Well, journal, looks like it's you and me again tonight. Which is fine. DGC -- an imprint of David Geffen I believe (note to self: look this up) -- has just sent over a pressed copy of a new CD from some band in Aberdeen, Wash. Nirvana, Nevermind. (journal: any similarities to Nevermind the Bollocks?) According to the bio on the press release, the band is made up of Kurt Cobain (vocals and guitar), Kris Novoselic (bass and vocals), and Dave Grohl (drums). They look a little shell-shocked in the lights, and the lead singer is frighteningly thin. But the music is anything but -- like shells exploding; thick, big-hearted melodies suffocated under steamroller notes. I'll have to work these observations into a good lede later. I'm thinking I'll sell this to the L.A. Weekly? (note to self: call Julie)
Anyway, according to the press release, Nirvana has one previous album on Sub Pop (Bleach), and a clutch of singles and eps (Sliver/Dive supposedly did very well on the independent charts -- I'll have to confirm this). No, I've never heard of these guys either, journal, but the cover alone shows me that these Nirvana dudes know how to poke fun at the music industry. It depicts a naked boy-baby swimming after a dollar bill on a fishhook. I don't need to get into the symbolism there -- it's all spelled out. Not to mention, it's the first album I've ever seen in America with an honest-to-goodness penis on the cover. Let's hope the band gets to keep that in -- I can imagine major pressure from DGC to cave.
The lyrics are grumbled or muttered or spat or shouted throughout. Luckily, DGC sent along a sheet of lyrics for me to read along with. There's some pretty potent stuff in here -- it hits at this level of simplicity that veers on the complex and unknowable (sample lyric, frm Smthng in th' Wy: "it's okay to eat fish 'cause they don't have any feelings" -- in final write-up, mention how this resonates, pings, bleeds, comforts, hates). If DGC really gets behind this group, they might be able to push some units.
How's this for a weird piece of serendipity? I saw an ad on Nick a few minutes ago for Teen Spirit deodorant (okay, it's not THAT serendipitious; they mercilessly play that spot). And what's the opening song called? Smells Like Teen Spirit. Well, I doubt this song is about deodorant, journal. In fact, it's a pretty sweaty thing, this tune. The lyrics are nice to have, but it's not that necessary. I keep finding myself lost in waves and broken shards everytime the chorus comes up -- the words don't even matter at this point. What a feeling. It's both uplifting and terrifying. This would make a great single, if Nirvana's able to crack into the radio market.
In Bloom is next, and again, the guitars are loud. They're also heavily produced, thx to Butch Vig. But it's okay. Even the finest studio glow couldn't hide the darkness, ugliness, and bursting beauty of these tunes. This song has a bit of a Pixies-ish bent -- going from quiet verses to loud choruses and back again (journal, possibly compare to dynamics in Pixies' "Gigantic"?). I like the bass here, how it crawls around the aural landscape, surefooted, as Cobain croons out non sequiturs like "nature is a w-h-o-r-e/bruises on the fruit/tender age in bloom." (journal, in second drft., mention Cobain's gun fixation throughout lyrics)
Come as You Are seems watery. It has an undertow to it. Also, I'm pretty sure the bassline is nicked from a Killing Joke tune. I'll have to go back and double-check, but if so, what a hilarious piece of insider musicianship. This song is powerful. As I said, journal, it pulls you along, and it seems a bit sick and unsure of itself -- somehow making you MORE sure of its sickness. It's hard to explain, journal. I'll have to go back and pretty this one up for the papers.
Breed. Oh, how it lurches. Bursts up. Burns and breaks. The lyrics are outright nonsense that fit wonderfully. I'm sure this was intentional, taking a lock-step rhythm and overlaying it with pure, unformed silliness. However, the way Cobain sings this, it's like he's never cracked a smile in his life. And yet -- see journal? see the contradictions? -- it feels joyful and full of humor anyway. Man, I hope DGC gives this band the attention they deserve. (this is a big piece of optimism on my part, journal, but stranger things've happened.)
Lithium is the best Teen-Age Death Song I have heard in a while. This one's all about subtlety, the clean channeled guitar, the minimal bass, the tap-tap of the drums -- and then it roars open into a chorus so complete and sickly sweet, you are forced to sing along. Chorus is pure Yeahs, pure rock 'n' roll. 'N some of the best lyrics I've seen yet out of Cobain's pen lie here (ex: "Sunday morning is every day for all I care and I'm not scared/Light my candles in a daze 'cause I found god") And that's not it by a long-shot. Every once and a bit, a bridge creeps in, in which Cobain sings "I like it, I'm not gonna crack. I miss you, I'm not gonna crack. I love you, I'm not gonna crack. I killed you, I'm not gonna crack." It takes the song to a whole other level, journal -- one where the self-obsessed loser-boy in the mirror has reached out for love, and has been hurt, and has hurt back in return. Chilling sentiment and bloody sediment. Two deaths in the clay. My favorite song by far.
The same sort of musical ennui and inertia bleeds into Polly, the next track. A harrowing, sad, haunted tale of rape and control. It darkens the air as it plays. Something this powerful ... is bound for the floor. Soft candle-light at a funeral, journal, interrupted by an earthquake.
Territorial P-i-s-s-i-n-g-s starts off with Novoselic caterwauling that old late '60s? early '70s? Youngbloods tune (note to self: look this up). You know the one, where the singer, all high in his airy world of syrup, sings "C'mon people everywhere, smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love one another, right now." Novoselic truly takes the p-i-s-s out of it, as the band sounds like they're tuning up jaggedly, crapping all over the sentiment. Cobain shows us where the feeling REALLY resides -- he plays his guitar so fast, it's a billowing curtain of racket. The rest of the band follows him, charging down the black hills straight into a brick wall. From there, Cobain pounds his fists against the obstruction and screams "Gotta find a way, a better way, when I'm there. Gotta find a way, a better way, I'd better wait."
Drain You. Oh my my my, journal. A song that likens love to symbiotic feedings, parasitic rumblings and hospital stays. "The water is so yellow, I'm a healthy student" sticks with me, as do the sound of heart monitors and automatic lungs. I can hope and pray that this one will find a home on radio, but even if it doesn't, it sounds like music to kiss and kill by.
Lounge Act. The one track on this album that splurts by and is over before you can really form an opinion on it. Maybe it's just my temperament, journal, but I find my mind wandering whenever the song starts, only coming back to Earth for "I can still smell her on you." But not to fear, journal. I'm sure I'll just be hitting the highlights for the Weekly, so this observation will be much truncated into the following: "Even the songs that teeter on their bearings and fall straight off -- such as Lounge Act -- serve to give the album weight, depth and a realization at how great the best songs on this album are." Something like that. Work on it.
Stay Away is another one that coasts a bit. That's not to say the melody isn't ingratiating, the melodicism and anger isn't spot on -- but this has already been done once, and better, by the SAME band on Territorial. You have to appreciate the self-loathing in the verses, tho. Especially lines like "fashion s-h-i-t-s/fashion style -- I don't know why-y."
On a Plain. It's hard to explain how affecting this song is, journal. Cobain basically admits he's phoning it in, at one point going so far as to sing "to write off lines that don't make any sense" -- and at the end of the tune, he says "just one more special message to go, then I'm done and I can go home" -- but the chorus of "Love myself better than you -- I know it's wrong, but what should I do," is ... somehow devastating and entirely affecting. Then this smeary, swirly bridge steps out which includes the couplet "in my defense, I'm neutered and spayed. What the hell'm I trying to say?" It's like he's coming to grips with his lyrical shortcomings, which sparks brightly like ice off of dark water (journal: bring in iceberg metaphor, of how only 10 percent can be seen -- 90 percent below water, below vision, subterranean, cold, growing, fading)
Just as the haunted Lithium became the even more haunted Polly, so On a Plain's trailing "ooo-ooohs" become the sad, bursting heart of Something in the Way. Played like a folk song set to half an RPM. Everything is distant, sad and fleeting. Beautiful way to end this album ... It leaves you humbled.
But the album doesn't end here, journal. They want their Spoiled Punk Moment, and they get it to fine effect with a tuneless cacophony, screaming struggle of butchered words and disguised, disgusted playing. They call it "Endless Nameless." And it is terrible.
Journal, I love this band.