I fucking love Nirvana, I listen to them all the time, I play guitar and Kurt Cobain is one of my biggest influences both as an artist and as a person, he was arguably the coolest frontman in rock since Jim Morrison. In Utero is one of my favorite albums of all time and they have a shit ton of songs that I adore and listen to constantly. I love Kurt’s ability to make punk music and yet make it extremely catchy and accessible, let’s just say there’s a reason they got so big. Yet, that wasn’t always the case, and that brings me to the subject of this review. Their first album Bleach, released in 1989 by Sub Pop Records. Bleach has always personally fascinated me because it’s a look at Nirvana before they blew up and changed rock music, it’s a look at Nirvanabefore “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came along and changed everything.
One thing I love about Bleach is how it sounds production-wise, the whole album has this very raw, gritty, sound to it and it makes the album sound very badass and fun to listen to. Kurt’s guitar sounds very crunchy and intense, and Krist’s bass sounds very booming and heavy. One thing that is unique about Bleach compared to Nevermind and In Utero is that Dave Grohl is not in the band yet, so the drums are played by a man named Chad Channing, he’s not as good of a drummer as Dave, but he’s pretty good in his own right, he stays on rhythm and has some pretty good fills that serve the songs very well. This album definitely has the most “grungy” sound out of the three records and I like that, it gives the album an inherently different feel from the other two classics.
Bleach has a lot of really interesting songs on it, each of these songs has really creative riffs and vocals. The album opens up with “Blew,” and it sets the tone for the rest of the album to come, it’s a very bleak song and it’s also extremely heavy, partially because Kurt and Krist both tuned their instruments down without realizing they had already done so, so the song ended up being in drop C tuning, adding to the heaviness of it. The album continues with “Floyd the Barber,” a song that deals with rape, a subject they would later explore on “Polly,” off of Nevermind, and “Rape Me,” off of In Utero. “Floyd the Barber” has a very cool sounding melody and interesting lyrics, Kurt said that he didn’t give a shit about the lyrics when writing this album but despite that, I still think he was able to convey great meaning in many songs off of this album.
The third song “About a Girl,” is the most famous song on the album, mainly because it’s the song they opened their famous MTV Unplugged concert with, and it’s a fantastic song, inspired by Kurt’s girlfriend at the time, Tracy Marander, asking him why he never wrote a song for her. The song is very Beatles-esque and it’s definitely the poppiest song on the album, and personally, as a guitar player, the song is really fun to play. As much as I love the song, I think I like the MTV Unplugged version better, although that’s probably just because I’m more familiar with it. The fourth song “School,” is also phenomenal, containing a very memorable guitar riff, and it’s another example of Kurt being able to convey great meaning and relatability with not very many words, there’s only 15 in the whole song. The album continues with “Love Buzz,” which is a cover of a song by a Dutch rock band Shocking Blue, it’s decent but it’s not one of my favorites on the album, It’s a pretty good cover, there are better songs on the album but if it came on on shuffle, I wouldn’t skip it
However, “Paper Cuts,” is a massive improvement, it’s one of the most intense songs on the album and one of the heaviest lyrically, dealing with child abuse. The next song “Negative Creep” is my favorite on the album, I fucking love this song. The riff it’s built around is so fucking badass and fun to play, and Kurt’s vocals are fucking mind blowing, his voice on the song is so deep to the point where it almost doesn’t sound like him. It’s one of my favorite Nirvana songs and I highly recommend giving it a listen, it’s debatably the closest they ever got to heavy metal, and Kurt’s screams on it are incredible. “Scoff” is also very good, I like Kurt’s vocals on it a lot, I really like the drumming, and the lyrics continue the themes of child negligence from “Paper Cuts.”
“Swap Meat” is one of the weaker songs on the album, it’s not bad necessarily but when compared to songs like “School” or “Negative Creep,” it just falls a little short. “Mr. Moustache” is a little better, it has a very nice melody and I like the lyrics which are basically about Kurt’s hatred for racist, macho, rednecks. The final song “Sifting” is my least favorite on the album, again, it’s not bad by any means, it’s just not very memorable and a little too long. You have to take into account that Nevermind ended with “Something in the Way” and In Utero ended with “All Apologies” which are two all-time classics, “Sifting” just doesn’t compare to those two masterpieces.
I really like Bleach but I’m not sure how I’d rank it compared to Nevermind or In Utero, I know that In Utero is my favorite of the three but I’m not sure if I like Bleach or Nevermind more. I like the production on Bleach more but many of the songs on Nevermind are just so memorable and cool. Bleach has the advantage of not being as overexposed though, there’s nothing on this album that gets played all the time like “Come As You Are” or “Heart-Shaped Box.” So in that regard, Bleach can be the most interesting one to listen to and I think I would probably choose it over Nevermind overall, even though Nevermind is probably better on a song by song basis.
Bleach is fascinating since it captures not only Nirvana before they got big with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” but because it also captures the late 80’s Seattle grunge scene in general. It’s a nice early look into the direction that popular rock music was going to go before it happened, during an era where hair metal was all that was played on the radio, before people realized that you don’t need to have a dress or a shit ton of makeup to make it in the music industry, and I think that makes the album kinda special in a way. Overall, check it out.