Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Video Of Valentine's Week: Nirvana

If you know anything about me, you know I'm not a fan of this band.

The singer is a whiny brat who, when alive, didn't get half the media attention they claimed to have given him when he died; every ''Year In Review'' Top 10 list had him and them at #2 (for the highest), most at #5, many at #10 for most categories (album of the year, song of the year, video of the year, songwriter of the year - the whole gamut). Who was #1? The same band (and singer/songwriter) that made the front page of Time Magazine as the Voice Of His Generation - Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam.

And since Pearl Jam didn't do interviews for the press, every magazine that put them at #1 ran interviews... with the runner-up. And invariably, he would complain that he wasn't shown the respect he deserved, that his talent went unappreciated, and threatened to stop making music altogether if he didn't get more attention.

But when he offed himself, suddenly he became the guy who didn't like the media, who had trouble fitting in and just wanted to be left alone. And the media swallowed it up, and turned him into a hero, without analyzing his body of work in its right context.

Nirvana are always known to be 'grunge', a title they bear with fellow Seattle acts Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains (I'll leave Tad, Mudhoney and rest out of it to keep it simple), and whose song structures is often defined by quiet verses and loud choruses. Nirvana and Soundgarden both having released records in 1989 are widely viewed - incorrectly - as being the originators of this, or at least those who brought it to the forefront at the tail end of the 80s, when, in fact, Soundgarden at the time were actually more of a metal band, and The Pixies, from Massachussets, were actually the quiet-loud-quiet masters who came a few years before Nirvana and had a decent impact America-wide.

Which leaves Nirvana's first record, Bleach, a decent one, but nowhere near groundbreaking. Look for their cover of Shocking Blue's Love Buzz as the standout track on it. But it wasn't enough for them, and the politics of being on a small independent label didn't suit Cobain's dreams of grandeur, so he set out looking for a major label and signed with Geffen in 1990 - keep in mind the follow-up record would only come out in September 1991.

Then came Nevermind, the record that 'broke them through' to the mainstream, that famously dislodged Michael Jackson from the top of the charts (in January 1992)... it was bubblegum punk, a watered-down version of The Pixies for the masses of teens ready to bounce to rock music after years of kids-pop and cock rock, over-produced by Butch Vig. In my opinion, Lounge Act is the best song off that record.

Not quite inspired to record an actual follow-up to Nevermind, they instead opted to release a collection of b-sides entitled Incesticide. It sounds like a ''fuck you'' to their new fans, with no clear single, no promotion, just another product to sell to fans, although the ''official'' propaganda was ''to circumvent bootleggers''.

So forgive me for not awaiting In Utero with much trepidation... and allow me to say it is an unbelievably solid piece of rock'n'roll, definitely one of the 10 best records of the decade. Solid and noncommercial, from the first song to the last, with a few radio-friendly tunes just to keep the fans' attention. They came to town after the release of that album, in November 1993, at the Verdun Auditorium, and pretty much nailed it. Not all the songs were great, not all the performances were as good as on their records, and I would only find out a little later that they always had the same damn setlist that they barely changed around (even Unplugged In New York, released posthumously, had pretty much the same songs in the same order, with very little change). Same shit every night? It gets repetitious, no wonder he killed himself.

Oh, and while Pearl Jam actually did shun media attention and stopped making videos altogether until 1998 (Do The Evolution, all-animated, in which they didn't even appear), Nirvana kept doing theirs, feeding the MTV monster that spawned them just like it had spawned Poison years before. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, as you'll see here, because it takes a kick-ass song, Heart-Shaped Box, to a beautiful new level.

I was hesitating and wasn't sure which song to use in a week that includes Valentine's Day - I was thinking J. Geils Band's Love Stinks, which actually better suits my mood these days, but their label won't let me hotlink it here, so I went the more traditional route.

I guess life is like a box of chocolates... a heart-shaped one...

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