Tuesday, October 4, 2011

VH1 Classic Albums - Nirvana Nevermind (1991)

In 1991, a little unknown band from Seattle stormed on the music scene with an album that set the tone for industry. This album took an aggressive, punk attitude, tempered it a raw sound borrowed from heavy metal, and combined it all with catchy, pop-friendly hooks. This unlikely combination melded influences like Black Flag, with a sonic palette reminiscent of early Black Sabbath, and simple, but very effective rhythmic hooks and melodies that would fit right in on an early Beatles record. Somehow, the talents of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl, under the guidance of producer Butch Vig brought all these divergent ideas together into something new that captured the imagination and the zeitgeist of an entire generation.

That album was Nevermind.

Last night I happened to catch the "Nirvana - Classic Albums: Nevermind" documentary on VH1 Classics. The show was packed full of interesting tidbits and trivia about the making of the album, and provided an incredible insight into the making of this monster. Producer Butch Vig's segments were very insightful- he summed up the intent of the album perfectly when he spoke about how the guitar sounds were intentionally over-the-top heavy, because the songs were so deeply rooted in pop hooks that it needed that heavy sound as a balance so it would maintain a sense of credibility.

Butch made an even greater contribution when he replayed several of the tracks in the studio, and isolated individual tracks to point out various qualities and techniques used to put it all together. It highlights how the album demonstrates mastery of the simple. He shows how simple ideas- the right simple ideas, can be strung together and combined in simple ways- again, become greater than the sum of their parts. He even goes so far as to isolate a guitar track, and point out that you could hear how cheap the guitar was. At the same time, when all the components are put together, it sounds amazing.

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