Nirvana: Bleach [1989]

Released June 15, 1989
Recorded December 1988 – January 1989 atReciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington
Genre Grunge
Length 42:37
Label Sub Pop
Producer Jack Endino

Bleach is the debut studio album by the American rock band Nirvana, released in June 1989 through the independent record label Sub Pop. The main recording sessions took place at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington between December 1988 and January 1989. Nirvana songwriter Kurt Cobainfelt pressured to create music for Bleach that conformed to the grunge music style favored by his record label and the contemporary Seattle music scene. The album is regarded as quite negative and bleak; Cobain has claimed that most of the lyrics were written the night before recording while he was feeling “pissed off”, and that he did not regard them highly. The recording of the album was financed by Jason Everman, who was credited as a guitarist but did not play on any songs.

Bleach was well received by critics, but failed to chart in the U.S. upon its original release. The album was re-released internationally by Geffen Records in 1992 following the success of Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind (1991). The re-release debuted at number 89 on the Billboard 200, and peaked at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart and 34 on the Australian albums chart. In 2009 Sub Pop released a 20th anniversary edition of Bleach featuring a live recording of a Nirvana show from 1990 as extra material. Since its release in 1989, Bleach has sold over 1.7 million units in the United States alone,[1] and over 4.0 million units worldwide.[2] It is Sub Pop’s best-selling release to date.

Recording

Following the release of its debut single “Love Buzz” on Sub Pop in November 1988, Nirvana practiced for two to three weeks in preparation for recording a full-length album, even though Sub Pop had only requested for an EP.[4] The main sessions for Bleach took place at Reciprocal Recording Studios in Seattle, with local producer Jack Endino. Nirvana began recording with a five-hour session on December 24, 1988.[5] The band recorded again on December 29–31, and on January 14 and 24.[6] Endino billed the group for 30 hours of recording time.[7]Three of the album’s songs – “Floyd the Barber”, “Paper Cuts” and “Downer” – were recorded during a previous session at Reciprocal Studios in 1988, featuring Dale Crover on drums. Despite attempts to re-record them with new drummer Chad Channing, the band ultimately decided to remix the versions recorded with Crover for the final version of Bleach.[7] “Big Long Now” was omitted from the album because vocalist/guitarist Kurt Cobain felt “there was already enough slow heavy stuff on Bleach, and he ‘didn’t want that song to go out'”, according to Endino.[6] The album was edited and sequenced, but Sub Pop head Bruce Pavitt ordered that the album be completely re-sequenced. The record was further delayed for several months until Sub Pop was able to secure sufficient funds to issue it.[7]

Endino billed the band thirty hours of recording at $606.17. Jason Everman, a guitarist who was impressed by Nirvana’s demo with Dale Crover, supplied the money. He briefly joined the group as second guitarist.[7] Everman was credited as a guitarist on the album sleeve, and is the other guitarist on the cover of the album, even though he did not perform on the record. Bassist Krist Novoselicexplained, “We just wanted to make him feel at home in the band.”[8]

Music

According to Cobain, the music on Bleach conformed with the grunge genre Sub Pop heavily endorsed. “There was this pressure from Sub Pop and the grunge scene to play ‘rock music'”, Cobain said, and noted that he stripped it “down and [made] it sound like Aerosmith.” Cobain also felt he had to fit the expectations of the grunge sound to build a fanbase, and hence suppressed his arty and pop songwriting traits while crafting the record.[11] Krist Novoselic said in a 2001 interview with Rolling Stone that the band had played a tape in their tour van that had an album by The Smithereens on one side and one by the thrash metal band Celtic Frost on the other, and noted that the combination probably played an influence as well.[12] The songs were described as “deliberately bleak, claustrophobic, and lyrically sparse, with none of the manic derangement or sense of release of the live performance”. Cobain said that the song structures were “one–dimensional”, and said that he sought to present a more “polished and urbane side of happy”.[13]

Describing the various songs on Bleach, Christopher Sandford wrote: “‘Paper Cuts’ includes a folk-influence melody and ponderous rhythm of an early Led Zeppelin number; ‘Mr. Moustache’ addressed itself on Nirvana’s male fans; ‘Downer’ showed the same exceptional contempt for the group’s audience”. Sandford felt “School” – which features only four lines of lyrics – was memorable for its chorus that “served as the rip”. While “Scoff” is “a parting salvo at [Cobain’s parents]”, “Negative Creep” was written by Cobain about himself. According to Sandford, “About a Girl” has a “chiming melody and ironic chorus”.[16] In Sounds magazine, Keith Cameron said the song “was exhilarating and it was exciting because that was the nature of the music, but there was also an almost palpable sense of danger, that this whole thing could fall apart any second. There was never any relaxation from the first note to the last”.[17] In his book Nirvana: The Stories Behind Every Song, Chuck Crisafulli writes that the song “stands out in the Cobain canon as a song with a very specific genesis and a very real subject”.[9]

Cobain told Spin in 1993 that on Bleach he “didn’t give a flying fuck what the lyrics were about”, and claimed that 80 percent of the lyrics were written the night before recording.[18] He was often still working on the words on the drive to the recording studio.[7] He explained: “It was like I’m pissed off. Don’t know what about. Let’s just scream negative lyrics, and as long as they’re not sexist and don’t get too embarrassing it’ll be okay. I don’t hold any of those lyrics dear to me.”[18] Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad noted that, nevertheless, many of the songs on the album reflected Cobain and various incidents in his life.[19] “Mr. Moustache” was inspired by Cobain’s dislike of macho behavior,[20] while “School” was a critique of the Seattle music scene, particularly Sub Pop.[21

Release and promotion

The album cover was photographed by Cobain’s then-girlfriend Tracy Marander during a concert at the Reko Muse art gallery in Olympia, Washington.[22] On February 25, 1989, Nirvana played at venues on the west coast, including the University of Washington.[23] The group began its first European tour, a double headliner with the band Tad, at the Riverside venue in Newcastle upon Tyne on 23 October 1989. On December 3, they played a “triumphant” set at the London Astoria. Christopher Sandford related: “when the style pundits noted Cobain’s ‘patent lumberjack shirts and ugly fifties geometric-patterned jerseys’, seeing an example of ‘low-couture chic’ they missed the point that flannel shirts and sweaters were everyday dress in the marine climate of the Northwest”.[13] Cobain took note and said that he never intended to start a fad or act as a role model.[13] On April 1, 1990, the band launched its second major U.S. tour. During the tour, Chad Channing was replaced by Dale Crover.[23]

The album’s working title was Too Many Humans.[24] It was renamed Bleach after Cobain found an AIDS prevention poster while Nirvana was driving through San Francisco. The poster advised heroinaddicts to bleach their needles before use, featuring the slogan “Bleach Your Works”.[7] In Australia, Bleach was released on Waterfront Records and re-issued on various colored covers and colored vinyl prior to 1992.[25]

In April 1992, following the success of Nirvana’s second album Nevermind, Sub Pop released a remastered version of Bleach on LP, CD and cassette, adding two extra tracks. Geffen Records handled the international release.[26] The CD version was packaged in a cardboard foldout case that included a bonus booklet filled with photos of the band from 1987–1990.[27] For the 20th anniversary of the album, Sub Pop released on November 3, 2009 a deluxe reissue of Bleach featuring a March 2009 remastering from the original tapes by George Marino and a live recording of a 1990 show at Portland, Oregon‘s Pine Street Theatre.

Reception

The album has generally received positive reviews by professionals. Anthony Carew from the About.com Guide said that the album “define[d] the entire decade of the ’90s”, and awarded it four out of five stars.[29] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic gave the album three and a half out of five stars, noting that “Kurt Cobain illustrated signs of his considerable songcraft, particularly on the minor-key ballad ‘About a Girl’ and the dense churn of ‘Blew'”. He also said that “it’s a debut from a band that shows potential but haven’t yet achieved it.”[30] NME‘s Edwin Pouncey said that the album was the “biggest, baddest sound that Sub Pop have so far managed to unearth. So primitive that they manage to make label mates Mudhoney sound like Genesis, Nirvana turn up the volume and spit and claw their way to the top of the musical garbage heap”, and gave it an eight out of ten rating.[35] Bleach was considered by Rolling Stone as “a moderate hit on college radio and the underground/DIY circuit.”[37]

Before Nevermind was released, Bleach had sold 40,000 units in North America.[38] The 1992 re-release of the album was successful at the charts, withBleach eventually reaching number 89 at the Billboard 200,[39] number 33 on the UK album charts,[40] number 34 on the Australian Recording Industry Association chart,[41] and number 24 on the Finland charts.[42] Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994 also lead to a resurgence of popularity, with Bleach entering theTop Pop Catalog chart at number six in the week following his death,[43] and eventually earning the top spot on May 7.[44] The 2009 deluxe edition entered the Catalog Albums chart at number seven.[45] Bleach was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on February 1995,[46] and has sold an estimated 1.7 million units in the United States.[1] It is Sub Pop’s best-selling release.[3] The album has sold well over 4.0 million units worldwide.[2]

Track listing

All songs written by Kurt Cobain, except where noted.

1989 vinyl release
  1. Blew” – 2:55
  2. “Floyd The Barber” – 2:18
  3. About a Girl” – 2:48
  4. “School” – 2:42
  5. Love Buzz” (Robbie van Leeuwen) – 3:35
  6. “Paper Cuts” – 4:06
  7. “Negative Creep” – 2:56
  8. “Scoff” – 4:10
  9. “Swap Meet” – 3:03
  10. “Mr. Moustache” – 3:24
  11. “Sifting” – 5:22
1992 CD reissue
  1. “Big Cheese” (Cobain, Krist Novoselic) – 3:42 (originally the B-side of the “Love Buzz” single)
  2. “Downer” – 1:43

(Note, the U.K. version of Bleach didn’t feature “Big Cheese” until the 1992 reissue. The song was already on the U.S. version)

2009 re-release (Pine Street Theatre live performance recorded February 9, 1990 – Portland, Oregon)
  1. “Intro” – 0:53
  2. “School” – 2:36
  3. “Floyd the Barber” – 2:17
  4. “Dive” (Cobain, Novoselic) – 3:42
  5. “Love Buzz” (van Leeuwen) – 2:58
  6. “Spank Thru” – 2:59
  7. Molly’s Lips” (Eugene KellyFrances McKee) – 2:16
  8. Sappy” – 3:19
  9. “Scoff” – 3:53
  10. “About a Girl” – 2:28
  11. “Been a Son” – 2:01
  12. “Blew” – 4:32

Lyrics

Blew

If you wouldn’t mind I would like it blew
If you wouldn’t mind I would like it loose
If you wouldn’t care I would like to leave
If you wouldn’t mind I would like to breathe

Is there another reason for your stay
Could you believe him when you discussed his stain?
Here is another word that rhymes with shame

If you wouldn’t mind I would like it blew
If you wouldn’t mind I would like it loose
If you wouldn’t care I would like to bleed
If you wouldn’t mind I would like to breathe.

Is there another reason for your stay
Could you believe him when you discussed his stain?
Here is another word that rhymes with shame

You could do anything (x8)

Floyd the Barber

Hello Cobain come on in
Floyd now says my hairy chin
Sit down in the chair don’t be afraid
Steaming hot towel on my face

I’m ashamed
(x3)

Barber ties me to the chair
I can’t see I’m really scared
Floyd burns alright he’ll sell -?
They depress against my nails

I was ashamed
(x3)

Lies and suffers in the room
Oh reality / Looking at me I presume
They take turns and cut me up
I die smothered and he’s not

I was ashamed
(x3)

About a Girl

I need an easy friend
I do whip her into land – ?
I don’t think you fit this shoe
I do, won’t you have a clue

I’ll take advantage while
You hang me out to dry
But I can’t see you every night
Free

I’m standing in your line
I do hope you have the time
I do pick a number too
I do keep a date with you

I’ll take advantage while
You hang me out to dry
But I can’t see you every night
Free

I need an easy friend
I do whip her in to land
I do think you fit this shoe
I do won’t you have a clue

I’ll take advantage while
You hang me out to dry
But I can’t see you every night
No I can’t see you every night
Free
I do (x4)

School

Won’t you believe it
It’s just my luck
(x4)

No recess
(x3)

Won’t you believe it
It’s just my luck
(x4)

No recess
(x3)

You’re in high school again
(x8)

No recess
(x7)

Love Buzz

Would you believe me when I tell you
You are the queen of my heart
Please don’t deceive me when I hurt you
Just ain’t the way it seems

Can you feel my love buzz (x4)

(repeated)

Paper Cuts

When I’m feeling tired
She puts you through the door
I crawl towards the cursed alley
Sometimes I can’t find my way
This curtain’s (Kurt is?) spellbound (still round)
So get all that you can
A cool man is toughening/too plain
A good hosing down

When the hate in my field (ma)eternal all four
Cannot look me in the eyes
But I asked the years ham radio blew
And the car, twist, mouth, fear! Yaaah!
I think so
I think so
I think so
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana…

Back when ’twas a party
I scratched with my nails
I see now that she’s just like me
Why do they not try to escape?
They bring out the holy ones
They pointed my way
They come with the flashing lights
And take my family away

An-gr-y later I am known to
Slap some friends of ridicule
My whole existence is for your fears
And that is why I’m here with you!
Don’t taaaake
Me awaaaaay
You’re round
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana
Nirvana…

Negative Creep

This is out of our range (x3)
no
This is getting to be (x3)
gross
I’m a negative creep (x3)
and I’m stoned
I’m a negative creep (x3)
and I’m
I’m
Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more (x6)

This is out of our range (x3)
no
This is getting to be (x3)
gross
I’m a negative creep (x3)
and I’m stoned
I’m a negative creep (x3)
and I’m
I’m
Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more (x4)

Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more (x8)

Scoff

In my eyes
I’m not lazy
In my face
It’s not over
In your room
I’m not older
In your eyes
I’m not worth it
Gimme back my alcohol (x8)

(First:)
Give me all your… (x 6)

(First and second repetitions:)
Give me all your… (x 5)
Give me your
Love! (?)

Fuck!

Swap Meet

They need a lifestyle that is comfortable
They travel far to keep their stomachs full
They make a living off of arts and crafts
The conversations just would (n)ever laugh (?)
They make a deal when they come to town
The Sunday swap meet is a battle ground
She loves it more than he will ever know
He loves it more than he will ever show
Keeps his cigarettes close to his heart
Keeps her photographs close to her heart
Keeps the bus-i-ness close to the heart

(x3)

Mr. Moustache

Fill me in on your new vision
Wake me up with indecision
Help me trust your mind and wisdom
Yes I eat cow I am not proud.

Show me how you question, question
Lead the way to my temptations
Take my hand and keep it clean
As I eat cow I am not proud.

Is it an easychair?
Oversized rock
I don’t like you anyway
Silver metal box

I’m new
I’m new
(all again, then:)

I’m who?
I’m you–aaaahh! Aaaah!

Sifting

Afraid to grade
Wouldn’t it be fun?
Cross, self-loss
Wouldn’t it be fun?
Wet your bed
Wouldn’t it be fun?
Some fear none
Wouldn’t it be fun?

Your eyes
Treat yourself
(x3)
Treat yourself

Don’t have nothing for you (x6)
Don’t have nothing but (for?) you

Smell the smell
Wouldn’t it be fun?
Search for a church
Wouldn’t it be fun?
Wet your bed
Wouldn’t it be fun?
Cold is gold
Wouldn’t it be fun?

Your eyes
Treat yourself
(x3)
Treat yourself (x2)

Don’t have nothing for you(x7)

Don’t have nothing for you (x9)

Big Cheese

Big cheese make me
Mine says, “Go to the office”

Big cheese Make me
Mine says, “One that stays”

Black is black, straight back
Need more enemies
Show you all what a man is

Big lies make my
Mine says “Go to the office”

Big cheese Make me
Message? What is it?

Black is black straight back
Need more enemies
She is glue how are you?

Downer

Put your sincerity
I’ve got a royalty
Defending your country
Wish away

I’ve had a lobotomy
Save your family
Surrealistic fantasy
Bad boy

Fight!

All we know is
Restitution
Living out your
Date of future
There’s a hope
Please show me faster
Don’t forget
To pass a riot

Somebody served a dinner
Much like I am
I know I can’t
Make enough although
If you go along
I sing your song

Sickening pessimists
Picketing masses
Separated communists
Apocalyptic bastards
Rinkydink God
For putting me on this Earth
Being very frivolous
Death in mind

Nurse!

All we know is
Restitution
Living out your
Date of future
There’s a hope
Please send it faster
Don’t forget
To pass a riot

Somebody served a dinner
Much like I am
I know I can’t
Make enough although
If you go along
I sing your song.

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