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Music

Krist Novoselic's seven best basslines

@TylerGolsen

In power trios, there’s no room or any instrumentalist to be slacking. When it comes to the role of the bass in these configurations, most players tend to be busier, filling the role of both what the bass and what a rhythm guitar might do. This is pretty standard, but just like everything about him, Krist Novoselic avoids the standard path.

Standing six foot seven, Novoselic is a renowned political activist and bass player for the current grunge supergroup 3rd Secret. He also helped create some of the most beloved and endearing rock music of all time as a founding member of Nirvana. Through that band, Novoselic carved out a unique style that emphasised simplicity and songwriting over all else.

“I still approach bass playing with the idea of ‘What does the song need?’ Like, if it’s a heavy, dark, grinding song, or a pop song that needs some melody, or whatever,” Novoselic told Guitar World in 2012. “I was really fortunate that I got to work with Kurt: he was such a talented songwriter and he had a real ear for a hook, so as far as I was concerned playing bass with him was super-easy.”

Inspired by some of rock’s greatest four-string players, Novoselic keeps his list of influences short and sweet. “I come out of the school of John Entwistle and Geezer Butler, and of course Paul McCartney. Those are the big three for me, along with Mike Mills from R.E.M.” The root of everything that Novoselic plays, from the heaviest rumbles to the simplest of changes, can be found in those players.

Today, we’re looking back at the seven basslines that made Krist Novoselic so essential to Nirvana. Because Novoselic rarely has flashy standout moments on record, we’re keying into the basslines that keep their respective songs together, elevate the material, and simply stand as the perfect accompaniment to whatever is going on around him. These are the seven best basslines from Krist Novoselic.

Krist Novoselic’s seven best basslines:

‘Lithium’

Perhaps more so than most Nirvana songs, ‘Lithium’ actually lets Novoselic stand out on his own for a bit. His bass remains relatively high in the mix, and before the song’s final verse, Kurt Cobain drops out and lets Novoselic carry the arrangement for a while.

The results are simple, straightforward, and completely perfect for a song like ‘Lithium’. Novoselic gets quite the chord progression to work with, and by sticking mostly to the roots of each chord, Novoselic still gets the chance to run up and down the neck in superb fashion.

‘Heart-Shaped Box’

As Nirvana continued to evolve, lower intervals and alternative tunings began to proliferate in the band’s music. Nevermind is the only album on which Nirvana largely stick to standard tuning, with both Bleach and In Utero showing off the darker and deeper sounds of the band’s aggressively sludgy roots.

‘Heart-Shaped Box’ toys with this mix of light and dark better than all other Nirvana songs. Bubbling just below the surface of Cobain’s guitar riff is Novoselic’s insistent bassline, which bobs and flows to the beat with remarkable timing and accuracy. It’s one of Novoselic’s more exploratory basslines, and one of the best to revisit.

‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

We all know this was going to appear on this list, but when was the last time you fully appreciated Novoselic’s bassline in ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, the most legendary and well-known Nirvana song of all time? It’s worth a relisten because Novoselic acts as the captain of the melodic ship for much longer than most would seem to remember.

For the entirety of the verses of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Kurt Cobain only plays two notes on his guitar. It’s up to Novoselic to keep the song from lagging, dutifully plucking out the chord progression while Cobain simply adds colour. It’s incredibly simple, but absolutely necessary, something that makes Novoselic vastly underrated.

‘Lounge Act’

Another great chance for Novoselic to make his statement right away, ‘Lounge Act’ kicks off with just Novoselic playing a relatively rare bass riff that acts as the melodic centre of the song.

Featuring glissandos and octave jumps that seem to go against his usual philosophy of simplicity, Novoselic crafts one of the more memorable bass lines in all of grunge on ‘Lounge Act’.

‘In Bloom’

When Novoselic gets criticised for his bass playing, it usually revolves around the simplicity of what he’s doing. What those critiques miss is that any kind of overcomplication would have ruined a fair number of classic Nirvana tunes.

‘In Bloom’ is reliant on the push and pull of Nirvana’s classic soft-loud dynamic. To emphasise the difference between verses and choruses, Novoselic is on his own during most of the verses. ‘In Bloom’ isn’t Novoselic blending into the background of a song – it’s him taking charge of the entire song.

‘Something in the Way’

While it could easily have been drowned out by the delicate vocal lines and stark cello arrangement, Novoselic’s bassline on ‘Something in the Way’ works the same kind of magic that his most manic and frenetic basslines do: they act as the glue that keeps the arrangments from falling apart.

As slinky and stately as Novoselic ever got on record, ‘Something in the Way’ doesn’t have any kind of flashy run of skilled figure that would make it a normal pick for this kind of list. Instead, ‘Something in the Way’ remains one of the best examples of Novoselic’s unique approach to the bass.

‘The Man Who Sold the World’

Perhaps a bit of a cop-out since Novoselic didn’t actually write this bassline, Nirvana’s cover of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ nevertheless shows Novoselic at his most fleet-fingered. Tasked with bringing the darkly bouncy energy of David Bowie’s original to an acoustic setting, Novoselic takes centre state with a bassline that rises and falls along with the music.

Most hypnotic of all is the chorus line that sees Novoselic move all the way up the scale. Novoselic defined what it meant to keep things simple in a bass part, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have his opportunities to show off every once in a while.