Very few albums make a truly era-defining impact, imparting a significant effect to such an extent that they totally shift the musical and cultural landscape from one era to the next, changing the zeitgeist and leaving the embers of the old society in their wake.
When you stop to ponder this category, it’s tough to place the albums that it withholds. Instead, there exists a number of records that have helped, in part, to fuel the emergence of a new subculture or genre. However, in terms of one singular unit, one LP’s worth of instant, significant impacts are few and far between.
However, the one album that can undoubtedly be placed in that elusive category is Nirvana’s sophomore record, 1991’s Nevermind. A controversial album for many reasons, but the brilliance of it cannot be understated. Musically, it took the dynamically fluid style of Pixies, with their characteristic loud-quiet-loud song structures, and infused them with music that contained as many flecks of The Beatles and The Bay City Rollers as it did Black Flag and Hüsker Dü.
Understandably, for an album so monumental, it inspired generations of hopeful artists. Drilling down specifically, one band that would not have emerged – at least in the guise we know and love them today – would be Weezer. Over the course of their first three records, the LA-based power-pop quartet took many ideas from Nirvana in terms of sound. Fuzzy guitars, meaty riffs, introspective lyrics and sugary pop vocal melodies – all four elements Nirvana combined and brought to the fore on Nevermind.
The frontman of Weezer, Rivers Cuomo, has claimed that he was “Nirvana’s biggest fan”. Owing a lot to the Washington trio, Cuomo has never shied away from discussing the lasting impact of Nirvana and Nevermind on Weezer.
Of the impact of the record, Cuomo told Rolling Stone: “It felt so close to what I wanted to do. I thought, ’I can write chord progressions like that. I can write melodies like that. This is something I can do.’ This was right around when Weezer started. I probably wrote ‘The Sweater Song’ and ‘The World Has Turned and Left Me Here’ and ‘My Name is Jonas’ that month – all those early Weezer songs – and then we had our first rehearsal in February of ’92. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Nevermind really inspired us to go for it.”
At another point, Cuomo also said: “Hearing him sing about Mom and Dad and Grandpa Joe, these personal family issues, in a really heartbreaking kind of innocent, childlike way, over these straightforward chords in a major key. But then the distortion kicks in, and he starts screaming. Sh*t! That’s what I want to do”.
Cuomo’s explicit reference to the futile angst of ‘Sliver’ is significant. While it is not featured on Nevermind, this point is still critical. Across Weezer’s most important records, 1994’s Weezer and 1996’s Pinkerton, you hear the emotionally confused, semi-humorous lyrical mode of Kurt Cobain, typified on ‘Sliver’. The late Nirvana frontman made it acceptable to talk about the darker sides of everyday subjects whilst ballasting them with infectious yet visceral music.
Such was Cobain and the power of Nevermind. They proved that rock could be a mesh of disparate influences whilst remaining personal. In the process, they single-handedly destroyed the self-important, misogynistic, over-the-top peacocking of the late ’80s hair metal scene and paved the way for groups like Weezer.