Bleach (album)

Bleach (album)
Color-reversed image of a band playing on a studio.
Studio album by Nirvana
Released June 15, 1989
Recorded December 1988 – January 1989 at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington
Genre Grunge, noise rock,[1] hardcore punk
Length 42:37
Label Sub Pop
Producer Jack Endino
Nirvana chronology
Singles from Bleach
  1. "Love Buzz"
    Released: November 1988
  2. "Blew"
    Released: December 1989

Bleach is the debut album by the American rock band Nirvana, released in June 1989 through the independent record label Sub Pop. The main recording sessions took place at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, Washington between December 1988 and January 1989. Nirvana songwriter Kurt Cobain felt pressured to create music for Bleach that conformed to the grunge music style favored by his record label and the contemporary Seattle music scene. The album is regarded as quite negative and bleak; Cobain has claimed that most of the lyrics were written the night before recording while he was feeling "pissed off", and that he did not regard them highly. The recording of the album was financed by Jason Everman, who was credited as a guitarist but did not play on any songs.

Bleach was well received by critics, but failed to chart in the U.S. upon its original release. The album was re-released internationally by Geffen Records in 1992 following the success of Nirvana's second album, Nevermind (1991). The re-release debuted at number 89 on the Billboard 200, and peaked at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart and 34 on the Australian albums chart. It has since sold over one million units in the US. In 2009 Sub Pop released a 20th anniversary edition of Bleach featuring a live recording of a Nirvana show from 1990 as extra material. Since its release in 1989, "Bleach" has sold over 1.7 million units in the United States alone,[2] and over 4.0 million units worldwide.[3] It is Sub Pop's best-selling release ever.[4]



Following the release of its debut single "Love Buzz" on Sub Pop in November 1988, Nirvana practiced for two to three weeks in preparation for recording a full-length album, even though Sub Pop had only requested for an EP.[5] The main sessions for Bleach took place at Reciprocal Recording Studios in Seattle, with local producer Jack Endino. Nirvana began recording with a five hour session on December 24, 1988.[6] The band recorded again on December 29–31, and on January 14 and 24.[7] Endino billed the group for 30 hours of recording time.[8] Three of the album's songs – "Floyd the Barber", "Paper Cuts" and "Downer" – were recorded during a previous session at Reciprocal Studios in 1988, featuring Dale Crover on drums. Despite attempts to re-record them with new drummer Chad Channing, the band ultimately decided to remix the versions recorded with Crover for the final version of Bleach.[8] "Big Long Now" was omitted from the album because vocalist/guitarist Kurt Cobain felt "there was already enough slow heavy stuff on Bleach, and he 'didn't want that song to go out'", according to Endino.[7] The album was edited and sequenced, but Sub Pop head Bruce Pavitt ordered that the album be completely re-sequenced. The record was further delayed for several months until Sub Pop was able to secure sufficient funds to issue it.[8]

Endino billed the band thirty hours of recording at $606.17. Jason Everman, a guitarist who was impressed by Nirvana's demo with Dale Crover, supplied the money. He briefly joined the group as second guitarist.[8] Everman was credited as a guitarist on the album sleeve, and is the other guitarist on the cover of the album, even though he did not perform on the record. Bassist Krist Novoselic explained, "We just wanted to make him feel at home in the band."[9]


According to Cobain, the music on Bleach conformed with the grunge genre Sub Pop heavily endorsed. "There was this pressure from Sub Pop and the grunge scene to play 'rock music'", Cobain said, and noted that he stripped it "down and [made] it sound like Aerosmith." Cobain also felt he had to fit the expectations of the grunge sound to build a fanbase, and hence suppressed his arty and pop songwriting traits while crafting the record.[12] Krist Novoselic said in a 2001 interview with Rolling Stone that the band had played a tape in their tour van that had an album by The Smithereens on one side and one by the thrash metal band Celtic Frost on the other, and noted that the combination probably played an influence as well.[13] The songs were described as "deliberately bleak, claustrophobic, and lyrically sparse, with none of the manic derangement or sense of release of the live performance". Cobain said that the song structures were "one–dimensional", and said that he sought to present a more "polished and urbane side of happy".[14]

Describing the various songs on Bleach, Christopher Sandford wrote: "'Paper Cuts' includes a folk-influence melody and ponderous rhythm of an early Led Zeppelin number; 'Mr. Moustache' addressed itself on Nirvana's male fans; 'Downer' showed the same exceptional contempt for the group's audience". Sandford felt "School" – which features only four lines of lyrics – was memorable for its chorus that "served as the rip". While "Scoff" is "a parting salvo at [Cobain's parents]", "Negative Creep" was written by Cobain about himself. According to Sandford, "About a Girl" has a "chiming melody and ironic chorus".[17] In Sounds magazine, Keith Cameron said the song "was exhilarating and it was exciting because that was the nature of the music, but there was also an almost palpable sense of danger, that this whole thing could fall apart any second. There was never any relaxation from the first note to the last".[18] In his book Nirvana: The Stories Behind Every Song, Chuck Crisafulli writes that the song "stands out in the Cobain canon as a song with a very specific genesis and a very real subject".[10]

Cobain told Spin in 1993 that on Bleach he "didn't give a flying fuck what the lyrics were about", and claimed that 80 percent of the lyrics were written the night before recording.[19] He was often still working on the words on the drive to the recording studio.[8] He explained: "It was like I'm pissed off. Don't know what about. Let's just scream negative lyrics, and as long as they're not sexist and don't get too embarrassing it'll be okay. I don't hold any of those lyrics dear to me."[19] Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad noted that, nevertheless, many of the songs on the album reflected Cobain and various incidents in his life.[20] "Mr. Moustache" was inspired by Cobain's dislike of macho behavior,[21] while "School" was a critique of the Seattle music scene, particularly Sub Pop, and could also be interpreted as an allegory on life.[22]

Release and promotion

The album cover was photographed by Cobain's then-girlfriend Tracy Marander during a concert at the Reko Muse art gallery in Olympia, Washington.[23] On February 25, 1989, Nirvana played at venues on the west coast, including the University of Washington.[24] The group began its first European tour, a double headliner with the band Tad, at the Riverside venue in Newcastle upon Tyne on 23 October 1989. On December 3, they played a "triumphant" set at the London Astoria. Christopher Sandford related: "when the style pundits noted Cobain's 'patent lumberjack shirts and ugly fifties geometric-patterned jerseys', seeing an example of 'low-couture chic' they missed the point that flannel shirts and sweaters were everyday dress in the marine climate of the Northwest".[14] Cobain took note and said that he never intended to start a fad or act as a role model.[14] On April 1, 1990, the band launched its second major U.S. tour. During the tour, Chad Channing was replaced by Dale Crover.[24]

The album's working title was Too Many Humans.[25] It was renamed Bleach after Cobain found an AIDS prevention poster while Nirvana was driving through San Francisco. The poster advised heroin addicts to bleach their needles before use, featuring the slogan "Bleach Your Works".[8] In Australia, Bleach was released on Waterfront Records and re-issued on various colored covers and colored vinyl prior to 1992.[26]

In April 1992, following the success of Nirvana's second album Nevermind, Sub Pop released a remastered version of Bleach on LP, CD and cassette, adding two extra tracks. Geffen Records handled the international release.[27] The CD version was packaged in a cardboard foldout case that included a bonus booklet filled with photos of the band from 1987–1990.[28] For the 20th anniversary of the album, Sub Pop released on November 3, 2009 a deluxe reissue of Bleach featuring a March 2009 remastering from the original tapes by George Marino and a live recording of a 1990 show at Portland, Oregon's Pine Street Theatre.[29]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[30] 4/5 stars[31]
BBC Music (favorable)[32]
Blender 3/5 stars[33]
Drowned In Sound (7/10)[34]
Kerrang! 3/5 stars[35]
NME (8/10)[36]
Pitchfork Media (8.5/10)[37]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[38]

The album has generally received positive reviews by professionals. Anthony Carew from the Guide said that the album "define[d] the entire decade of the '90s", and awarded it four out of five stars.[31] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic gave the album three and a half out of five stars, noting that "Kurt Cobain illustrated signs of his considerable songcraft, particularly on the minor-key ballad 'About a Girl' and the dense churn of 'Blew'". He also said that "it's a debut from a band that shows potential but haven't yet achieved it."[30] NME's Edwin Pouncey said that the album was the "biggest, baddest sound that Sub Pop have so far managed to unearth. So primitive that they manage to make label mates Mudhoney sound like Genesis, Nirvana turn up the volume and spit and claw their way to the top of the musical garbage heap", and gave it an eight out of ten rating.[36] Bleach was considered by Rolling Stone as "a moderate hit on college radio and the underground/DIY circuit."[38]

Before Nevermind was released, Bleach had sold 40,000 units in North America.[39] The 1992 re-release of the album was successful at the charts, with Bleach eventually reaching number 89 at the Billboard 200,[40] number 33 on the UK album charts,[41] number 34 on the Australian Recording Industry Association chart,[42] and number 24 on the Finland charts.[43] Kurt Cobain's death in 1994 also lead to a resurgence of popularity, with Bleach entering the Top Pop Catalog chart at number six in the week following his death,[44] and eventually earning the top spot on May 7.[45] The 2009 deluxe edition entered the Catalog Albums chart at number seven.[46] Bleach was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America on February 1995,[47] and has sold an estimated 1.7 million units in the United States.[2] It is Sub Pop's best-selling release ever.[4] The album has sold well over 4.0 million units worldwide.[3]

Track listing

1989 vinyl release

All songs written and composed by Kurt Cobain, except where noted. 

No. Title Length
1. "Blew"   2:55
2. "Floyd the Barber"   2:18
3. "About a Girl"   2:48
4. "School"   2:42
5. "Love Buzz" (Robbie van Leeuwen) 3:35
6. "Paper Cuts"   4:06
7. "Negative Creep"   2:56
8. "Scoff"   4:10
9. "Swap Meet"   3:03
10. "Mr. Moustache"   3:24
11. "Sifting"   5:22
1992 CD reissue
2009 re-release (Pine Street Theatre live performance recorded February 9, 1990 – Portland, Oregon)

All songs written by Kurt Cobain, except where noted.

  1. "Intro" – 0:53
  2. "School" – 2:36
  3. "Floyd the Barber" – 2:17
  4. "Dive" (Cobain, Novoselic) – 3:42
  5. "Love Buzz" (van Leeuwen) – 2:58
  6. "Spank Thru" – 2:59
  7. "Molly's Lips" (Eugene Kelly, Frances McKee) – 2:16
  8. "Sappy" – 3:19
  9. "Scoff" – 3:53
  10. "About a Girl" – 2:28
  11. "Been a Son" – 2:01
  12. "Blew" – 4:32

"About a Girl" and "Spank Thru" were released as the B-sides to the Sliver single.


Additional Personnel


Charts (1992) Peak
Australian Albums Chart[49] 34
Austrian Albums Chart[49] 26
Belgium Albums Chart (Wallonia)[49] 23
Finland's Official List.[43] 24
Germany album charts.[50] 24
Japanese Albums Chart[51] 46
New Zealand Albums Chart[52] 30
UK Albums Chart[53] 33
US Billboard 200[54] 89


Country Certification Sales
Canada Gold 50,000+
France 2x Gold 200,000+
United States Platinum 1,700,000+

Release history

Year Type Record Catalog Ref
1989 Compact Disc Sub Pop Records SP34B [30]
Cassette SP34A
LP record SP34
1992 Compact Disc Geffen Records 24433
1995 1929
2005 LP record Phantom Records TUPLP6
Compact Disc Warner Music Group 9878700342
2008 LP record 7840034 [55]
2009 Sub Pop Records 70834
Compact Disc
Rhino Entertainment 5186561462 [56]



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  2. ^ a b Barnes, Ken (2007-03-23). "Sales questions: Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam". Archived from the original on 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  3. ^ a b "Nirvana Biography". 2008. Retrieved 2010-12-06. 
  4. ^ a b "Sub Pop Records: 1988-2008". Sub Pop Records. 2008. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  5. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 85–89
  6. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 90
  7. ^ a b Gaar, Gillian G. "Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History of Nirvana". Goldmine. 1997-02-14
  8. ^ a b c d e f Azerrad, 1994. p. 91
  9. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 92
  10. ^ a b Crisafulli, Chuck. Nirvana: The Stories Behind Every Song. Da Capo Press, 2006. ISBN 1560259477, p. 28–36
  11. ^ True, 2007. p.99
  12. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 102
  13. ^ Fricke, David. "Krist Novoselic". Rolling Stone. 2001-09-13
  14. ^ a b c Sandford, 2004. p. 112
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  16. ^ "Bleach (album review)". Sputnik Music. January 14, 2005. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  17. ^ Sandford, 2004. pp. 116–118
  18. ^ Sandford, 2004. p. 135
  19. ^ a b Steinke, Darcey. "Smashing Their Heads on That Punk Rock". Spin. October 1993.
  20. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 97
  21. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 99
  22. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 100
  23. ^ True, 2007. p. 125-6
  24. ^ a b Sandford, 2004. pp. 378–379
  25. ^ Cross, p. 105
  26. ^ Berkenstadt, Cross, 2003. p. 147
  27. ^ Berkenstadt, Cross, 2003. p. 148
  28. ^ Azerrad, 1994. p. 95
  29. ^ Breihan, Tom (2008-08-14). "Sub Pop to Reissue Nirvana's Bleach". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  30. ^ a b c Stephen Thomas Erlewine "allmusic ((( Bleach > Overview )))". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
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  32. ^ Leaver, Anthony "Nirvana Bleach Review". BBC. 2007-04-23. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
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  34. ^ "Drowned In Sound Review". Drowned In Sound. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
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  38. ^ a b Charles Young and Kevin O'Donnell "Nirvana". Rolling Stone Music. 2010-04-11. Retrieved 2010-07-02.
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  42. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 and 1993–2005. St Ives, N.S.W. ISBN 0646119176.
  43. ^ a b Pennanen, Timo (2003). Sisältää hitin: levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972. Otava Publishing Company Ltd. ISBN 951121053X.
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External links

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