Saturday, October 20, 2018

Certain Songs #1346: Nirvana – “Breed” | Medialoper

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

It’s hard to explain just how thoroughly Nevermind took over the world — or at least my little slice of it — in 1992, but let me give a few examples.

I remember calling a friend and his answering machine message went “Nobody can come to the phone right now because we’re all too busy listening to our Nevermind CDs.”

There was also a point when the Wild Blue started doing their DJ dance music nights, and in the middle of all of the techno, electronica and flat-out funk, the DJ would put on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the place would go crazy.

I also remember traveling to northern Scotland in late June with a girl that I was seeing at the time — she’d been lucky enough to see Nirvana at their New Year’s Eve show in San Francisco — and there was a teenage kid riding a bike wearing the same smiley-face Nirvana shirt that I’d gone out and purchased at some point. “Flower Sniffin, Kitty Pettin, Baby Kissin, Corporate Rock Whores.” When we broke up a couple of months later, I’d left that shirt in her apartment, and never asked for it back.

None of which has anything to do specifically with today’s song, “Breed,” which eschews the quietLOUDquiet format of the singles for a pure blast of punk rock energy. “Breed” also encapsulates the thing that detractors of Nevermind always pointed to as Exhibit A: the artificiality of the whole thing. With producer Bruce Vig bringing in Slayer producer Andy Wallace to do the final mixes, Nevermind was definitely and defiantly polished to shine brighter than most punk records: it was closer to Give ‘Em Enough Rope or Warehouse: Songs and Stories than it was to The Clash or New Day Rising.

Me, I love all four of the aforementioned records to within an inch of my life, and what I heard on Nevermind was as immediate, powerful and catchy as anything I’d ever heard in my life. And no amount of polish was ever going to remove the beautiful grit spackled all over Kurt Cobain’s vocal cords.

I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care
I don’t care, I don’t care, care if it’s old
I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind
I don’t mind, mind, don’t have a mind
Get away, get away, get away
Get away, away, away from your home
I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m afraid
I’m afraid, afraid, ghooooooooooosssst!

That first verse — Cobain’s penchant for playful repetition never more out front — comes after an opening where a spate of feedback becomes a circular guitar riff, joined by a long drum roll from Grohl and spizzled out bass from Novoselic, which is so overdriven you initially wonder if there’s an problem with your speakers.

One of the things about “Breed” is that it showed just how in synch Nirvana was, especially Kris Novoselic and Dave Grohl. Grohl’s main drumbeat is locked in with Novelselic’s bass at a molecular level, impossible to pry apart on any circumstances — but also Kurt Cobain, who abandons the riff he started in order to shred on top of his vocals during the verses, and then joins in on the fun during the choruses.

Even if you have, even if you need
I don’t mean to stare, we don’t have to breed
We could plant a house, we could build a tree
I don’t even care, we could have all three
She said, she said
She said, she said
She said, she said
She said, she said

One of the cool things about “Breed” is that Kurt’s guitar is in one speaker and Kris’s bass is in the other, which I’m going to take as a homage to the first Ramones album, a production choice that is only broken by some panning during the guitar break, which is mostly Kurt flogging his guitar into making tornado noises.

In the end, with “she said” echoing off the walls the floors and the ceiling, “Breed” comes crashing to an end with Kurt almost disgustedly exclaiming “duh!”

Nevermind is too famous and too great to claim that any song on it is a deep cut, but on a regular album, “Breed” might have been a single instead of the least famous song on the first side, though Kurt might have had to write a second verse in order for that to happen.


“Breed” live in Seattle, 1991

“Breed” live at Reading, 1992

“Breed” live in Seattle, 1993

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