Sound — 6
The most important album of the 90s? Well, that's nice, but how good is it really? Well, for starters, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" will sound familiar to anyone who's a big Pixies fan: the riff is "borrowed" from "U Mass" and the bass line sounds similiar to the one Kim Deal used for "Bone Machine. "In Bloom" and "Lithium" are cut from the same cloth: some chord bashery and bass work to fill in the verses and big power chorus on each. "Come As You Are" is easily the most musically interesting song on the record, thanks to it's groovin' guitar/bass hook. Elsewhere, there's "Territorial Pissings", which goes out of it's way to sound exactly like a Husker Du song, but never rises above its status as a just merely decent imitation of a much better band. "Breed" is the most decidedly punkish song, harkening back to the Bleach album (and sounding awfully similar to something Mudhoney would do). "Drain You", "Lounge Act", and "On A Plain" all take simple, non-descript riffs and stick to them, giving us three and a half minutes of tedious repetition each. "Polly" and "Something In the Way" fulfill the acoustic ballad quota. Song-structure is pretty similar through out: either the songs make use of the tried and true loud/soft dynamic or nothing changes at all throughout the entire song, except for maybe the occasional bridge. Overall, nothing here that someone else hadn't done better and more creatively before or since.
Lyrics — 4
A combination of fake teen angst, stoner poetry, and lots of wallowing in misery, often with all elements present in one song. Various songs angst out about basic teenage existence ("Teen Spirit", "Lithuim", "Stay Away"), girls ("Drain You", "Lounge Act") and nothing in particular ("Breed", "Territorial Pissings", "On A Plain"). Vocally, all the songs follow the same pattern: Kurt starts off with his sighing "sad man" voice and then, if there's a big chorus, erupts into throaty screams. Lots of anger, lots of despair. If that's your cup, then go for it. If you want song-writing and lyrics that doesn't always lead to the same hatred, disgust, and self pity, look elsewhere. Most of the lyrics found here just mope, brood, and seethe without really saying anything or making any kind of meaningful point. Two songs in particular fail me the most lyrically: the first is "Come As You Are", which seems insincere given Cobain's famously high handed treatment of his fans, and the other is "Polly". The song is about torture and rape. It should be blood curdling, but Cobain sings it like he's about to fall asleep and thus his monotone takes away from whatever impact it may have had. I've known some who believed the song was about a bored guy talking to his parrot and given the way the song comes off, I can't blame them.
Overall Impression — 4
Musically average, if not unexciting, and the lyrical equivalent of listening to a friend go on about the uselessness of his meaningless life and his hatred of the human race for 45 minutes. One of the most important rock albums of all time, ladies and gentlemen. Just goes to show that a bit of hype and a lot of record company/MTV/media push goes a long way.