Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Certain Songs #1351: Nirvana – “Pennyroyal Tea” | Medialoper

Album: In Utero
Year: 1993

Originally scheduled to be the third single from In Utero, but withdrawn because, you know, suicide, “Pennyroyal Tea” is perhaps the song on In Utero that would have fit the most on Nevermind, both structurally and sonically.

The irony, of course, it that “Pennyroyal Tea” was the one song where Kurt publicly said that he was dissatisfied with how Steve Albini’s mix came out, because he knew that it needed more of the sheen that glossed up the Nevermind singles.

And so, for that aborted single, they got Scott Litt to do a remix, but since the single was recalled, nobody heard it until it showed up on their greatest hits compilation. And while, I can’t hear that much of a difference, it was finally issued as a vinyl 7″ single 30 years later for Record Store Day, 2014, a celebration of the kind of artificial scarcity that helped cause the need for something like Record Store Day.

I’m on my time with everyone
I have very bad posture

Anyways, according to the “Pennyroyal Tea” Wikipedia page, that 2014 single went to number one on something called “Hot Singles Sales” chart, which is not to be confused with the Billboard Hot 100 chart, which at that time was near the end of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” making its 10-week run at number one.

Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
Distill the life that’s inside of me
Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
I’m anemic royalty

And so the verses of “Pennyroyal Tea” are crazy quiet, just Kurt singing over an acoustic, an overdubbed electric and Kris Novoselic’s bass.

And then for each chorus, Dave Grohl does a different stop-time combo of his kick and snare drums — no doubt seeing John Bonham in his mind’s eye — and “Pennyroyal Tea” gets massively loud, Kurt’s inside voice giving away to his psycho voice, while stretching “teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeea” to the breaking point with help from either an overdub or Grohl.

Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld
So I can sigh eternally

That’s one of my all-time favorite Cobain couplets, working on both a literal — Cobain actually listened to Cohen’s music while battling depression — and figurative level, and at least now they can have a discussion about that depression, which really rears itself in the second chorus.

I’m so tired I can’t sleep
I’m a liar and a thief
Sit and drink Pennyroyal tea
I’m anemic royalty

Oof. This is followed by a roiling, raging guitar solo and naturally, one last quiet verse and loud chorus, until “Pennyroyal Tea” stumbles to its conclusion.

The closet I ever got to seeing Nirvana in concert was dating a girl who’d seen their now legendary Cow Palace show with Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers on December 31, 1991, but the dynamism of “Pennyroyal Tea” no doubt would have made it a highlight of their Lollapalooza 1994 shows.

Which is a thing that people forget: that Nirvana was going to headline Lollapalooza 1994, which I bought tickets for, but then Kurt killed himself — which we’re gonna discuss tomorrow — the Smashing Pumpkins took over as headliners, and as I wrote back then, things got pretty weird. But that’s really more about The Smashing Pumpkins.

“Pennyroyal Tea”

“Pennyroyal Tea” on MTV Unplugged

“Pennyroyal Tea” performed live in France, 1994

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