September 24,1991 was one of the most significant days in le histoire du roque. On this SINGLE day was released Nevermind by Nirvana and Blood Sugar Sex Magick by Red Hot Chili Peppers. An embarrassment of riches we had back in the daaaay.
Theory me this – Nevermind was the last great album of the 80s, and Blood Sugar the last great album of the 90s. One made a virtue of everything learned in music production of the 80s (which is embodied in the avatar of Butch Vig), and the other was a classic rock eclectic series of cuts done in a haunted haus (helmed by the svengali Rick Rubin). While Nevermind is remembered as the powerhouse that generated a slew of really shitty, whiny spinoffs (who all failed to get the pint of Cobain’s project – fucking great melodies welded to rock hard riffs), it says a great deal that Blood Sugar survived to become a 13 mil-selling record in its own right.
For comparison, Supergrass had the unfortunate timing of releasing In It For The Money in the same season Radiohead launched their gargantuan OK Computer. Sadly, Supergrass were never the same afterwards – especially since their irreverent, rifftastic, T-Rex funness was a great tonic to Radiohead’s near-suicidal-die-in-the-bath impulses. Probably didn’t help they were on the same label (Parlophone), which sank all its marketing budget into Radiohead, one can easily imagine.^
What is the mark of a great work of musical art? Its plagiarists? Or, most likely, the fact that the work itself is non-reproducible? That is, much like the uncanny valley of android development, there’s a point where influence shifts from being acceptable (and, indeed, laudable) to being unheimlich* and repulsive. Good examples are Led Zeppelin – it’s either Zep or derp. Kate Bush, or Joni Mitchell. The sine qua non of writing and performing their works of art is unsplittable.
(Okay, Mr Zimmerman has many ticks on his creative ass, but they’re parodies, really, aren’t they? And maybe that proves the thesis.).
Back to our theme LPs – what spurred them to greatness is two things. These boys wanted to make the best fricken music they were capable of at the time, with one difference – RHCP were making a last throw of the dice after some really shittily recorded albums, and Nirvana were, in all their naïvety, setting themselves on the Nantucket Sleigh Ride,+ thinking they were simply cutting a good work of art. They only expected to shift a few tens of thousands of units. However, for both bands, the significant success changed everything for them. In ways good and bad.
Whatever any keyboard journo thinks, the fact remains that two colossal reputations were established on the very same day. Ought to be a national holiday for that, such a rare jewel it is.
^ By the way, another coincidence is that both Supergrass and Radiohead hail from Oxford.
* Easily, Trey’s most favourite, and overused, word. Yes, much more than the words schnitzel and pilsner, which Czech provides… or caters to (ha!)… well better.
+ A phrase describing the experience of harpooning a whale from a tiny boat and being thrown about in it until the whale died.