Cline: Celebrating the glory of grunge

Darrin Cline

Twenty years ago, angst-driven Generation X-ers flocked to record stores to get their hands on the album that changed music like few others. On Sept. 24, 1991, Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album hit the shelves and marked the full arrival of grunge music.

The trio of Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic became the biggest and most influential band to come out of the Seattle grunge music scene. Their record would go on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts on Jan. 11, 1992. Widely heralded as one of the greatest albums ever, No. 17 on “Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Albums Ever,” Nirvana’s major studio debut tore through the stagnant hair metal scene and set the tone for the decade.

“Nevermind” featured hits including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — ranked as the No. 1 song on “VH1’s Top 100 Songs of the 1990s” — “In Bloom,” “Lithium” and “Come As You Are.” 

The album sparked a cultural revolution and is synonymous with the actions and attitudes of the decade. While many view the music as depressing or angry, it is not without its beauty. Nirvana made it OK to be different. Cobain’s organic and intimate writing often crossed into darker realms, but brought real issues to light. Many of the lyrics represented a population looking for answers and a culture that was not finding solace in plastic images or glamour that existed during the previous decade.  

Following Nirvana’s success, a flood of fresh talent hit the airwaves, with bands like Collective Soul and Stone Temple Pilots reaching new levels of popularity and ushering in a new sound that spoke to an unrepresented youth.

Throughout the 1990s, this trend continued and alternative rock took center stage. To music fans of the era, it was about the emotion and the music, not the techno beats and pretty faces bombarding our eardrums today.

Semisonic, Eagle Eye Cherry and Sonic Youth reached the apex of music and permeated all aspects of culture. However, in the last decade, a change has taken place in music. Mainstream music of the new millennium has been stripped of the individuality or emotion once represented by the pioneers of the ’90s.

Today’s mainstream music is devoid of any meaningful message and is based on club beats and sex appeal. In an ever-growing musical wasteland, talent is being lost and drowned out by auto-tune.

While some acts from the 1990s — ranging from the Foo Fighters to Darius Rucker and from Hootie and the Blowfish to the Beastie Boys and Alice in Chains — have soldiered on since their flannel-clad and baggy-jean heyday, many have been replaced or forgotten by the conformist, overdone sounds of modern music.

Compare some of the biggest hits from each era:

Then, the Red Hot Chili Peppers detailed lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ battle with heroin addiction and how he was on the edge of his life.

Now, Hot Chelle Rae details “dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign.”

Then, the release of Metallica’s smash “Black” Album.

Now, the release of Rebecca Black.

Then, Courtney Love and her band Hole write introspective, deep lyrics about image and equality.

Now, I can’t wait for Ke$ha to fall into a hole.

Then, Green Day’s “Time of Your Life (Good Riddance),” became the soundtrack to every graduation party.

Now, the Black Eyed Peas “The Time (Dirty Bit),” has become the soundtrack to every lame drunken frat party.

Then, Blues Traveler, Third Eye Blind, Oasis, Marcy Playground, Living Colour and Blind Melon.

Now, don’t we wish we had them all back?

In 1991, Nirvana broke the mold and catapulted alternative rock to the forefront. Nearly a decade of great music followed, before being swallowed up by the industrial machine. In 2005, “Nevermind” was enshrined by the Library of Congress; how many Pussycat Dolls or LMFAO albums are expected to earn that honor? 

It is not a question of if, but when the next Nirvana will step forward and bring music back to glory.

As Kurt Cobain reverberates throughout the band’s legendary “Smells Like Teen Spirit” track, here we are now, entertain us.