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In perspective, it could be argued (and it has been argued many times) that Nirvana was much more important as a phenomenon than as musicians. This isn't to slight them, since it could be argued that there are many excellent bands, but only once in a while does a band manage to shake the youth of a nation awake.

What Nirvana would do, the Pixies had already been doing for years. But as much as there may have been some cool kids listening to the Pixies and their surrealistic lyrics and punk rock, that is mostly revisionist history. As far as I remember it, as the 1990s begin, this was what was considered cool. Of course, I am coloring this with my own personal view, since I was only a naive preteen when Nirvana hit. When I first heard them, I was still listening to the Oldies Station on a clock alarm radio, and I found them threatening the way that I found the surly older kids around arcades or puberty in general threatening. But pretty soon I was converted by the raw sound that captured my adolescent frustration, etcetera.

The one problem with this is that the album that Nirvana became famous off of, Nevermind, really wasn't all that good. I am sure others could say it better than I could, but the album was more like a pop album of the period than anything else, just with the distortion turned up and the guitars angrier.

Notice that this writeup is called "Nirvana: Unplugged"? Well, I should get to that part. After having changed the musical and cultural paradigm of the youth of America, after releasing two "major label" albums of growly music for teens, and after Kurt Cobain became celebrity fodder and died, Nirvana released what I feel is their best album, made up of music that was half covers of obscure songs, and performed in a manner uncharacteristic of them. This was the live album of their performance on MTV's show Unplugged. The album was recorded six months before Cobain's death, and in retrospect the mournful nature of the music is obvious. It also proved that Nirvana could exist without growling and distortion, and was actually a better band for it. While the other members of the band perform well, Nirvana was Kurt Cobain's band, and his vocals and his stage presence are what carries the show: obvious in the audio and video. The setlist didn't spend much time on Nirvana's "greatest hits", with such songs as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" being excluded, and even the Nirvana songs that were included being almost glossed over. It is on the cover songs that Cobain shines: The Man Who Sold the World, Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam, the trio of songs with the Meat Puppets, and the final howling climax of the traditional blues song "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?". I listen to this music today and have a total understanding of why my 16 year old self was so taken with this album, something that is usually not the case.

Songs:

  1. About a Girl
  2. Come as You Are
  3. Jesus Doesn't Want me for a Sunbeam
  4. The Man Who Sold the World
  5. Pennyroyal Tea
  6. Dumb
  7. Polly
  8. On a Plain
  9. Something in the Way
  10. Plateau
  11. Oh Me
  12. Lake of Fire
  13. All Apologies
  14. Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

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