Sub Pop Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When Nirvana broke through the American market in late 1991 with their hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit," thousands of people immediately identified with theangst that Kurt Cobain was wailing about and pumping through his guitar. At first, I was not one of those people (though I think today that Nevermind is an incredible album).

Going back to Nirvana's 1989 debut on the Seattle-based Sub Pop label, Bleach, you may think you'll hear the first signs of the greatness that this band was to achieve. My thought: keep on looking, 'cause it ain't here.

Recorded allegedly for around $600, Cobain (then going as Kurdt Kobain) and crew attempt to bash out their anger through their music. But the songwriting is still very green, the playing uncertain, and the overall vibe is often confused for a yawn, which you'll find yourself doing a lot.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It's not even the same lineup that gained worldwide fame; behind the drum kit sits not Dave Grohl (who came on after Bleach was recorded) but Chad Channing, and a second guitarist, Jason Everman, is in the lineup. Bassist Chris Novoselic is still there, and he is undoubtedly the most fluent at his instrument of this lineup.

Bleach's best-known song is "About A Girl," which was made famous on the posthumous live album Unplugged In New York. As an electric guitar-based work, it is iffy; compared to the acoustic version, it is wretched.

Some of the songs just fail to live up to their potential. "Floyd The Barber" could have been a great song, as could have "School," but the weak songwriting is the first blow that does each one in. The second blow is the uncertainty of Cobain's and Channing's playing. (It should be noted that on a few cuts, including "Floyd The Barber," Dale Crover was the drummer of record.)

In fact, the best song on the whole album is one which Nirvana didn't write - "Love Buzz." The guitars have a great feel to them, Novoselic's bass riff is mesmerizing, and even Channing's drumming has a confident feel about it. Some of this control is lost on "Negative Creep," but this is tha closest sign of what was to come that the band ever shows.

Besides the songwriting, the biggest problem with Bleach is with the crappy production job, if there even was any - I can't find a producer listed anywhere on the liner notes (unless recorder Jack Endino served as producer as well). The sound is extremely muddy and cluttered, taking away whatever energy the band was truly showing in the performance. This band needed a real producer - and got one in the guise of Butch Vig on Nevermind.

Sometimes an album defies description in either its good or bad features. It is very difficult to talk about the problems Bleach has, because there are so many. In general, this one may be only for the diehard Nirvana fans - and even they may end up running for the exits.

Rating: D-

User Rating: B-



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sub Pop Records, and is used for informational purposes only.