Release Year: 1989
Nirvana exploded onto the mainstream scene in 1991 with their album Nevermind, but in 1989 they released their first record, Bleach. While it does have some of the staples that Nirvana is known for (Cobain’s anguished vocals, loud/quiet/loud) it’s pretty different from their mainstream hit. One major difference is this album is much heavier than Nevermind. It may even be their heaviest album in their catalog.
The album opens with the extra de-tuned “Blew.” It starts with this heavy, dirty sounding bass riff before the guitar and drums come in to add to the heaviness. The guitar parts during the verses have a psychedelic edge to them while Cobain sings the lyrics slyly as if he knows something we don’t. He then gets louder and louder until he’s screaming by the end of the song. This track is great and it really represents what you’re going to find on the rest of the album.
One song that deserves attention is “About a Girl.” It stands out from the other songs on the album because it doesn’t have any of the heaviness or dirtiness that is found here. Basically it’s a pop song. It’s catchy, has a very light guitar riff that uses little distortion and is a light song in general. This song is so great because it shows that Nirvana can move away from the “grunge” genre and actually pull it off. They can mix in other types of music to their sound to make them standout from other bands. They would prove this again and again later in their career (see Nirvana Unplugged). The song also shows off Cobain’s songwriting abilities. There is a lot of wit and cleverness found in his lyrics, but as with most Nirvana songs you need the aid of the lyrics to understand what Cobain is saying. While the songs may not be the strongest in the songwriting department, they show off a songwriter in development.
Because all of the songs are great, this an album you can listen to all the way through without having to skip a track. Some of them deal with odd subjects, such as “Floyd the Barber,” which is about the cast of The Andy Griffith Show chopping up and abusing the person in the barbershop. Most of the songs follow the same format: the lyrics and guitar riff repeats throughout. Despite this the songs never get boring. This could be do to Cobain’s singing and guitar playing.
The vocals here are very experimental. While Cobain’s infamous scream is found in the songs it’s not all that he does. In some songs he sings softly, in others he sings so fast you can barely understand him (“Downer”). Sometimes he stretches out his vocals to the point where he sounds strained. In the track “Sifting,” he drags out the last notes of the word “fun” to the point where he sounds melodic and as if he’s actually trying to sing. While the experimental singing would disappear on the band’s later albums, it’s great to hear what else Cobain can with his voice and shows that he is a talented singer.
The guitar work is also really good. A lot of the songs have wild, speeding solos from Cobain. They often sound as if they were made up on the spot. Some songs that have standout guitar riffs are “Mr. Mustache,” which has this great racing playing throughout the song and “Negative Creep,” which has a great sliding, playful riff during the verses. As mentioned before, a lot of the riffs are tuned down and gives the music a trudging feeling, as if they are dragging it through the mud, which is the main reason why this album is so heavy.
Overall, I give this album 8.5/10. While it does differ from what the band is known for today, this is still a great album. All of the songs are great and there are tracks here that would go on to become Nirvana classics. The guitar work is great, Cobain’s vocals are excellent and there’s never a dull moment to be found. Not only is Cobain’s talent shining through, but Novaselic’s bass riffs and Chad Channing’s drum beats get some attention too. Any Nirvana fan, new or old, needs to own this record.