Between the Grooves of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’

A track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana’s Nevermind. From the hit that popularized grunge to a hidden cacophonous noise-fest.

12. “Something in the Way”

Interestingly enough, the most mellow, relaxed song on Nevermind is the same track that producer Butch Vig called the hardest song on the album to record. Cobain wanted the track to be as quiet as they could possibly make it, emphasizing the song’s mournful melancholy. And after the eleven songs prior to it, “Something in the Way” is very much to be worth the effort that Vig and the band put into recording it. The acoustic guitar-backed “Polly”, while also a break from the sludgy distortion dominating the record, has nothing on the somber beauty of “Something in the Way.”

Lyrically, the song has caused much speculation. Some people have suggested that the song’s tale of a homeless man living under a bridge is an autobiographical account of Cobain himself, after having been kicked out of his house by his parents. The lyrics could even be depicting a sort of doomsday prophecy or even a tale of someone who fought against the mainstream and lost. Ultimately, it’s Cobain’s attitude towards the importance of lyrics that rings the truest whilst trying to interpret the song’s simple yet cryptic lines: music first, lyrics second. As interesting and interpretive as “Something in the Way” is, it’s the music that is at the forefront. Plus, with nonsequiturs like “It’s okay to eat fish / ‘Cause they don’t have any feelings”, it seems more prudent to accept Cobain’s lyrical absurdities as ingredients necessary to the brilliance of Nirvana’s output instead of ciphers to be decoded.

The most well-known Nirvana songs from Nevermind are often the ones where Cobain is shouting; the oft-played “Smells Like Teen Spirit’s” at times incomprehensible chorus being a prime example. What makes “Something in the Way” so starkly beautiful is Cobain’s vocal volume. Compared to his performance on the rest of the LP, he’s practically whispering. His acoustic guitar is so softly strummed that it sounds as if it was being recorded from several feet away. Like the eccentric bridge-dweller, the lyrics depict, the song is something of a curiosity in the context of the rest of the record. The use of the cello is also unusual given the small instrumental setup for the rest of the record; even when Nevermind is at its most intense, guitar, bass, and drums are all that were necessary used to demonstrate that power. Here, the creaking cello provides a doomy background to the song’s chorus, adding to the album’s glum disposition in a darkly beautiful way.

Despite its curiosity, it remains one of the most poignant songs on Nevermind. The rest of the record’s reliance on the heavier elements of grunge allows “Something in the Way” to shine amongst a stellar tracklist merely by slowing the tempo down. Even though critics of Nirvana often point out how depressing the group’s music can be, too often they’re focusing on the guitar-heavy songs that most people know (and, of course, their criticism still remains reductive). Rarely do they take the time to look at tracks like “Something in a Way”, which, in its low-key moodiness, is the perfect conclusion to an album that, while not the most optimistic, is nonetheless beautiful in its own right. — Brice Ezell

13. “Endless, Nameless”

There was a pretty significant period of time in 1991 when I thought that “there’s a secret track on Nevermind” was an elaborate joke that my friends were playing on me. Still a bit stung by the revelation that spinning around and saying “Bloody Mary” ten times in front of my bathroom mirror didn’t actually reveal the mischievous spirit named in the chant, it seemed clear the first time I fast-forwarded “Something in the Way” and it just, you know, ended that my more knowledgeable friends were pulling my leg.

Turns out we were both right; “Endless, Nameless” didn’t get tacked onto Nevermind until the second pressing.

In all honesty, it’s probably better than I didn’t hear “Endless Nameless” for a while until after I had become intimately familiar with the rest of the album. Tucked away after ten full minutes of silence, its presence is a thing unto itself, a part of Nevermind only in that it shares disc space with the other 12 tracks. This is for good reason: “Endless, Nameless” is a sign saying “GO AWAY” spelled out in blood on an old wooden plank. It is ugly, it is messy, it is everything about Nirvana that Butch Vig and Andy Wallace washed away with their production and mixing.

You hear hints of this throughout Nevermind, but “Breed” is catchy as all get-out for all its volume and speed, and “Territorial Pissings” sounds like, well, a piss-take, a little too hard to take seriously. “Endless, Nameless” is raw anger without a sense of humor or any semblance of melody, just a few distinct sections that make sure that it sounds too calculated to be labeled as pure noise.

The story is that this song emerged after a particularly lousy take of “Lithium”, and as a way to exorcise the frustration of a botched performance, it’s pretty much perfect, something that allows the listener to hear a little bit of the behind-the-scenes. It exists as validation that the anger that streams through Nevermind is genuine, and that Nirvana’s three members had simply found a productive way to channel it.

The benefit of hindsight allows us to see a little more in “Endless, Nameless” than a simple curiosity at the end of a classic album. In Utero would show up a few years later, and it would shock its listeners with its dry, raw sound, a sound they’d actually heard before in this hidden track. You can hear pieces of “Scentless Apprentice”, “Milk It”, and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” in “Endless, Nameless” — In Utero found the band willing to work its more unpolished fits of rage into a set of songs that still had plenty of pop appeal. Even on that album, though, there weren’t any experiments this unfriendly or even this long.

As much as “Endless, Nameless” says “GO AWAY”, then, it also says, “To be continued.” It may not always appear at the end of Nevermind, but when it does, it enhances the album immeasurably. — Mike Schiller

This article was originally published on 25 September 2011.