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Released: Sept. 24, 1991

Rating: 4.455 (average of 24 ratings)

Genre: grunge

Quotable: “The masterpiece of the grunge era of rock.” – Christopher Thelen, The Daily Vault

Album Tracks:

  1. Smells Like Teen Spirit [5:02]
  2. In Bloom [4:15]
  3. Come As You Are (Cobain) [3:39]
  4. Breed [3:04]
  5. Lithium (Cobain) [4:17]
  6. Polly [2:56]
  7. Territorial Pissings [2:23]
  8. Drain You [3:44]
  9. Lounge Act [2:37]
  10. Stay Away [3:33]
  11. On a Plain [3:17]
  12. Something in the Way [3:51]
All songs written by Cobain/ Grohl/ Novolelic unless otherwise noted.

Total Running Time: 42:38

Sales (in millions):

sales in U.S. only 10.0
sales in U.K. only - estimated 1.81
sales in all of Europe as determined by IFPI – click here to go to their site. --
sales worldwide - estimated 24.5


peak on U.S. Billboard album chart 1 2
peak on U.K. album chart 33

Singles/Hit Songs:

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit (released 9/10/91) #6 HT, #7 AR, #1 MR, #7 UK
  • Come As You Are (charted 1/18/92) #32 HT, #3 AR, #3 MR, #9 UK
  • On a Plain (charted 1/18/92) #25 AR
  • Lithium (charted 2/8/92) #64 HT, #16 AR, #25 MR, #11 UK
  • In Bloom (charted 12/12/92) #5 AR, #28 UK

Notes: Some pressings of the album feature the unlisted track “Endless Nameless.”


Rated one of the top 100 albums of all time by Dave’s Music Database. Click to learn more. Rated best album of the year by DMDB. One of my personal top 100 albums of all time. Click to learn more. One of the Top 100 All-Time World’s Best-Selling Albums One of Blender’s 100 Greatest American Albums Mojo Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums NME Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums Q Magazine’s Top 100 Albums Rock and Roll Hall of Fame/NARM’s Definitive Albums One of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Albums of All Time Spin Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums One of Time Magazine’s All-TIME 100 Albums. One of VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock & Roll Albums of All Time.

To become a classic, an album has to meet at least one of three standards – uncommonly large commercial success, uncommonly widespread critical acclaim, or an uncommon influence on music that comes after it. Nevermind was one of the rarest classics of all – it achieved all three.

From a sales standpoint, Nevermind was stuffed into enough stockings over Christmas of ‘91 to boot the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, from his roost at the top of the Billboard album chart. The album went on to sell over 10 million copies domestically – a feat accomplished by less than 100 albums in the history of music. Nirvana were “scrappy garageland warriors setting their sights on a land of giants.” IR After their “undistinguished 1989 debut, Bleach, [which] relied on warmed-over Seventies metal riffs,” IR Nirvana made the leap to Geffen because frontman Kurt Cobain “wanted the group to be popular, and could see them maybe selling as many records as Sonic Youth.” AD

“Despite the hand-wringing the fanzines do each time an indie-rock hero signs a major-label deal, righteous postpunk stars from Hüsker Dü to Soundgarden have joined the corporate world without debasing their music.” IR For Nevermind, “the production team of Butch Vig and Andy Wallace ‘tidied’ up the sound of the early Nirvana” AD while still emphasizing the “guitar-heavy blend of bubblegum punk” SK the band crafted on Bleach. “Nirvana…created precisely the sort of record…Sub Pop [strove] for with bands like Mudhoney and Tad since its inception in 1986.” SK

What made the album such a commercial success had much to do with its “adrenalized pop heart and incomparably superior material.” IR Nirvana displayed a knack for “evocative wordplay” STE and “crisp pop melodicism.” BL What sets Kurt & Co. apart from any other act who could craft a hit single is how “Nirvana erects sturdy melodic structures…but then attacks them with frenzied screaming and guitar havoc.” IR The songs “exemplify the band’s skill at inscribing subtlety onto dense, noisy rock” IR that was “positively glistening with echo and fuzz-box distortion.” STE “This is hard rock as the term was understood before metal moved in – the kind of loud, slovenly, tuneful music you think no one will ever [make] again until the next time it happens, whereupon you wonder why there isn’t loads more.” RC

Also vital to lifting Nirvana above its contemporaries was “Cobain’s skillful intermingling of Stooges-style brute yobbism (grinding guitars and yelping vocals), American punk and late-‘70s art rock of the sort that Talking Heads pioneered so successfully.” SK Cobain’s “distinctive voice…has the same whiskey ‘n’ fags sound as Tom Waits and carries all the pain, hurt and misery of long-time loser in love, Joe Cocker.” SK

What lifts Nevermind to the status of one of the greatest albums ever made is how the album defined a new genre. “Nirvana planted the alternative flag on the Iwo Jima of American consciousness when Nevermind erupted onto the music scene.” CS “Few albums have occupied the cultural consciousness like this one.” DW It “served as the antidote to the musical holocaust of the ‘80s.” CS It “was never meant to change the world, but you can never predict when the zeitgeist will hit.” STE

If the sound of “the masterpiece of the grunge era of rock” CT “is familiar now, it’s only because thousands of rock records that followed it were trying very hard to cop its style.” DW “In terms of style and songwriting, Nevermind is a…foundation for most of the rock…of the ‘90s…loud, distorted guitars; raging, sometime screaming vocals; and lyrics that range from the pessimistic, to the positive, and to the apathetic.” JC

“The punk energy and aesthetic…were its lifeblood; melody, harmony and structure…were its selling points; the roaring guitars and sub-conscious intellect…were its heart and soul…but the place where Nevermind struck the most firmly and personally was in the gut.” CD It wasn’t just that Nevermind defined a genre; it defined a generation. Cobain’s “throaty roar, mumbled speech, [and] fumbled appearance all confirmed that he was of us, with us, and for us; his gift for combining melodies with acerbic insights showed that he was unlike us.” CD “As an anti-hero, Cobain…struck a vein [with] disenfranchised members of Generation X who now looked to him as a role model, a role he was never comfortable with.” CT His words “perfectly encapsulate the Generation X mindset, of isolation, non-conformity, and yes, depression.” JC

While Cobain’s always received the lion’s share of press, there’s no denying the impact of his “support” players. “When Cobain revs into high punk gear, shifting his versatile voice from quiet caress to raw-throated fury, the decisive control of bassist Chris Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl is all that keeps the songs from chaos.” IR When Nirvana moved to Geffen, they also brought on “Grohl [who] was a far better, louder and more dynamic performer than [earlier Nirvana drummer] Chad Channing” AD and, some might argue, even “a far better drummer than his idol John Bonham.” TL

Novoselic had an “ability to shift from McCartney-esque melodic type playing to heavy metal-type playing.” JC “Cobain’s personal problems and subsequent suicide naturally deepens the dark undercurrents, but no matter how much anguish there is on Nevermind,” STE Grohl and Novoselic bring “a tremendous, unbridled power that transcends the pain, turning into pure catharsis;” STE they “help turn this into music that is gripping, powerful, and even fun.” STE

As for the specific songs, none shines brighter than “Smells Like Teen Spirit, the anthemic lead single” CS whose title “paid ironic tribute to a deodorant for adolescents” TL and “announced a new sound in music.” CS With its “punk-turbo-charged riff,” DW the music “tears out of the speakers like a cannonball…magnifying and distilling the wounded rage of 15 years of the rock underground into a single impassioned roar.” DW “Pounding drums and heavy guitars” CS coexist with “the catchy yet indecipherable chorus,” CS which is “part nonsensical (‘A mulatto / An albino / A mosquito / My libido’), part crunch…all honesty.” CT ”This song should be placed in the Smithsonian as one of those tracks that defines a genre” JC as well as a “whole scene…Nirvana captured the moment…in these four minutes in a way that [no] other band ever came close to.” CT “It owes a great debt to The Pixies, but Cobain’s genius is immeasurable next to the lesser Francis Black. ‘Teen Spirit’ is only the tip of the angst-ridden iceberg.” CS “‘Here we are now, entertain us’ may have come and gone as a catch-phrase, but as an insight into a generation’s bitterly restless tide, it ranks right up there with ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’” CD

“If this were the only shining moment on Nevermind, it would still be worthy of praise. But Nirvana follow that up with a slew of songs that hold their own just as well.” CTIn Bloom is [more] clever lyrically” AD and “the guitar that runs through Come As You Are [is] great stuff, especially Kurt’s guitar solo.” AD The latter song “shows that Cobain and crew don’t always need the guitars cranked up to get your attention.” CT

Breed is as raw and thrilling as anything from Bleach in terms of sound. The bass groove is fabulous; everything is fast and Kurt screams as if his life depended on it. We still have a melodic chorus, the melody thing had been with Nirvana right from the start, though; witness ‘About a Girl.’” AD

Lithium became another big single, with a great ‘yeah, yeah, yeaaeahahh’ chorus.” AD The song “shows a man on the edge when Cobain unconvincingly chants, ‘I’m not gonna crack.’” CS

“The band also finds success when they tone it down.” JC “Nirvana’s grimmest work, Polly, tells the true story of a girl mercilessly tortured for weeks by a kidnapper.” CS “The acoustic setting…helps to hammer home the sinister theme of the song.” CT “The song obviously meant a lot to the band, with it appearing on four of its six albums.” CS

Territorial Pissings is back to the more demented Nirvana sound of their earlier work with fuzzy, distorted guitars, absolutely amazing drumming, fabulous throat splitting vocals from Kurt.” AD This and ‘Breed’ “prove Cobain's love for the Sex Pistols.” TL

This was actually “considered for a single release, but it was put to [the band that] ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ might make for a better choice.” AD “Kurt himself was actually unsure about [‘Teen Spirit’], considering it’s structure too similar [to] songs by The Pixies in particular.” AD

Drain You is…a less celebrated song than much of the first half, but there is something simple about this, certainly it’s a more straightforward song production and mixing wise.” AD

The album shifts throughout, evidenced by such back-to-back numbers as “the surprise poppiness of Lounge Act,” CT which was “built on Krist Novoselic’s rubber band bass riff and Cobain’s slowly intensifying vocals,” TL to the “orgasmic release of Stay Away.” CT The latter whips up a frenzy with its “furious drumming and groovy bass parts” AD “ending in an awesome meltdown rumble.” IR

On a Plain does nothing the rest of the album already hasn’t, and can get trying at times although the chorus still has a mighty big hook stuck all through it.” AD

Something in the Way closes things out with “a translucent cloud of acoustic guitar,” IR “a semi-mumbled, weary Kurt vocal [and] a…beautiful melody notable for a haunting cello running through the chorus.” AD It “is the best evidence that, for a few minutes, Cobain was able to turn misery into grace.” TL

“Like a meteor crashing into earth, Nevermind left a lasting impact on music and won’t soon be forgotten.” CS “This is now an omni-present all-time classic of rock in terms of status” AD “and just may be compared in the same breath to albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” CT Nevermind is “a great modern punk record” STE and “the finest album of the 90s.” TL

Review Source(s):

Related DMDB Link(s):

previous studio album: Bleach (1989) next studio album: In Utero (1993)

Smells Like Teen Spirit:

In Bloom:

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Last updated March 27, 2011.