Friday, 18 January 2008



I first bought this album on cassette after heading up to Colchester from Little Clacton to see Wayne’s World 2 at the cinema during the school holidays in 1992. I had already dropped hook, line and sinker for Nevermind and now my friends were telling me that Nirvana had another album out. I accused them of being fucking liars. Then they told me to look in the indie section of Andy’s Records. This was an indie record? I thought it was heavy metal. And I thought indie music was what came from India as some kind of incoming Bollywood-esqe assault on the pop charts fuelled by the purchasing power of right on student and rich types. I was so wrong.

By this stage I was still to own a CD player so instead I picked up the cassette which appeared to have a photocopied cover. Back in the day people actually used to shoplift cassette and CD sleeves, very often Guns N’ Roses and other similar such metal outfits. The Bleach cassette inlay was not a photocopy though; it was just a grubby black and white photograph. This was a record released on Tupelo as opposed to Geffen which was a label I had never heard of. Once I became a bit savvier a few months later I learned about Sub Pop and then the licensing deal that saw the German chancer’s cash in. To an extent.

Bleach is a fantastic record. On the surface it is much different to Nevermind but when Cobain chimes out vocal hook after hook it is undeniably the same band. Even without realising that sludgy is a technical term for a guitar sound I immediately knew the notion. This was definitely not Nevermind but in many ways it was better.

On this particular version of the album “Love Buzz” was conspicuous by its absence on the tracklisting. Instead at track five was now “Big Cheese” which meant that the album now closed on “Sifting” as “Downer” was also missing from the release.

As ever the record opens its store with “Blew” and the band playing at their most detuned and sludgy. At the time I still had aspirations of being able to play guitar and this was the Nirvana song I thought I might actually be able to learn. I was wrong.

Following came “Floyd The Barber” with its stop start pounding slabs of agony. Being an era where everyone gave up on their appearance and generally had tatty hair it served as an anthem to celebrate avoiding getting my haircut. I hated my barber at the time anyway, his shop was full of naked pictures cut from newspapers and around this time I had a very nasty experience in the shop when a couple of locals mercilessly ripped the piss out of me for the duration of my visit. These were people that it seemed Kurt was rallying against. In similar fashion the apparent whine of “School” served as a visceral blast against the daily agony that was education at a very poor comprehensive school on the coast of Essex that was run by terrible people at both staff and student level.

I never really liked “About A Girl” too much. Everyone seemed to think it sounded like The Beatles and possessed the real pop hooks on the album but for me it just disrupted the flow of the sludge that was streaming into and empowering my existence. Occasionally I let my mask slip and applied it to some kind of scenario where a girl I liked might actually give me the time of day but ultimately it was just wet.

The cassette ends with “Paper Cuts” which was another defiant and choppy track I thought I might be able to play myself. When people compared Helmet to Nirvana this was probably the song that they were thinking of as somehow Kurt managed to make his guitar scream like an animal, sounding like an elephant in flow. I had never heard a band create a guitar sound such as this before. And seldom did Kurt’s voice ever sound so twisted and creepy.

Side two begins with “Negative Creep” which always tasted good coupled with my paranoid and nihilistic demeanour. I once said to friends that if I ever wrote a book or fanzine that I would called it “Negative Creep” because it just felt like the perfect cap. In the end I didn’t, leaving the song to remain untainted by me as it. Who could keep up with such ferocity anyway?

Solidly digging into the second half of the album for me tracks such as “Scoff” and “Swap Meet” possessed the kind of memorable memories that would eventually shoot the band to greatness as the hook filled rock charges were laden with teasing repetition in the words that at times sounded like nonsense but carried the perfect pop sensibility in their syllables. The songs always seem to wind up at some kind of resignation as the chorus sounded appeared the voice of sense against the scatological verses. “Swap Meet” in particular plays on the rugged relationship dynamic and when it reaches the height of keeping various items “close to the heart” the chunky rhythms along the way almost sound sitcom.

Something else that always struck me with these records was the standard of drumming. I have to say I heard no fault in Chad Channing as he served as a powerful engine for the band on the record. Indeed on the closer “Sifting” I always felt he starred.

For some reason I always coupled “Sifting” with “School”. Maybe it was in the disillusion of the songs apparent defiant sentiments. Then again an opening line of “afraid to grade ordinary people” is fairly academic. As the song chugs along the rattle of Channing’s drumming gave a kind of twisted “I Wanna Be Your Dog” dynamic to proceedings and when the song would peak in its chorus it was the hi-hats of the drums that would signal was attaining perfection. Sounding like a song where the principle was being degraded and belittled by the education system a retort of “don’t have nothing for you” was a blissful message for a nihilistic child.

Fifteen years later I still love this record, indeed I feel less embarrassment in listening to this than I do Nevermind and indeed parts of In Utero. I still don’t hear anything like this coming out of anywhere.

I could talk forever.

Party on!

Thesaurus moment: instant.


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