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In 1991, a band belonging to the counterculture changed music forever. On September 24 of that year, Nirvana, the band composed by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl, released its second album (first one with Grohl as a drummer) ‘Nevermind’. What was, and what is ‘Nevermind’?
Nirvana started playing in 1987, developing within the grunge scene taking shape in the Seattle area at the time, where several bands experimented this enhancement of punk rock. Nirvana was shown to have that little more, which led them to change music history. With the release of their first album ‘Bleach’ in 1989 with Sub Pop Records, Nirvana sold a decent amount of records and started touring, getting the success that pertained to good bands of the grunge scene.
Then, in 1991, something changed. The musicality of the group, although keeping that honesty that has always characterized Nirvana, had been slightly modified. They mixed strong sounds with pleasant melodies, screamed anger, pain, and pure irony. Many think that the most popular records cannot be a piece of art, except in this case. ‘Nevermind’ has been the most meaningful record ever since its release in 1991. Its biggest power was the ability to reach everyone, while saying something meaningful, something true, something deep, and playing hard.
The sound of ‘Nevermind’ explodes very strong, yet very fragile. The power of Grohl’s drums, the perfection of Novoselic’s bass, along with the lyrics and the extraordinary voice of the late Kurt Cobain, a voice which instantly reaches the deepest part of an open soul, created something splendid. The deepness of the record is hard to explain; it has to be lived.
The band was able to send a message using unusual sonorities along with good melodies, expressing what nobody had before or has done afterwards. This created a phenomenon that ran all over the world and seemed impossible to catch, leading an underground band to be one of the most important and relevant creations of music history and surely the most significant change in the music scene in decades. As Krist Novoselic once said, “Nirvana didn’t go to the mainstream; the mainstream went to Nirvana.”
The enormous success of ‘Nevermind’ made it possible for bands from the counterculture to play on MTV, to be heard on mainstream radios, and to sign with major record labels. Nirvana changed the rules in the game with an album that contains very differentiated tracks, each one able to play every single chord of that dark inner soul Nirvana has.
Nobody was prepared for the huge success of ‘Nevermind’ back then, not even Geffen Records, the major record label with whom Nirvana signed before the final production of the album. The record label initially pressed 40,000 copies of the album, which instead sold a million within six weeks. Geffen had to stop pressing any other record in order to meet the demand.
In a music scene dominated by hair metal and superficiality, Nirvana was able to break through that thick peel of an uncaring society and give voice to all those people who were feeling forgotten by the world. Those people had been waiting, and Nirvana gave them what they needed and what they probably still need. Nirvana has often been said to be the voice of a generation, but this is not precise, and it is very reductive.
They have always given voice to the people who feel rejected, disappointed, hurt, frustrated, abandoned, and as Everett True said in his book about the band, the ones who know how it feels not to be loved. Those people unfortunately do not belong to a single generation, they belong to our society.
This is as well demonstrated by the fact that after twenty years from its original release, the reissue of ‘Nevermind’ hit the UK Top 5 right after its release. ‘Nevermind’ has been reissued in several formats, including a limited super deluxe edition. All of the formats received significant success and created a lot of excitement within the people who still feel represented by grunge and Nirvana, and the ones that are simply passionate about good music.
All around the world, there has been a lot of celebration on the twentieth anniversary of the album, starting from the opening of the exhibition “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses“ in Seattle, as well as “In Bloom: The Nirvana Nevermind Exhibition“ in London, which was accompanied by “Territorial Musing: a Nirvana Q&A and Album Playthrough” by Classic Album Sundays and Linn.
The website www.nevermind20.com conquered the net. There was also a screening during this year’s Reading and Leeds festivals of the recorded 1992 Nirvana performance live at Reading, a tribute concert at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, a night tribute with artists performing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ 144 times in a row in Toronto, and magazine special editions, just to cite some.
What made Nirvana and ‘Nevermind’ so special back in 1991, besides the peculiar characteristics of the music, was that the band and the record had a lot to say and said it with pure honesty. Given the reaction to the anniversary and the reissue of the album after 20 years from the release of the record and 17 years after the passing of the late frontman Kurt Cobain, Nirvana and ‘Nevermind’ still have a lot to say.
Twenty years later, indeed, ‘Nevermind’ appears to have done exactly the same thing it did back in 1991: hit big all over the world and unify outsiders and music lovers, who currently have to face a music scene which too often seems to forget what music is really about.