It’s the end of the world as we know it, but Nevermind.
By: Brett Spaceman
It’s been a curious week for music. R.E.M. announced that they are to cease functioning as a band after three decades in music. Simultaneously, Nirvana’s landmark album, Nevermind celebrates its 20th anniversary with a lavish re-issue and all manner of re-appraisal. A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down? That can work, yes, but I’d have to ask, which is the sugar?
Let’s take Nevermind first. Those of us old enough to remember it at the time will certainly have vivid recollections – the moshing, the launch of Grunge, the unification of metal and indie, the reestablishment of USAs relevance in alternative rock circles and Everett True wetting himself on a weekly basis. Famously displacing Michael Jackson at the top of the billboard charts, Nevermind was considered “the soundtrack for a generation” in many people’s opinion. I would have to challenge that. The singles, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Come As You Are’ are unquestionably classics. The rest of the album is decent and nothing more. Sure it’ll please rabid fans but in no way can we place it alongside the great albums of musical history. Nevermind was also misleading in the sense that Grunge’s breakthrough album wasn’t a Grunge album. This is glossy, sanitised power rock fare, almost the opposite of what Grunge was supposed to embody. Bleach, the band’s debut, was Grunge. In Utero, the follow-up to Nevermind, was discernibly more interesting and edgy.
Universal celebrates Nevermind’s‘ 20th birthday by… asking us to buy it again. Only this time re-mastered and bundled with all manner of extras. Consider it wisely. For me there were better albums around the time that were of a similar ilk. You might enjoy instead Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream, Pixies, Trompe le Monde (Anything by, in fact) or Sugar’s, Copper Blue,
A spoonful of Sugar indeed!
And then there was R.E.M. who left this statement earlier in the week:
“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.” R.E.M.
Michael Stipe added:
“A wise man once said—‘the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it… I hope our fans realize this wasn’t an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.”
R.E.M. have called it a day and yet it seems everybody isn’t hurting. There seem to be a lot of sneers, cynicism and borderline mocking over the various sites and boards that I occasionally haunt. I guess other opinions are available. For me, Stipes voice was unique and R.E.M. certainly deserve their place in rocks hall of fame. I will always think of them as the best example to all the other great bands who haven’t quite made that big breakthrough. R.E.M. did it, and they did it late. It is possible. All you need is a primetime DJ to play your equivalent of a ‘Losing My Religion’.
R.E.M. helped define college rock and more than any other US band facilitated college rocks acceptance into the mainstream. They made something like 15 albums! But it wasn’t until their 7th that they broke though into the big time. R.E.M. would go on to contest worlds biggest band with the likes of U2. When they re-signed with Warners in 96 it was for a reputed $80m. Sure the groups ‘trio’ years were a mixed bag. You’re always on a hiding to nothing that deep into your career. Experimentation was inevitably frowned upon. Yet one mans ‘formulaic’ was anothers ‘return to form’. Indeed, it seemed that latter day R.E.M. records were like latter day Woody Allen films with somebody, somewhere acclaiming each as their best since Bullets Over Broadway … or something.
An R.E.M. compilation, ‘Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982 – 2011’ will arrive this November.
The title could just as easily sum up Nirvana’s Nevermind.