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Nirvana - Bleach (1989)

You need to be familiar with the cultural context to understand Nirvana, because Nirvana were primarily about cultural context.

I remember the first time I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I was listening to a late-night KABF public radio show out of Little Rock, AR. The DJ for their weekly alternative rock show played the song twice in one hour. And I was surprised because it was quite good, unlike a lot of now-forgotten punk and alternative bands the station played.

I read about the band a few months later in Spin or something, and thought I might come across the album at some point. And I did find it about a week later, and was quite disappointed - none of the songs were as good as that one I heard on the radio, and they all tended to sound the same. But it did provide some modest pleasures, since it was really melodic and catchy and it rocked pretty hard, even if I'd already heard several other bands do the same thing better.

So like everybody else I was caught offguard by Nirvana's success - I don't remember when I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on mainstream radio, but I probably went 'What?!?' and wondered if I'd stumbled inadvertently onto some cool college radio station, until Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" came on next to dispel that idea.

If you grew up in the 80's, you'll know just how important Nirvana's breakthrough was, and - for all his personal problems - Kurt Cobain was a far more positive role model than that asshole Rose of Guns'n'Posers. Not that Cobain was a great role model, but he didn't bait blacks and gays. But in muscial terms, Nirvana were more cultural signifiers than musical innovators, closer to Elvis than The Beatles. Like Elvis, the band's music is unlikely to cross generations very well.

The worth of Nirvana albums is proportional to the influences they're drawing on. Cobain's had a talent for synthesizing a variety of sources into a stew that smelled kind of new (but really wasn't) and tasted good (which it did sometimes). On Bleach, he's drawing from Black Sabbath, The Melvins, The Wipers, Motorhead, Big Black, and Shocking Blue.

The band's cover of Shocking Blue's "Love Buzz" sucks, as does most of the album. That's because whilst the influences I just mentioned are kind of alright sometimes, they're a big pile of stinking doodoo more of the time, which pretty much sums up the album.

The two knockouts are "Negative Creep", which really is creepy and really does sound like Lemmy (of Motorhead) stoned. The other is "About a Girl", which is better here than on the Unplugged version (which goes without saying), but not by much. A few of the others like "Scoff" and "Floyd the Barber" have some interesting riffs / lyrics / melodies, but never at the same time, and although the riffs show promise, the melodies are pretty skimpy.

Bleach was recorded for $600, and sounds like it too. The album's just too slow-paced, sinking into a sort of Sabbath/Melvins sludge that feels like banging your head on 'ludes. That's partly down to the drummer - Nirvana went through four or five drummers, and I can see why they got rid of this one, as he doesn't provide the forward momentum they need for takeoff. It's just not my idea of good Hard Rock.

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise

Posted: Sunday 20th Aug 2017 7:59 AM
Recent album review
Given the sleeve imagery, album title, and song titles, the first impression I had of this album was that it was likely to consist of 'devotional' / religious music of the kind performed on American evangelical TV shows.

A bit of background research reinforced that expectation, as Marty McCall is one part of First Call, a vocal group who provide backings for albums released under the banner of 'Contemporary Christian Music' (CCM), and therefore not the kind of thing that would appeal to me in the slightest. However, the material on Images of Faith didn't conform to any such circumstantial evidence as to what it would sound like ...

Indeed, approaching Images of Faith without such preconceived notions results in a rather surprising listening experience, and if the album is heard without the 'baggage' of its background context, it plainly consists of traditional Celtic folkmusic with a very 'ancient' feel, the material having a very 'pre-medieval' air not disimilar to that of UK band Gryphon, who specialised in recording olde worlde tunes. So then, this is nothing like your typical CCM material at all.

Apart from the 7th century ode "Caedmon's Hymn / Christ Is Risen", which sounds appropiately 'monastic' (in that it's suitably echoey and ethereal), all the music on Images of Faith was written by McCall, with lyrics in several instances provided by his partner Vickie. And the arrangements throughout conform to that of ancient folkmusic - acoustic guitar, penny whistle or recorder, and a variety of lightly-played finger percussion in the form of drums, tinkling bells, and finger cymbals - that, along with all manner of olde worlde instruments with obscure and unusual names.

In that respect, Images of Faith is a meticulously-assembled album, with a great deal of care and attention put into creating a genuinely authentic-sounding collection of 'songs from the Dark Ages' (as it were).

As for the music itself ... well - whilst it's undeniably well-crafted - it's all rather too dirge-like to hold any appeal for me. Apart from the opening "Whatever Your Name" (4½ stars), which is imbued with sufficient vigour that it wouldn't sound out-of-place on any early Gryphon album, the rest of the material for me conjures up imagery of chilling moorland mist, or freezing rain lashing some desolate and remote Irish bog! In other words, it's all a bit grim and cheerless, and makes for a rather dismal and mildly oppressive listening experience.

So my rating for this album is based more on the obvious craftmanship and care that went into its execution more than for its musical appeal. For whilst it's likely that hardcore folkies would derive immense enjoyment from Images of Faith, it's all way too 'earnest' and austere to press my buttons.

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by Reviewer: bluemoon

Posted: Sunday 20th Aug 2017 9:42 AM
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