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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Nirvana's "Nevermind" Turns 20

Twenty years ago, a naked baby diving after a dollar bill turned the rock world upside down, and Nirvana's absolute genius... "Nevermind", the record immortalized by so much more than just that image, became the soundtrack for a lost generation. "Nevermind's original release in late September of 1991 also sucked Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain into a whirlwind that he would not get out of alive.

Two decades on, Universal is marking the anniversary with the release Monday of a remastered box set of the album, complete with bonus tracks and demos. These include several pre-"Nevermind" recordings made at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, with Chad Channing at the drums— before Dave Grohl took over for the recording of the album, and Nirvana's distinctive sound took shape.

Another nugget: the so-called "Devonshire Mixes", a version of the album as it was originally mixed by the band's producer Butch Vig. Also featured is the film of a concert in Los Angeles on Halloween, a month after the album hit the shelves, possibly one of the last carefree moments before Nirvana realised they had shot through the barrier separating the indie rock world from the music mainstream. When the album came out, Nirvana was a minor punk-rock band, having released a first album "Bleach" on the Sub Pop indie label to a small audience.

Back in 1991, the rock world was dominated by "hair metal", a genre defined by the permed hairdos and long guitar solos of bands like Guns N' Roses. Nirvana's new label Geffen was caught off guard by the runaway success of "Nevermind", spurred by an enthusiastic MTV airing the video of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" virtually on a loop. The record company initially ordered 40,000 copies of the album. One million were sold in the first six weeks. To keep pace with demand, Geffen was forced to delay other releases to free up some serious space on its production lines. "Nevermind" went on to sell 30 million copies worldwide.

In the space of a few months, the world discovered a new concept: "grunge". Teenagers the world over let their hair fall in lank locks over their checkered lumberjack shirts, dreaming of Seattle, capital of Washington state and the cradle of the movement. Generation X, the millions of youths who had grown up in the shadow of the baby-boomers, unhappy with the cut-and-thrust values of the 1980s but facing uncertain economic times themselves, had suddenly found a voice. "'Nevermind' came along at exactly the right time," writes Michael Azerrad, in "Come as you are: The story of Nirvana."

"This was music by and for a whole new group of young people who had been overlooked, ignored or condescended to."

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