Top Songwriters of the Last 25 Years #3 Kurt Cobain

The 1980s was perhaps the tackiest decade of the 20th Century. Hairspray galores, Charles Haughey, MJ with a chimp and Cher entertaining a bunch of sailors at her age (and still going now); it was no '60s or '70s. By the decade's close however, a ray of light was shining. Nearer to us, it was with the advent of the Stone Roses. Across the shores, in the city of Seattle, it was with Nirvana. This was the band that would bring rock n' roll back to the fore, not with flashy synths and gimmicks but with a raw edge, nearer to punk. The '90s was a time when the world would rock once more!

Bleach was released in 1989 and its a rough listen, not for the lack of quality in songwriting but for the lack of production. What strikes most prominently is the simplicity of the songs. "About a Girl" was written by Cobain after a binge-day of Beatles' listening and although it has that famous Nirvana-sound, it is at its core, written with a pop mentality. Cobain actually enjoyed a fair-share of pop music, or what he considered to be "pop," referencing R.E.M. as an influence. This may have been his key to greater success above other grunge acts. While that song went on to garner a legacy in their catalogue however, Bleach would not be the album that would bring Nirvana to the mainstream.

Nevermind is often cited as the album of the '90s, at least alongside OK Computer and Definitely Maybe. Its impact was such that grunge would dominate the music scene in both America and the UK until Britpop took prominence in 1994. Anyone reading any music magazines back in late 2011 for the 20th anniversary will understand what a classic it has become. Recorded in Sound City Studios (which Dave Grohl would later make a documentary about), it took the Nirvana grit and added some polish for accessibility. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became the radio hit that would never go away, parodied by Weird Al for the barely distinguishable vocals of Kurt. "Come As You Are," "Lithium" and "In Bloom" would also become staples of their career and still, there was even more to be excited about. In "Polly" and "Something In The Way," we get a taste of the more sensitive, brooding side of Cobain, an all too eerily true picture of what was to come. There were no fillers on this one. As it replaced MJ's Dangerous at the top of the Billboard Charts in early 1992, it became clear that a new band was ready (though not literally, as Cobain would often note) to take the world by storm.


Incesticide was the next release, a minor one because it was a compilation of outtakes and demos but a jewel for fans and critics alike, who would only get to hear one more full studio album of Nirvana. This was In Utero, which is 20 years and a month old now. Reacting to the pop-image they had obtained, Cobain once again revisited his demons to create a heavier sound. The idea to obscure themselves from the mainstream failed however as the album sold in masses once again. Featuring "Heart Shaped Box," "Pennyroyal Tea" and "Rape Me," this was the swan-LP of a band whose career, whilst speeding towards new heights was bound to crash under the pressure.

Cobain, whose lyrics pervaded the charts were haunted with depression and disenchantment, could no longer take it and took his life in April 1994. His legacy has only increased since and not just for the interesting life story but for the timeless songs, which stood distinctly against the dissipating pop environment of before. Simple melodies with honest lyrics did it for Lennon and likewise for Cobain. It was a short career but longeitivity is not necessarily a good thing as far as legacy is concerned.

Andrew Carolan
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Andrew (b. 1991) is the main music-editor. When not correcting the haphazard grammar of his brother and co-editor Matthew, Andrew enjoys listening to old rock and pop music, thinking about his favourite animals and playing piano.
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