Nirvana: Bleach (Tupelo)

STONED, LOADED. It’s both a mental and a physical bliss. Everything is nothing but an abandoned blur. Minutes away from a blackout, from a sweet, fat zero, in the meantime, savour the experience of white-out conditions. Bleached. “Bleach” really is the ideal choice of title for a band called Nirvana.

Bleach is not the work of the Nirvana of the Sixties, but the debut LP of a new group, all in their early twenties. Hailing from Aberdeen, a satellite town of Seattle, they’re the latest in an already long line of admirable discoveries made in the backwoods of North West America. Moreover, they’re the only Sub Pop act to date whose songs consistently equal the standard set by their mates Mudhoney, and Bleach is one of the best produced albums of its sort to be released. Amazingly, the studio costs amounted to a mere 600 dollars.

Although Nirvana’s sound is essentially guitar-based – and, as not only the guitarist but also the vocalist and the sole songwriter, Kurdt Kobain is the band’s prime mover – many of the thrills are in Chris Novoselic’s bass playing. For the first few seconds of ‘Blew’, the opening track of the LP, it’s the only sound, some 30 tugs compressed into an evil grumble which all the other instruments struggle to follow. Later, particularly in ‘Paper Cut’ and ‘Sifting’, it’s no less of a sprawling, stalking, sulking monster.

‘Love Buzz’, a song which is already available as a single, is not included but there’s always the B-side, the quarrelsome ‘Big Cheese’. Despite the title, it’s a straight-faced song about self assertion. With ‘Swap Meet’, a desperate tale of vitamins and cigarettes, the elements initially refuse to gel. When they eventually do, it’s like being given a leg-up to heaven’s back window. On the other hand, ‘Mr Moustache’ should have been chosen as the theme music for Batman. Seriously.

Many of the tracks are crammed with melodic hooks and ‘About A Girl’ is the most obviously mellifluous. It’s certainly a love song but, as such, Kobain can’t resist twisting a lyrical blade and it’s a desire for freedom which is most clearly expressed. The voice is an imploring rattle. The intention of ‘Negative Creep’ is precisely the opposite and although it may be a faultlessly executed and highly succinct thrash, the danger of a total loss of control, of that blackout, creeps close as the line “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more”, repeated over and over again, becomes a throat-ripping scream.

‘Sifting’ is the final straw. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place as the climax to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti – it sure beats ‘Sick Again’ – and the vocals openly invite a comparison to Robert Plant. A sense of menace clogs up each groove and behind the strung out notes which makes for a heady guitar solo is what sounds like a slowed down siren, oozing, nagging and throbbing, gradually developing into a painful moan. A tumble around the toms heralds the close.

Tanked up and over the straight edge. Full throttle into oblivion. Yeah, bleached. Gone.

© PushMelody Maker, 19 August 1989

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