Some of you may have read my tribute to 1989 from a couple years back. I’ve had that post in mind after reading John Roderick’s diatribe against the year-end top 10 list, rendered ironically (though appropriately) in top 10 form. He addresses a point I believe in fervently. By its very nature, a ‘Best of 2010′ cannot account for longevity. I’m confident that I’ll love Majesty Shredding and Feral Fire twenty years from now, but who knows? And what about the 2010 records I haven’t heard or the ones yet to engage my limbic system? Says Roderick:
“Maybe all the music made in 2010 is total crap! Maybe we should still be trying to make sense of the music that came out in 2008. Maybe we will never truly understand the year 1974. The records released in 2010 are not comparable to each other in any way other than that we haven’t had enough time to really listen to any of them.”
With that rant in mind, I’ve decided to follow up my 1989 post with its logical successor, 1990. What can I say? I’m feeling linear and it was a great year for underground music. I know this because I’ve had 20 years to truly understand MCMXC. Look for the full homage in about a week. In the meantime, a teaser.
“Everything we do is based on the Pixies.”
–Kurt Cobain, possibly apocryphal, though believable
1990 was a transition year for Nirvana. They toured behind Bleach, fired their elven drummer, Chad, hired Dave Grohl, and signed with DGC (Geffen). When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” broke the following year, much was made of its similarity to the Pixies and their loudQUIETloud dynamics, an influence Cobain, Grohl, and Krist Novoselic all readily admitted. Unfortunately, that was the extent of the analysis. Nirvana = Pixies, move along, there’s nothing to see here. But, how is Nirvana specifically like the Pixies? I’m glad you asked.
In the summer of 1990, the Pixies released their third album, Bossanova. It’s pretty good, maybe even very good, but Gil Norton’s production is thin and compressed, the drum sound is terrible, and there’s an inescapable feeling of apathy, like a slow leak in a really cool balloon. It didn’t help that I saw the Pixies twice in this era (1990, 1991) and both shows were hamstrung by a serious case of Band Don’t Give a Fuck.
Divorced from that context, Bossanova is actually a bit underrated, and has several high points. One song in particular jumps out and not for its insidious melody or feather-sledgehammer dynamics.
Pixies – Rock Music intro
Pixies – Rock Music intro (:16)
Nirvana – Stay Away intro
Nirvana intro (:20)
While not identical, the Pixies intro from 1990 clearly anticipates the Nirvana intro from 1991. The biggest difference between the two excerpts is Novoselic’s cool bass riff and the fact that one band has Dave Grohl and the other doesn’t. Nirvana FTW.
Pixies – Rock Music refrain
Pixies – Rock Music refrain (:26)
“I like to listen to songs that are simple. I always have. That’s the way I write things. So it’s memorable, so it sticks in your mind. The only thing I’m aware of is that you have to repeat things over and over.”
Nirvana – Teen Spirit refrain
Nirvana refrain (:23)
Right away, both Chris and Kurt heard one of their influences in the song (“Teen Spirit”). “The Pixies,” says Chris. “Both of us said, ‘This really sounds like the Pixies. People are really going to nail us for it.'”
–Michael Azerrad, Come As You Are, p. 176
The inadvertent anthem in its entirety. At the time it probably seemed like a throwaway. In fact, it’s one of the few balls-out rockers on Bossanova, so it wasn’t like it signaled a trend within the band. And yet, Black Francis‘ bloodcurdling shriek and the band’s undulating dissonance unwittingly foretells a flannel-clad Nirvana Army.