Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. It’s a tough gig being the b-side to the biggest rock song of the decade. And no, “Drain You” is not “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but in a lot of ways, it’s more interesting. If “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is an exercise in economy, with every note and beat perfectly placed, “Drain You” sees Nirvana indulging itself a bit more (though Nirvana’s indulgences still make anything done by its bloated 1970s godfathers seem like Philip Glass). We get an honest-to-god bridge, longer than two bars, with weird noises and gloom-and-doom atmospherics. The track also subtly breaks free from the Nevermind pattern of soft-verse, loud-chorus. “Drain You” goes something like this: loud, then loud, and loud (well, except for that bridge). It’s the song the flannelled faithful could play for any naysayers who accused grunge music of too much moping and not enough rocking.
What makes “Drain You” a real standout are Cobain’s lyrics—still a little hammy and a little obtuse, the chorus lets the King of the Earnest try for tongue-in-cheek. “Chew your meat for you,” he sings, “Pass it back and forth / In a passionate kiss / From my mouth to yours / I like you.” Here’s a test to see if your rock music is doing what it should do. Recite the lyrics out loud. Imagine you’re saying them to your grandmother. Is she disturbed about your generation? Good. Carry on. Cobain’s imagery is wonderfully gross, embracing silliness rather than shooting for dour sloganeering. And, wouldn’t you know, he manages to hit at something genuinely sweet and affecting, in a strange way. “Drain You” hasn’t become celebrated as one of the alterna-‘90s’ greatest articulations of love, but perhaps it should. It nails the decade’s supposed tone perfectly, with enough irony to make the image stick in some folks’ craws, but not enough to overpower the little bit of prettiness at its emotional core.
But that’s not what people wanted from Nirvana, by and large. Instead, Cobain was allowed to fill the role of heart-on-sleeve, tortured guitar hero. It’s a shame—the guy clearly had a great sense of humor. Nevermind accomplishes many things, but making you chuckle isn’t high on the list. “Drain You”, when stacked up next to “Teen Spirit” or “Something in the Way” or “Come As You Are”, seems thoroughly fun in a way that the album’s other tracks simply do not. The song still delivers the same adrenaline rush as the band’s best full-volume material, but it does so while feeling less heavy, less grave. It’s an interesting reminder to the band’s detractors that Nirvana was not always so monolithically melancholy, after all. Corey Beasley
Take a suburban male, 12 or 13 years old, who has found Nevermind (this scenario takes place in 1991, of course). Kurt Cobain speaks to him in a way no other artist has, offering disdain for the world around him, rage to those closest to him, and the sort of sense of humor that means you can never quite tell whether he’s joking. Nirvana’s music is the sort of thing that really means something when you’re that age, even if what it means isn’t entirely clear.
Still, the complexities of Cobain’s lyrics can be difficult for that same teen to digest. Double meanings, interpretation—these are things for poetry class, not suited to the sort of cathartic release that the music would seem to suggest.
This is why “Lounge Act” needed to be on Nevermind.
Far from the throwaway track that its short length, late placement, and simple structure would imply, “Lounge Act” is the most immediate and accessible cut from Nevermind. It’s about a girl. Or, maybe, it’s about two girls. Most likely, it’s about the idea of girls; it’s about the difficulty and futility of romance, with some concrete examples to draw on for inspiration. When that suburban teenaged boy is experiencing the sort of frustration that draws him to Nirvana, chances are he’s having trouble in the romance department. While other tracks on Nevermind deal with companionship in other, more abstract ways, “Lounge Act” takes it on directly.
“Truth, covered in security” is the lyric sheet’s reading of the song’s first line, and that alone offers the idea of honesty as a fungible concept. If you’re not reading the lyric sheet, though, you could just as easily hear “insecurity” as one word, which changes the meaning to something more immediate, something you do when trying to navigate a social setting rather than a more general commentary on honesty. It’s the brilliant sort of stage-setting first line that Cobain had a knack for making look easy, and the rest of the song jumps off from there, traveling quickly from the narrator’s insecurity to anger at the target of his affection.
“I’d like to but it couldn’t work”, he says, giving up before he even tries, at least until he gets desperate: “I wanted more than I could steal / I’ll arrest myself, I’ll wear a shield,” he sings, and it even seems like he wins… until he turns jealous (“I’ll keep fighting jealousy / ‘Til it’s fucking gone”) and she goes ahead and… well, whether she actually cheats is left open to interpretation, isn’t it? “I’ll go out of my way to prove that I still / Smell her on you,” he sings, and as he’s throwing accusations at his lover, it’s not clear whether her affair is real or whether it’s in his head, a product of insecurity and paranoia. This is, after all, the persona he’s built for himself for the previous eight songs.
While it would be folly to say that the average teen can truly understand what was going on in Kurt Cobain’s head, a song like this makes it easy to at least identify with him a little bit. “Lounge Act” humanizes Cobain like no other track on Nevermind. Mike Schiller
// Notes from the Road
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