Album Review: Nirvana – Bleach

Adam Sapit, Entertainment Editor

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From left: Kurt Cobain, Chad Channing, Jason Everman, Krist Novoselic. Taken: 2/25/1989 by Alice Wheeler

Bleach is the debut album from grunge rock trio Nirvana. They’re known for their 1991 multi-million-dollar album Nevermind. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a song that continuously receives airtime on the radio. They’re widely accredited to be the catalyst of the grunge-rock movement.

Before Nevermind, Nirvana wasn’t well known outside of their underground scene. Between 1988 and 1989, the band recorded their first album, Bleach. It was released June 15, 1989. Bleach is a low-budget, rough-around-the-edges album performed by three nobodies from the Pacific Northwest… And it couldn’t be any more perfect. Bleach is the definition of grunge-rock. The album didn’t gain much traction when it was released, but those who listened to it seemed to really enjoy it. Some noticed the potential they had at the time. I personally rank this album as one of my top favorites.

You might be wondering why I chose to review a 30-year-old album. I chose to review Bleach because it’s had a massive influence on my music taste. It opened the world of classic alternative rock up to me.

“Blew” is the perfect starter for this album. It personifies the heaviness and deeply personal meanings that you’ll hear in later tracks. “Blew” was the only track recorded in drop C tuning, making it lower tuned than others. In regards to composition, this track is so simple that any beginner musician could learn this track quickly. Simplicity doesn’t mean blandness. This track is about Kurt Cobain, the band’s main instrumentalist, being given chances to show his true potential but always turning them down.

“Floyd The Barber” follows “Blew”. One thing about Bleach’s creation is that there were two different recording sessions featuring different drummers. This track features Dale Crover from The Melvins. “Floyd The Barber” has this repetitive but hardcore style to it. In total, this track uses only six different chords over two minutes. The track breaks structure towards the end with a solo. The name “Floyd the Barber” is a reference to a character on the Andy Griffith Show. Cobain purposely wrote the lyrics to be a sadistic mockery of the show.

“About A Girl” comes after “Floyd the Barber”. Cobain recorded a home demo of the track in 1988, but rerecorded the track for the album. This song alternated from open chords to power chords in the chorus. Like previous tracks, there’s a break in the format for a solo. This song was written about Cobain’s girlfriend at the time, but she had no knowledge of it. The track addresses their fractured relationship, where she was the breadwinner of the household and he was her rock. This track’s name was apparently an on the spot thing. When their drummer Chad Channing asked what the name of the track was, Cobain replied with “it’s about a girl.”

“School” is the fourth track on the album. This track follows a similar format to “Floyd the Barber”. It maintains a somewhat confined style with little room for complexity. This track has three different line of lyrics. That’s it. “School” is extremely simplistic, but there’s no mistaking why this song is so popular amongst fans. This song was written from Cobain’s personal experience of becoming a janitor at his old high school for a short time. This was one of Kurt’s favorites to play live, as he played it at nearly every concert.

“Love Buzz” was the first promotional single released for the album. It’s a cover of a song from Dutch psychedelic rock band Shocking Blue. Nirvana added their own grungy spin to the track. This track is about one’s affection for another. This song became a staple at their live shows as well.

“Paper Cuts” is a different story from the rest of the album. Kurt put a lot of time into the lyrics on this song. This hardcore track has a loud rhythm to it. This track has been speculated to be about Kurt’s mom and how she ridiculed him for being different than her. The lyrics go through how ashamed his parents were because he dropped out and spent all his time in his room writing music.

“Negative Creep” follows “Paper Cuts”. “Negative Creep” is the embodiment of true grunge. It’s sloppy, it’s heavy, and it’s full of rage. It’s very reminiscent of a heavy metal type song. There’s no other track like this one in Nirvana’s discography. The lyrics get their influence from Mudhoney’s “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More”. This track slowly fades out into the next one.

“Scoff” follows the same theme of parental negligence that “Paper Cuts” has. This is a song about an uncaring father. The father thinks his son is lazy and tries to control someone that can’t be bossed around anymore. This track is another example of Cobain’s impressive songwriting. “Scoff” is another hardcore track accompanied by deep, twisted lyrics.

“Swap Meet” is an outlier on this album. This time, Cobain writes about his distaste for middle-class life and those who sell crafts at swap meets. This track didn’t receive much airtime and was barely played at shows, but it still shows Cobain’s skill for storytelling.

“Mr. Moustache” is about a character Cobain developed in a comic strip he drew himself. Mr. Moustache is the epitome of stereotypical redneck men that Cobain grew up dealing with. Mr. Moustache wants his child to be just like him: strong and ignorant. This track is another heavy track accompanied by a complicated riff.

“Sifting” is the last track on Bleach. “Sifting” is a brooding and sludgy track, a perfect end to the album. This track follows a very similar style to “Paper Cuts” with its heavy beat. “Sifting” is written as a critique on society’s view of drug usage and religion. Cobain was against religion and thought society was very one-sided in regards to drug use, and we can hear his opinions in this track.

From left: Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain

I find myself returning to Bleach time and time again. I love how Nirvana could make something so powerful over the course of just a few weeks. It’s really hard to choose a favorite, but “School” has to be my favorite. The riff, the drums, and the bass work together to create something really unique sounding. You won’t hear another band like Nirvana in the future.

Listen to the album on Spotify: