Notes on “Bleach”

I was listening to Nirvana’s 1989 debut Bleach the other day and was struck by how much the album doesn’t sound like it comes from a band that only 2 years later would change the entire music industry. I don’t want to say that I dislike Bleach. I think it’s a great album. But there’s no ‘Teen Spirit,’ no ‘Come As You Are,’ no ‘Something in the Way.’ Nevermind was very much a pop album tailored to strike people the way it did. Bleach is just a raw punk record and perhaps the purest Nirvana ever created.

You can’t tell that the person singing about being raped and murdered in Mayberry RFD (Floyd the Barber) and child abuse (Paper Cuts) would go on to become the voice of a generation. In fact, many of the songs don’t seem to have much of any type of meaning behind them whatsoever. ‘Blew’ finds Cobain searching for another word that rhymes with shame and ‘Mr. Mustache’ contains the line “poop as hard as rock.”

It’s not a great album by any means. It’s good, but it’s not Surfer Rosa or Dookie or Ziggy Stardust.

In a way it’s fitting that Nirvana was the voice of the slacker generation. I’ve met “huge Nirvana fans” that not only never listened to Incesticide, but didn’t even know of its existence. I’m not sure that many people nowadays realize there’s more to it than just ‘About a Girl,’ which was redone on the Unplugged in New York album. Or songs covered by modern metal bands like Fear Factory (School) and Machine Head (Negative Creep). Front to back it’s a solid album and perhaps the most honest the band ever produced. I liked in Utero but it was done toward the end of their career when things were more watered down.

Of course there is no way to listen to it without the 23 years of history that came after it. You can’t separate it from the grunge revolution, Cobain’s suicide, Foo Fighters, or every horrible thing Courtney Love has ever done.

But it fit in well between Walk Among Us and God Hates Us All and gave me 42 minutes of enjoyment at work, which is exactly what I expect from any good punk rock album.