photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989) was seeing its cover as promotional square poster on the inside wall of a local TOWER RECORDS in ORANGE COUNTY back in what had to have been 1989 or 1990. i had no idea who the band was. i was four or five at the time and was likely with my dad as he went record shopping.
itd be a few more years until i knew of the album, as i was gifted both IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) and NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) for christmas in 1994, which was several months after KURT COBAIN's passing. i was almost ten. getting BLEACH and INCESTICIDE (DGC, 1992) followed quickly thereafter. so yes, like most of the world i listened to the debut NIRVANA album after hearing NEVERMIND. that was my initial barometer and point of reference and i just want to come out and say that definitively from the jump. i assume also like most people, that my first impression was the qualitative difference in production as the JACK ENDINO-produced BLEACH was much more NOISY, rough-around-the-edges and DIRGE-like then the relative polished sheen of BUTCH VIG's production on NEVERMIND. ENDINO of course is famous for his creative work as guitarist for SEATTLE proto-GRUNGE band SKIN YARD as well as engineering and production on early efforts by the likes of MUDHONEY, BABES IN TOYLAND, GREEN RIVER, SOUNDGARDEN, L7, SCREAMING TREES and NIRVANA. these records were SPARTAN affairs that were recorded and mixed quickly at maximum efficiency with little to no time for niceties like overdubs and studio trickery. BLEACH was likewise recorded in this DIY manner that was the norm for both HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands of that era. NEVERMIND was a more EXPERIMENTAL affair with a bigger budget and, importantly, more studio time and its sound reflects such.
and then their are the songs themselves. for me the standout track is "NEGATIVE CREEP," which has this MEMORABLE repeated BUZZSAW riff that mimics the self-flagellatory nature of the lyrics which seem to both celebrate and denounce the deteriorating state of the narrator's mindset and sense of self-worth. for me this song was an gateway to the more DISSONANT and EXPERIMENTAL side of the burgeoning SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene, specifically THE MELVINS and that slow PLODDING SLUDGE METAL sound that was so influential to later bands like DOWN, MASTODON, EYEHATEGOD, HIGH ON FIRE, CROWBAR and TOOL among many others. other notable tracks include "SCHOOL," "BLEW," "FLOYD THE BARBER," "LOVE BUZZ," "BIG CHEESE," and probably most famously, "ABOUT A GIRL." a lot of has been written concerning "ABOUT A GIRL" and its BEATLES' influenced MELODY and chord progression, especially in the wake of COBAIN's iconic performance of such on MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK (DGC, 1994). i personally found the song ENDEARING in its evocation of having COMPLICATED feelings towards a love interest. its probably why i suggested it to my band in middle school to play at the talent show that year. i was the drummer and was dismissed shortly before the concert. my replacement being the middle school science teacher, who our older guitarist was trying to kiss ass to at the time. not a fun memory, but i chose it for someone i cared about and watching other people perform it was humiliating and a bit traumatic in retrospect. this is all a longwinded way of saying i intimately understood back then on an emotional level what the song was about. or at least i thought i did.
does this record hold up to later NIRVANA records? my personal opinion is no, especially given the gravitas of IN UTERO and his PAINFUL and singularly ARTFULLY CRAFTED response to the pressures of FAME and FATHERHOOD. that record was a statement on an entirely different level with breadth, depth and scope. with BLEACH you see a songwriter and a rhythm section finding their footing before they really took flight. as a developmental curiosity BLEACH is very much worth checking out and becoming familiar with, but really only after consuming and coming to terms with NEVERMIND and IN UTERO. at least in my opinion.