5 April 1994: Kurt Cobain dies.
On this day in 1994, the musician and grunge pioneer Kurt Cobain took his own life. Husband to Courtney Love and father to their daughter Frances Bean, Cobain’s death aged just 27 rocked the music world. It spelled the end of Nirvana, the band that put alternative rock into an unprecedented era of popularity.
Inspired by the alternative sounds of R.E.M. Pixies, and Sonic Youth, Cobain’s band Nirvana burst onto the Seattle scene with their first demos and album ‘Bleach’.
But it was with the band’s sophomore attempt that Nirvana would set the world alight. 1991’s ‘Nevermind’ was released to immediate acclaim. Despite Cobain not toning down his anti-establishment attitude, the more popular approach to songwriting made many of the songs instant hits, none more so than album opener ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. The album went to number one in the US charts.
Today, ‘Nevermind’ is the definitive grunge album, moulding the sound of popular music in the early 90s and serving as an inspiration to many bands, concurrent and future, from Pearl Jam to Radiohead.
The commercial success of the band was always a point of consternation for Cobain, who shied away from the spotlight and preferred not to engage with the publicity aspects of his fame.
Another studio album would follow, 1993’s ‘In Utero’, a rawer (and better) album representing Cobain’s preferred musical style, as well as a formidably brilliant live album ‘MTV Unplugged in New York’ in 1994.
By the time ‘MTV Unplugged’ was released, Cobain was dead. Drug addiction, depression and the difficulties of his life as a public figure led to his suicide. Nevertheless, he left behind a treasure trove of brilliant songwriting with insightful lyrics, poignant to this day. Here’s some of Nirvana’s greatest tracks.
'Heart-Shaped Box' (1993)
The lead single from their third and final studio album ‘In Utero’, ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ was the first signal of how the band would follow up the incredible success of ‘Nevermind’. The answer was straightforward, more and better. The same brilliant pop-infused dynamics of the best songs of the previous album, with all of Nirvana’s trademarks turned up to 11. The lyrics were rawer, the guitars screamed louder, and the the melodies even more hypnotic.
'About a Girl' (1989)
From an early point it was clear that Cobain knew how to write really good really loud songs. ‘About a Girl' was one of the first times that his true range became apparent. Less immediate screaming and a clear knack for melody, ‘About a Girl’ is Cobain at his sweetest lyrically while never sacrificing musicality. It paved the way for some of the band’s great quiet songs ‘Come as You Are’ and ‘All Apologies’.
'In Bloom' (1991)
The fourth single from ‘Nevermind’ was the only one that didn’t chart, yet it’s the definitive banger of the album. The lyrics are poignantly clear anti-establishment Cobain, while the power of the guitars and Dave Grohl’s drums are undeniable. Alongside one of Cobain’s best guitar solos, this one’s perfect for an overly sincere karaoke night.
'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' (1994)
Not technically a Nirvana song, this cover of the folk song ‘In the Pines’ was the finale of their MTV Unplugged set. Released officially posthumously, it closes the album and presents Cobain’s guitar playing and vocal strength in a new light. Even without the accompanying noise he spent so much of his career with, he was a performer with presence beyond almost any other.
'Smells Like Teen Spirit' (1993)
What else would it be? If you ever feel yourself careening towards an opinion that this isn’t the greatest rock song ever written, remind yourself of the dangers of cliché. Forget how overplayed it is and listen again to one of the purest, most energetic examples of a rock song. The dynamics, the voice, the drums, the power - nothing compares.