Bleach, the debut record of Nirvana, served as the birthing grounds for grunge music. Recorded in 30 hours for just $600, the raw and authentic sound of the release made it crystal clear what the scene is all about. It’s not the sound nor the lyrics, it’s the emotions and attitude transmitted, making Bleach one frustrated teenager. The band only sold 40,000 copies of Bleach by the time the iconic Nevermind was released and yet still has songs everyone has grown to love like “About A Girl”.
The album doesn’t have one specific instrument or sound that protrudes throughout, rather a mutual consensus to emit the rage and anger felt by the musicians. “Blew” is filled with guitar punches, “Floyd The Barber” is all about the drums screaming from the top of their lungs. But the two musical rants have a huge common denominator – the feeling of suffocation. The theme of internal oppression is one of Nirvana’s well-renowned constants that made itself known way before Dave Grohl became the permanent member of the band.
With all the emotions coming to the surface there is still a touch of human simplicity. If the song is about a girl, then just call it “About A Girl”. See what’s going on here? The complex human nature often calls for a hint of ease, which, if not delivered sonically, you’ll get contextually. With inspiration all around, Cobain, who worked as a janitor in a school he dropped out from, wrote “School”, rather simple. His opinion about the place is expressed through the sound of the dreadful bass, as he sings “it’s just my luck, no recess, you’re in high school again”. The song, whether intentional or not, has a moment of realization that then births aggravation of unprecedented levels. “School” may have been all about the tonal development, but “Paper Cuts” is a clear screamo song from the beginning. The loaded sound of the guitar, bass, and drums drown the listener in the roaring auditory release, and even with the rhythmic repetition not a single note of the bursting emotions is missed.
Forget everything said about clarity and simplicity before, because “Negative Creep” is so fast, the listener has no clue what’s going on. Why? That an easy question to answer. The song is the perfect representation of the discontented adolescent human, the one who will follow Nirvana until the band’s end. “Negative Creep” stand on the perfect middle ground between an angry breakdown and emotional confusion. Faster songs are yet to come, but none will match the consistent animosity of this track. The attack on oneself moves to the masses during “Swap Meet”, as the line “They lead a lifetime that is comfortable” punches through the door. The lyrics themselves are not as vengeful as the volumes hit by the guitar throughout the whole composition. Just as you thought you’ve reached the peak of the album “Mr. Moustache” comes in. The unfamiliar voice of Cobain and the fast pace make the peculiar lyrics understandable in an unexplainable manner.
Bleach runs right through you, giving only a second to catch your breath during the intro of “Sifting”. The simplistic calmness of percussion makes it seem like this is it, the guys shared all the anger and rage they wanted, but once Cobain starts singing all of that leaves the mind without a second thought. The closing of the album has The Clash meets Sex Pistols sound in every sense, from the “Big cheeses make me. Message? What is it?” line in “Big Cheese” to the morphing of explosive guitar and drums. But that’s what you get with grunge.
The idea that started and ended the album leaves you with the perfect performance visual in “Downer”. The packed dark room, bass vibrating through your body, and your ears taking in every sound released. All of a sudden, the mosh pit breaks out and whether you like it or not, you’re right there in the middle. That is kind of the effect Nirvana has, no matter when or where you’re listening to the band, no matter what album or single it is, it draws you right in. That curiosity they ignite in the listener was already present during Bleach and didn’t fade until their very last release.
You can check out the album on Bandcamp.