Saturday, October 20, 2018

Certain Songs #1348: Nirvana – “On a Plain” | Medialoper

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

While the back half of Nevermind didn’t have any commercially released singles, it still had a plethora of amazing songs, the amazingest being the penultimate track, “On a Plain,” which on a lesser album would have been the lead single, instead of stuck all in the back near the end.

And of course, as part of the juggernaut that Nevermind ended up becoming, “On a Plain” was released to radio stations as a promotional single, and getting a pretty decent amount of airplay in the process, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s right up there with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” or “Come as You Are” in terms of their greatest songs.

After a drip of noise & feedback, Kurt crashes directly into perhaps his best set of lyrics on the album.

I’ll start this off without any words
I got so high, I scratched ’till I bled
Love myself better than you
I know it’s wrong so what should I do?

One of the cool tricks of “On a Plain” is how Kurt sings the same couplet at the end of each verse, with Dave Grohl doing high harmonies on “Love myself better than you” while Kurt is pretty much all by himself for “I know it’s wrong, so what should I do?” Listen closer, and while Kurt’s in crooner voice for most of those verses, he does get rougher when Grohl is doing the harmonies, with the result being that “Love myself better than you” jumps out at you every single time.

The finest day that I’ve ever had
Was when I learned to cry on command
Love myself better than you
I know it’s wrong so what should I do?

A lot of times, that would have been enough, just that repetition, and they could easily gotten away without a chorus, but “On a Plain” instantly tops that with a crazily-hook-filled chorus, filled with fantastic backing “oooooooohs”

I’m on a plain (oooh-ooooooh)
I can’t complain (oooh-ooooooh)
I’m on a plain(oooh-ooooooh)

There isn’t a guitar solo in “On a Plain,” but there is a bridge, featuring massive harmonies, crunchy guitar, and a cool little bass lick from Kris Novoselic to kick the song back into the final verse

Somewhere I have heard this before
In a dream my memory has stored
As a defense I’m neutered and spayed
What the hell am I trying to say?

In the end, “On a Plain” just repeats the chorus over and over, Grohl crashing and building over and over, and everything fades out except for the “ooooh-oooohs.”

I’m not kidding when I say that I’d been waiting for Nevermind my entire life: shit-hot guitars, wildly inventive but song-oriented drumming, surprising lyrics, massive pop hooks, and a singer who could scream his surprisingly massive pop hooks without sacrificing either power or beauty. Everything I loved about rock ‘n’ roll wrapped together into one obsessive-making record.

“On a Plain”

“On A Plain” live in Seattle, 1991

“On a Plain” live at Reading, 1992

“On a Plain” live on MTV Unplugged, 1993

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