“Nevermind will be the rock album by which all other rock albums of the ‘90s will be judged.”
In late 1991, when Richard Kingsmill asked Krist Novoselic if he had come across this review, the bassist paused before scoffing conspicuously. Maybe the punk rocker in him wanted to mock or deflect the weighty appraisal at first, but then he allowed himself to graciously admit, “…that’s very nice”.
Of all the accolades that he and his bandmates had probably heard and read of their seminal second record, there was something in these words so simply and definitively stated that struck him.
Indeed, simplicity might well be the key to understanding why 25 years on, this album stands as an unquestionably powerful sonic summation of the frustration of a generation.
Drummer Dave Grohl suggested as much on a 2011 SiriusXM interview.
“By today’s standards, [Nevermind] is a really simple record. We probably had like eight microphones on the drums, maybe one or two guitar tracks, a bass track and a vocal and that was it.
“I think that’s why it sounded so huge, because there wasn’t a thousand things going on. We tried to pack as much into four minutes with these three simple elements. It really was a powerful group in that each sound was just huge because there was nothing getting in the way.”
Add to that a frontman with strong artistic instincts and given to abrupt emotional extremes and you have a mix of potential for the precarious as well as the extraordinary.
“Kurt could be really mellow and sweet, then he would flip and just be like really intense,” Novoselic told SiriusXM. “So that’s what a lot of Nevermind’s music is, and Nirvana’s music is, is Kurt’s intensity was captured through the music.”
The album’s producer Butch Vig, told triple j that he knew Kurt and the band had written some amazing songs, but that he thought they were too rough to attract a mainstream audience. Vig says that there was a buzz surrounding the album by the time they’d finished recording.
“People were asking to hear rough mixes of the songs,” he remembers. “This is weeks before the album came out.”
In a time before the internet made generating hype ahead of an album release as easy as owning a keyboard, the fact that there was so much excitement and anticipation around this record is an incredible feat.
No one was prepared for the level of demand for this album.
“The record label at the time printed 40,000 copies and that was going to be like indie gold or something!” Novoselic told triple j’s brekkie show in 2011.
Novoselic says he’s regularly reminded of the album’s enduring presence in people’s lives.
"People walk up to me and they tell me how much the music meant to them and I know because I've had that same experience when I listen to bands like Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Flipper, The Beatles - so I've had that same experience people share with me,” he told triple j.
“Second of all, that's a way for me to chalk one up for Kurt. Because he was such a committed, compelled artist and so driven to express himself. So when people say 'Hey man, Nirvana changed my life' I just look up in the sky and say 'That one's for you dude'."
Needless to say, Nevermind’s impact is still felt in music today, with a new generation seeking understanding, finding solace or an intense release through its songs.
Its impact on the mainstream social and cultural climate was immediate and powerful when it was released. But it’s worth remembering that this album was the culmination and a product of the steadily intensifying anger and disenchantment with the attitudes and aspirations of the decade that preceded it.
It had been building up from underground music circles in which Kurt, Krist and Dave had been deeply involved in prior to being in Nirvana.
As a record made in the ‘90s, Nevermind is a document of its time and is firmly rooted within the grunge and Seattle scene.
But, 25 years on, it’s clear that its legacy reaches well and truly beyond that narrow scope. It is still a monstrous and thrillingly cathartic album by which all other rock albums will be judged for decades more to come.