Vinyl Corner : Nirvana ‘Nevermind’

Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect, as well as a brief overview of the music itself. Under the spotlight today is one of the most instantly recognisable and ubiquitous albums ever made, Nirvana’s earth-shatteringly popular ‘Nevermind’.

The Music:

In a world where landmark albums such as ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and, yes, ‘Nevermind’ still sell by the truckload decades on from release, it’s sometimes easy to take the classics for granted. So ever-present – and thoroughly milked – is the spectre of Nirvana that over-exposure is somewhat hard to avoid; but take a moment to listen – and we mean really listen – to Nirvana’s explosively popular sophomore effort ‘Nevermind’ and it’s not hard to see why it’s one of the most widely recognised rock albums ever. Fantastically well crafted and superbly balanced, it’s an album played with the gusto of a fiery underground punk band but written with the maturity of a Beatles-loving power pop act.

While some would argue that the ferocious grit of the band’s far heavier follow-up ‘In Utero’ is preferable to ‘Nevermind’s polished radio-friendly production, in reality such a shining lacquer suits the songs very well and lends the album an immediate and deeply satisfying accessibility that doesn’t detract or diminish from the high-quality of the songcraft. Although the scuzzy weirdo-punk of 1989’s debut album ‘Bleach’ more than had it’s charms, it was with ‘Nevermind’ that Kurt Cobain proved himself a genuinely excellent lyricist capable of crafting both fiery, tearaway rock and sublimely catchy pop, often within the same song.

The Pressing:

Before needle even hits plastic, there’re a few telltale signs that this may well be a great pressing; the record has substantial weight to it, it’s a very clean slab of wax with no signs of factory handling and – most importantly – it bears the words “pressed at Pallas” on the label. The German pressing plant has a great CV and reliably put out quality pressings, so it’s a promising start for this 2013 repress.

Upon lowering of the tonearm it becomes immediately clear that this is, indeed, is a pressing that lives up to potential. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ has always been a barnstormer of an album opener but this pressing’s mix gives it a new presence. Kurt Cobain’s legendary opening riff is presented in viscerally rich fashion; Dave Grohl’s thunderous drum work is likewise lent a massive presence only exaggerated from the already considerable oomph found on earlier mixes. Overall the soundscape is definitely bright – some might argue a little too much so – but it sounds great to us and gives the album an emphasis on the ringing twang of the top-end rather than the filthy rumble of the bottom. That’s not to say bass is lacking, far from it – we actually had to turn the bass on our amp down a little when listening through headphones. It’s a great sounding mix and one where every cymbal crash rings with vibrancy; whilst the more melodic aspect’s of Cobain vocals are accentuated here.

The pressing itself is excellent. There’s a very low surface noise level here – almost inaudible between tracks even at volume – and it’s completely free of defects such as pops and skipping. This 2013 pressing isn’t the first time that Pallas have had a crack at the album and their previous 2009 pressing is so esteemed that it fetches around £80 online. This version is far more affordable at around £20 and readily available online, although make sure you get the right version as there have been a number of other pressings of variable quality by other companies since this one.

The Packaging:

The packaging and presentation of this pressing is functional but unspectacular. The sleeve design largely follows the simplicity of the original issue, with a thin-spined, non-gatefold sleeve housing a lyric inner. On this pressing the lyric inner sleeve is on pretty lightweight laminated paper, so it’s quite easy to crease but, on the plus side, our copy did come in a decent quality poly-lined inner sleeve from new. The labels, too, are functional if rather bland, with a dull brown colour scheme once again matching the original pressing. Print quality is solid and the instantly-recognisable cover art is presented in fine form here. Upon scrutinization, there is a very slight lack of clarity but this is really only noticeable when examined close up and deliberately – in general use, the art looks great. While the packaging isn’t cause for any great excitement, nor is it a let down and certainly does the job fine, especially given that this pressing has a fairly low price-point given the excellent quality of the mastering and pressing.

Final Thoughts:

Even if the packaging is a little prosaic on this version, the stellar pressing more than makes up for it. In addition to being a well made, high quality slab of wax, it sounds great with a dynamic, vibrant mix and solid, punchy representation of all the frequencies. Although there are a frankly bewildering array of different pressings of Nevermind out there, this 2013 Pallas pressing is an easy one to recommend and a fantastic purchase, especially given how cheaply this can be bought for the quality of the playback.

If you want to read more on Nirvana, take a look at our retrospective article on Kurt Cobain for what would have been his 50th birthday.