. But some listeners might be tempted with the more modern “Deluxe Edition”. This remaster cranks up the volume to a point that, to me, makes the album nearly un-listenable. So, buyer beware. As is often the case, the “remaster” actually ends up being the inferior product.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Bleach is a prime example of this. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

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