Record Shop: Nirvana – Incesticide

As some readers to this blog may know, when I was young I was a musician. One of my goals with these “Record Shop” posts is to share the music that served as a source of inspiration for me back when I was learning how to master the guitar. A quick read through some of these entries will undoubtedly reveal Nirvana as one of my major influences. While it’s true, I idolized Kurt Cobain and his songs, one of the main reasons I found Nirvana to be so influential wasn’t because he was some “genius songwriter”. But is it because his music was especially easy to play. Even with only a few months of guitar lessons under my belt, I was able to pick up a guitar and play along with the majority of Nirvana’s songs.

One of my favorite Nirvana albums was actually also their most obscure. I’m talking about Incesticide. This album was released shortly after Nevermind and is actually a compilation of non-album tracks, b-sides, and other rarities. To me, it really showcases a very interesting side of Nirvana. The songs included on this record range from polished pop-rock songs to grimy noise  – I absolutely love this collection. So, let’s jump right into it:

1: Dive – The album starts with this grooving rock track that was originally included as a B-Side for the Sliver single. This song embodies just about everything that I really loved about Nirvana. A driving bass line, grungy guitars, and Cobain’s guttural vocals. If I had to pick a song to serve as the perfect example of Nirvana’s sound, this might just be the one.

2: Sliver – Next up is A-Side to the previous track. The Sliver single was released by Sub-Pop Records during the period between the release of Nirvana’s first album Bleach and their blockbuster hit Nevermind. “Sliver” is a pop song (something that was rare for Nirvana at the time), but it’s one that still manages to maintain that unique feel that only Nirvana could provide.

3: Stain – This is an older track from the Bleach era. It originally appeared on Blew (an EP released shortly after Bleach). As such, it has the same kind of vibe that many of Nirvana early songs provide. It is gritty and dirty sounding. If you’re a fan of Bleach, this is a track will really put a smile on your face.

4: Been a Son – This song was also originally released on the Blew EP. However, the version included on this record is a newer recording. Like “Sliver”, this another fine example of Cobain’s pop-song prowess. It’s a quirky, catchy tune. A fan favorite.

5:  Turnaround – Here we have a cover of a rather obscure Devo song. The interesting thing about this tune for me is just how faithful it is to the original in a number of ways. (Despite being played on guitars instead of synthesizers). Admittedly, one of the weaker tracks on the album, but still very well done.

6: Molly’s Lips – Another cover song – this time by one of Cobain’s favorite indie groups; The Vaselines. The original song had a very lo-fi, new wave sound to it. Nirvana’s version is much harder and driving. This is a very simple song, but one that I’ve grown to love. One of the highlights of the album.

7: Son of a Gun – Another Vaselines song. Admittedly, I had never heard of The Vaselines until I was introduced to their music through this album. Both songs are very catchy and surprisingly pop-ish. Of the two, this is my least favorite. But it’s still a pretty solid track.

8: (New Wave) Polly – Here we have an alternate version of “Polly” from the Nevermind album. This version features the full band and a much faster tempo. It’s a fun listen, but I very much prefer the original version.

9: Beeswax – This is an obscure track that was originally released on the Kill Rock Stars compilation album; a record showcasing talent from the Seattle area. This is a weird, sloppy, grungy sounding track. Cobain’s vocals are screeching and almost indecipherable at times. But it really embodies the raw energy that I found so fascinating about Nirvana. I love tracks like this.

10: Downer – This song was included as a bonus track on the CD version of Nirvana’s first album Bleach. It was included on this collection as well. To be honest, “Downer” is one my least favorite Nirvana tracks but I understand its inclusion.

11: Mexican Seafood – This is another compilation track. It’s originally from a very obscure record called Teriyaki Asthma; a collection featuring tracks produced by Jack Endino. This is one of Nirvana’s earliest recordings. Like “Beeswax”, it’s very loose and gritty – an example of my favorite type of Nirvana.

12: Hairspray Queen – This track is also one of Nirvana’s very first recordings ever, but until Incesticide, it was previously unreleased. This song is a hot mess – but I love it. The vocals are all over the place. The bass line is lazy and funky. The guitar jumps from solid rock to mindless noise – it’s beautiful chaos. This is a not a song for casual fans. But I absolutely love it. One of the beast tracks on the album for me.

13: Aero Zeppelin – Another early track that was finally seeing the light of day. The whole concept behind that song is based on the fact the main riff sounds like something off of an Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin album. It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek track. A decent tune, but one of the low points for the record.

14: Big Long Now – This is an outtake from Bleach. As such, it very much sounds like it belongs on that record. It’s a slow, atmospheric track. But one that doesn’t really shine when put against some of the other tracks on this collection.

15: Aneurysm – The original version of this song can be found on the Hormoaning EP that accompanied Nevermind. This version of the track is a bit faster and a little more polished. To me, this track along with Dive are the highlights of the album. Nirvana at their finest.

While this album is available on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, it suffers from an unusual dilemma. Some of the tracks on this collection are still owned by Sub Pop records. As a result, there is no streaming license on most platforms. This means when streaming Incesticide, a number of tracks will not be available. In some cases, this doesn’t stop at streaming. A few digital music stores even exclude these tracks from purchases. With this in mind, Insecticide is still best experienced on Compact Disc.

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. Being a compilation, the order of the tracks is not really that important. But I find the record to be balanced pretty well in its structure.

 

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.

Record Shop: Nirvana – Nevermind

Welcome to the first official RetroSensei’s “Record Shop” post. In case you’ve missed my previous post and you’re wondering what all this is about, you can read a bit about this new project:  HERE.

As I mentioned in that previous article, I’ve always been a fan of music. For most of my childhood I enjoyed pop and and top-40 hits. I started buying and collecting music starting around age twelve or thirteen.  Around that time, I was a fan of artists like MC Hammer, Madonna, Technotronic, Boyz II Men, etc. I largely ignored rock music at this time in my life. To me, it all sounded the same. Hair Bands were still in fairly heavy rotation and they really just seemed to be a dime a dozen. By the time I was fourteen, I had just returned back to the United States after living in Japan for 3 years. I once again found myself with access to American cable television – that meant Mtv. I remember vividly tuning to Mtv upon my return and seeing the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  I had never really heard anything like that song before. The verses were hypnotic and mellow, but they were followed by a ripping, screaming chorus. I found the song enjoyable, but at the time I didn’t pay it much attention. My excitement and focus was still currently on the brand new Dangerous album by Michael Jackson as well as an upcoming record by SNAP! (yes, the “I got the power” people)…

Nirvana’s Nevermind was released in the fall of 1991. It is actually their sophomore album. But it is the record that introduced them to the world.

It wasn’t until the video for “Lithium” hit the airwaves that I really started paying attention to Nirvana. This song followed the same formula as “Teen Spirit” – slow verses, with a rocking chorus. But to me, I found the song much more appealing. The next song by Nirvana that caught my attention was “Come As You Are”.  This was really interesting music. It wasn’t like the other rock and roll that was in heavy rotation at the time. I found myself tuning my radio to the local rock station in hopes of catching one of these songs on the air.

Eventually, I grew tired of waiting on the radio and I spent my allowance on the Nevermind CD. This record changed my entire perception on just what music was all about.

Up until now, I experienced music somewhat passively. I enjoyed it, and occasionally found it insightful and moving. But I was never really inspired by it. Now, I’m not going to claim that the majority of the songs on Nevermind are profound. To be honest, most of Kurt Cobain’s lyrics are trash, in my opinion. But there’s certainly a raw energy and passion behind the music as a whole. Songs like “Breed”, just fill you with energy and make you want to “rock out”. Listening to some of these tunes made me was to pick up a guitar and scream my head off, just like Kurt Cobain was doing.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened. This record made me want to learn how to play the guitar. For Christmas that year, I asked my parents for one. Upon receiving it, I went to my local music shop and signed up for lessons. After a couple of months learning the basics, my guitar teacher asked me to bring in a song and he would show me how to play it. Naturally, I turned to Nevermind and I picked a tune that sounds pretty easy to play. That song was “Polly”. It was the first song I ever learned to play to completion.  Being able to play a real song from start to finish is major milestone for a new musician. That was the moment I knew that I could play this instrument. Being a guitar player changed my life. Up until that point, I had always been an awkward nerdy sort of kid. I was the little guy that was picked on and teased. I didn’t like sports, instead I was interested in things like Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, and video games. Learning to play the guitar gave my a skill that grew into self-confidence. Not to mention, it was a pretty cool skill to have. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you can pick up a guitar and rock out – that’s cool. Within a few years, I had completely changed my social situation. I went from the “always nerdy dork” to the “slightly nerdy rocker”. My social life improved. My romantic life improved. All thanks to music.

If Nirvana’s Nevermind didn’t exist, I may very well have never picked up that guitar.

So that’s what this album means to me. There’s a good chance that many of you reading this are intimately familiar with this record already. It was one of the biggest selling albums of the 90’s. But, if not, let’s take a look at the record track by track. If you have a music stream subscription or if you own the record and just want to take a trip down memory lane, put it on and let’s listen together.

  1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – This was Nirvana’s first single of the album and arguably their most popular song.  The song starts with a catchy clean-guitar chord riff, which rapidly switches to screaming distortion. Just as you start to get into it, it fades into a slow, mellow groove for the verse. As the chorus launches, we’re back to that ripping, tearing riff that opened the song. This is the formula that made Nirvana famous. They revisit this “verse-chorus-verse” pattern many times over their career.  This song is a classic. It single-handedly changed rock music forever.
  2. In Bloom – This is a moderate tempo tune that once again follows what I call the “Nirvana Formula”.  It was another hit single and it’s a catchy example of classic Nirvana
  3. Come As You Are – This is another favorite. The hook catches you from the very beginning and carries you through the rest of the tune. The guitars here make heavy use of the “Chorus” effect, this is an effect that gives a shimmering “wavy” underwater sound to the tune. This is a very radio-friendly jam.
  4. Breed – This is a rip-roaring powerchord rock fest. This might be the one song from the record that really made me want to pick up a guitar and let it rip. It’s the perfect melding of metal, punk, rock, and even pop. Fantastic tune.
  5. Lithium – Another “Nirvana Formula” tune. Detuned guitar, mumbled lyrics, with a ripping chorus. Another hit single.
  6. Polly –  Here, mid-way through the record we get our first break. Unlike everything else on the album thus far, we have a mellow acoustic tune. The song is played on a dead-pan, flat sounding guitar. As terrible as that might sound in print, it worked well in the song itself.  This is a fan favorite.
  7. Territorial Pissings – This is an odd one. The song starts off with the wacky screeching of Nirvana’s bassist, reciting the lyrics to the old hippie classic “Get Together” – this is followed by a slamming verse-chorus-verse progression. Starts off weird, ends up being a real headbanger.
  8. Drain You – Of all the songs on Nevermind this one is the closet to a pop song as you’re going to find. It’s catchy, upbeat, but riddled with strange lyrics. It seems like Cobain was flipping through a medical journal and just writing nonsense. But, it works and it’s a great song.
  9. Lounge Act – Here we come to what many consider to be the first “throwaway” track on the album. It’s a catchy tune, and not a bad one, but it’s not as memorable as nearly anything else on the record. That being said, this is not a bad song at all. So, it’s really a testament to just how good this record is.
  10. Stay Away – Again we have another not-so-memorable tune. But still, it’s headbanging, rocking toe-tapper. If the “filler tracks” on the record are this good, that’s how to you know you have a real winner.
  11. On a Plain – As the album starts to wind to a close, we get one last catchy power-chord jam. This is an often overlooked gem on the record, at least in my opinion.
  12. Something In The Way – This is the albums’s final official track.  It brings the record to a mellow, slow-paced close. We’re once again treated to that flat, detuned acoustic guitar. This time, accompanied by a string section of all things. It’s a melodic, groovy song. A truly fantastic way to end what is a spectacular album.
  13. Endless, Nameless (Hidden Track) – Ahhh. It just wouldn’t the 90s without a hidden track would it?  This song is not included on all copies of the album, but the majority of them will have it. This song is usually tacked on to the end of track 12 after several minutes of silence.  “Endless, Nameless” is the official title of the song, and it’s a complete chaotic noise fest. Roaring guitars, screaming, wailing, sheer anarchy. I used to be absolutely enthralled by this tune. It was like… “Here’s this great record. I hope you enjoyed it. So, we’re going to end it by just screaming in your face and breaking things.”  Wow.

It’s likely that most readers to this site are probably familiar with Nirvana in some capacity. But if you’ve never really sat down and gave them a listen, Nevermind is a great starting point. 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. When listening to classic records like this, I prefer the original release to many of the “remastered” editions. Often times, remasters are overly loud and actually contain a lower level of quality than the original album. There are exceptions to this, but in the case of Nevermind, the original CD is what you want.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Unlike pop albums, many good rock records are sequenced in a certain order. 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. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

I hope you enjoyed my take on this album. It’s one that has meant a lot to me over the years. Maybe it carries, or can carry some special meaning for you as well.