These are my reviews of Nirvana’s studio albums. Because there are so few, I’ve added a couple other reviews of other records of theirs.
1989: Bleach (8/10)
Despite the near complete lack of songs, I really like this. It’s noisy and sloppy and generally wonderful. There are some serious problems in comparison to their later albums but this also has a charm that is missing from those.
I wrote that some time ago. I don’t think it’s quite fair and I think this is better than I gave I gave it credit for. There are more songs than I thought and I like how heavy it is.
1991: Nevermind (10/10)
I wrote this in 2008:
I haven’t listened to Nevermind in forever. When I did listen to it, it was as background music, at a time when I was determined to be different by only listening to music made in the ’60s (or something like that). I was never really impressed by Nirvana, but that was partly because I never really listened to them. I still believe there were far better “grunge” bands, but it’s hard to deny the historical importance of a band that ushered in American acceptance of the “warts and all” approach. We can thank them for slightly more diversity in the mainstream, and that’s something. So, my problem was that I never listened to Cobain’s lyrics before. I realize now, as I reassess, that his lyrics are the thing. Musically, the band is one of the most straightforward and accessible of any of the bands dwelling in the American underground during that time period. But his lyrics connected to a lot of people, they expressed something nearly universal and that’s what grabs people. I never really felt this alienated myself, so I didn’t get it at the time, I guess. With age comes an appreciation of the great variety of experience, and so I can say that I finally get Nirvana. There’s no filler here and though it is far less interesting than UINY, it is still a fine and significant record.
I wrote this a few years later: “I pretty much stand by that but I would like to add this: holy shit is this thing overproduced (for how sloppy it should be). According the Wikipedia it actually happened during the mixing, which is too bad.”
I feel like it isn’t really as overproduced as I believed at the time. This is such a seminal record that I feel like my earlier issues with it were just me being contrarian. The impact this had on the US (and Canada) is hard to put into words. So even if I prefer Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to Nirvana, this is more important. [Editor’s note: so my rating has crept up and up and up. I still prefer In Utero though.]
1992: Incesticide (7/10)
If you were one of the people who was devastated both by the end of Nirvana (and by Cobain’s death, of course), I think this compilation would be one of those things that made you feel worse. What I mean by that is, here is a pretty great rarities collection just showing how much more the band had in them, in addition to their main studio records. The assumption of the dedicated, devastated fan would be, I assume, that there was so much more to come.
It’s not always clear to me why some of these songs were left off the records, and that’s always a good sign of a rarities collection. But otherwise, it’s just a pretty standard rarities collection. If you like the band, you’ll like it.
1993: In Utero (9/10)
I wrote the following in 2011:
This is, to my ears, a significant improvement on their most famous album.
First off, its better produced! Hooray! Much of the gloss is gone, thank science.
Second, the songs are generally more mature. We still get a healthy dose of sentiments I can’t relate too but there are far more I can.
And there’s diversity in the music – well there was on Nevermind to an extent, but there’s much more here! It makes me happy.
I like this a lot more. I’m not sure I like it quite as much as their horribly named final album but it’s pretty great.
1994: Unplugged in New York (9/10)
I wrote the following in 2011:
This is far and away my favourite despite the lying title (they’re liars, the liars!). Why call it unplugged if you are going to plug in your “acoustic” guitars? Grrr. I blame the marketers. It’s far and away the finest thing they recorded. I am repeating myself. It would have helped if I listened to this recently.
Do I feel differently now? Yes, a little.
I used to struggle with Nirvana because I didn’t feel the angst (read: depression) Cobain (and numerous others) felt. As I’ve gotten older, I have been more able to empathize with his experience than I could when I was in my 20s. (Yes, that’s counterintuitive.) And so I like their other records more than I did.
But this still feels like a significant departure from In Utero, which is a remarkable thing to say about a live album. And, like numerous others have observed, it feels like it suggested a major change in the band’s sound which may have resulted from Cobain living.
I love live albums that don’t sound like the records. And this is one of them.