Today in 1991, Nirvana’s second album “Nevermind” received some pre-release airtime on the radio, serving as the unofficial world premiere for it and one of its four singles, “In Bloom”.
For most of the month, we’ve been going back through the archives of music history and finding gems from the past to hold up and reexamine. During this time, we’ve mostly seen songs coming out of the sixties and seventies, with a few exceptions. Just to recap this week, we’ve covered The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” and “Dear Prudence”, as well as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”.
Today we’ll be looking at a song more recent than any of the others we’ve covered so far. But before we take a closer look at “In Bloom”, let’s get a little context first.
“Nevermind” was Nirvana’s second studio album. While it wasn’t officially released until late September, it received promotional radio play in its entirety on WFNX in Boston on August 29th, 1991. It was the band’s first album on their new label, DGC Records, as well as the first Nirvana record to feature drummer Dave Grohl.
While it wasn’t expected to be a commercial success, “Nevermind” turned out to be a huge stepping stone for Nirvana, peaking at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Along with the success of the album as a whole, four commercially successful singles were also released. These were “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Lithium”, “Come As You Are”, and “In Bloom”.
Since its release, “Nevermind” has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, and is in a large part responsible for bringing alternative rock and grunge to the mainstream.
“In Bloom” was one of the Nirvana songs on “Nevermind” written before Dave Grohl joined the band. While it was first recorded in 1990, “In Bloom” wasn’t commercially released until “Nevermind” came out. It was then later released as the fourth and final single in November, 1992. Mirroring the success of “Nevermind”, “In Bloom” peaked at No. 5 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart.
Like many Nirvana songs, the music of “In Bloom” fluctuates between soft, bass-led verses and loud, screaming chorus sections.
A music video for “In Bloom” was also released, shot in black and white. It features Nirvana playing in a parody of early 1960s variety shows, dressed in suits, with Kurt Cobain slicking his hair back and sporting a pair of hipster frames. Screaming girls from a fake audience are heard throughout the song. Interspersed with this are scenes of the band members playing while wearing dresses, and eventually destroying the set and their instruments.
The lyrics of “In Bloom” address the new fans Nirvana attracted who didn’t understand the band’s message or views. This is laid out pretty explicitly in the chorus.
“He’s the one
Who like all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he don’t know what it means
Don’t know what it means”
The verses, however, are a little more challenging to decipher, and come off more vague and impressionistic, as if challenging the audience they’re addressing to figure out their meaning.
“Sell the kids for food
Weather changes moods
Spring is here again
There are a few ways you could interpret this, but let’s look at one of the more straightforward ones. A family sells their children during a hard winter to survive, and replaces them come springtime. This could also be seen as mirroring nature. Trees shed their fruit (children) to conserve their resources and survive, then bloom again in the spring.
There are of course more interpretations of “In Bloom” that can be argued, but frankly, we don’t have the time or the space to cover them all. If you’re interested in an alternative reading, however, try matching up the lines of the first verse with its counterpart in the second. This was apparently how Kurt Cobain had arranged the lyrics on the liner notes.
Overall, I think “In Bloom” is a great song, but honestly I don’t know if it’s even in my top five favorite Nirvana songs. “Lounge Act”, “Lithium”, and “Something in the Way” are for sure ahead of it.
That about does it for our discussion today. I hope you enjoyed listening to and watching the music video for Nirvana’s “In Bloom”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song from the archives of rock history to finish off the week.