Thursday, 18 November 2010

Icon #71 Nirvana

The most iconic indie rock band. (Part 1)
This was not an easy decision tonight and I'm going to make a call on it and say there are two bands that I consider to be equally iconic.  You get Nirvana tonight and I'll do the other band, a British one, next Thursday morning before the final #iconthursday of 2010.  I'll be taking December off like I did last year.

Ok, 'indie' means different things to different people.  For some it's about the record label, for others it's about the sound.  For me it's a mixture of both.  Take Nirvana as an example, they started off on Sub Pop and then moved to Geffen.  They began as indie, but, did the move to a major label change the band massively?  Nope not really.

There were other bands that preceded Nirvana, bands who's influence still holds up and can turn a non musician into one.  The Pixies and Sonic Youth to name but two, but are they as iconic as Nirvana?  For some I guess they were, but it was Nirvana that broke through beyond the subculture in the States and became a cultural phenomenon, changing the face of rock music completely in one glorious year.

The first album, let's be honest, did not capture the worlds imagination, most of us buying it retrospectively in the wake of Nevermind.  Listen to it now and it sounds so raw and full of vitality, the song writing almost a practice run for what was to come.  There's signs of greatness in About a Girl and the stand alone Sliver that's on Insecticide (B-Sides thing).  What followed was an album that stole liberally from many of the acts that they loved.  Cobain was always happy to admit that Teen Spirit was basically a Pixies riff that he'd altered a bit.  What that song did though was seize a generation by their collective scalps and wake them up to something new.  So many kids must have gone back and bought into the Pixies and all off the back of that one song.  Quite right too.  There has never been a better indie rock anthem ever.  Over played now?  For sure.  But don't let that fool your memory of how that song infected everything at the time.  It was everywhere.  The perfect blend of loud and quiet, with lyrics that hinted at the dark side of corporate rock.

Cobain was was always desperately worried about retaining his credibility, the irony being that the credibility he craved was right there in his songs.  Say what you like, I don't care, so much of that music is beautiful.  Dig out that MTV Unplugged album, where its stripped back and all the melody and lyrics are allowed to breath.  It's still stunning 16 years after release.

But it was Nevermind that took them beyond where they meant to be, certainly far beyond what Cobain could cope with them being.  He was a mess of a character at the best of times, but success brought with it all the traditional pitfalls and rock star clichés and sadly one by one he succumbed to them all.

The third studio album In Utero had big shoes to fill and despite being superb in parts it was never going to have the same impact as Nevermind.  I love its muddy quality.  The way it feels stifled and oppressive with few, if any, moments of relief.  By the time it came out in 1993 the downward spiral that Cobain was on had almost consumed him.  The video to Heart Shaped Box is not an easy watch for anyone familiar with the face of addiction but somehow the songs on the album still shine.  All Apologies and Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle, two of my favourite Nirvana tracks, are on that final proper release.

Their influence was amazing.  Poodle rock was gone.  Suddenly all that 1980s glam rock bollocks was confined to history and everyone wanted to be taken seriously.  It took a while for the dust to settle post Nirvana and Cobain taking his own life, and even longer for the genre to fall back to a place where music could be fun again.  

19 years ago a little three piece indie rock band that got a 'lucky' break with a major label, released an album that changed things for so many people.  Personally it opened a door to a world of music that I'd have never discovered and fallen in love with.  I''ll always be grateful for that and it still bothers me that Cobain's gone.  Such a waste of his talent.

'She'll come back as fire and burn all the liars, leave a blanket of ash on the ground.'

Tonight's post is dedicated to @JodieSue, @sfendle, @LastManStood, @wheews, and @007cleggy.

Part Two next Thursday morning so don't feel hard done by just yet.