After last week’s BLEACH BOWL 2021, some of you gave me shit about where I ranked “Swap Meet”, and I’ve gotta tell ya… if I got shit for where I ranked a fairly middling (but still cool!) album cut from Nirvana’s least-celebrated studio album, things are going to get very ugly when I start making hard choices about songs that are more contentiously beloved or loathed.
I’m pretty worried that this is going to happen today, to be honest.
We haven’t had any tracks from In Utero until today, and pitting the best tracks off of Nevermind against the best tracks off of In Utero is going to hurt some brains. Especially mine.
Oh, The Guilt
“Oh, The Guilt” was originally released on a split single with the Jesus Lizard in 1992. This is the first true “rarity” that we’ve covered that isn’t a cover song. Kind of a latter-day stab at the sludgy riff-rock of Bleach, albeit with Dave Grohl’s drum attack punctuating the whole thing.
This song rocks in its own right, and features a queasy, seasick guitar riff that sounds for all the world like it belongs on a Metz record. Some nifty start-stop action adds some interest, and the wild abandon of the screaming “GoooooOOOooOOo!” refrain is undeniably fun. The guitar solo is a twisting mass of discordant string bends, as many of Cobain’s best guitar solos were.
Thing is, there are a handful of Nirvana’s B-sides that are legitimate hidden gems, and rise to the upper echelon with the best album cuts. “Oh, The Guilt” isn’t one of them.
I like it! But this song is probably most interesting to those of us who are deeply invested in this band.
Our first cut from In Utero is a towering inferno of a song. When I heard this song for the first time after getting a cassette dub of In Utero, it scared the living shit out of me. “Serve The Servants” was a noisy tune, sure, but slotting “Scentless Apprentice” as the number 2 slot on your album is one hell of a way to announce to the world that this album ain’t another Nevermind.
“Scentless Apprentice” is structured around a drum part that I have heard no fewer than fifty amateur drummers try to play as soon as they sit down behind a drum kit. Most of them butcher it. But in the hands of a drummer like Dave Grohl, locked in with a bassist like Krist Novoselic, it’s pure pummeling, anxiety-inducing perfection. It underpins the verse and chorus, while the guitar alternately piles onto the central riff, or just creates a wall of discordant creepiness.
Where many of Nirvana’s other songs feature explosive screaming, more often than not the screaming is performed with some kind of a melodic approach grounding it. Not so with “Scentless Apprentice”. The wailing in the chorus still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. This song opened me up to a whole world of extreme music. It was the heaviest thing I had ever heard.
It’s difficult to explain the appeal of such a viscerally brutal track, but this is an all-timer for me. It’s a song fascinating enough that it prompted legions of teenagers to read a book that they’d never heard of.
I hope that I don’t get shit for this, but I think that I can pretty easily slot “Oh, The Guilt” in just below “Swap Meet”. It’s a totally serviceable deep-catalogue cut, but nothing too remarkable.
But now I’m absolutely going to get shit from people for what I’m about to do, but I’m going to do it anyway. If you’ve got a real problem with this, I’m sure that you’ll let me know.
I’m going to bump “Territorial Pissings” to the number two spot in favour of “Scentless Apprentice”. It’s not an easy call. They’re both songs that mean a lot to me. “Territorial Pissings” is definitely more fun. And listening to it recently for the first time in ages, I was surprised that – similar to “Scentless Apprentice” – it gave me goosebumps. I could even see a world where I’m reading someone else’s ranking of Nirvana songs and see that they’ve ranked “Territorial Pissings” ahead of “Scentless Apprentice” and think: “Okay, maybe. Yeah, I could see that.”
But In Utero was a live-changing album for me, at least as much as Nevermind was. And I don’t think there are many tracks from either record that would go on to inform my future listening choices as wildly as “Scentless Apprentice” did.
The updated ranking is:
- Scentless Apprentice
- Territorial Pissings
- Love Buzz
- Lounge Act
- Been A Son
- Swap Meet
- Oh, The Guilt
- Ain’t It A Shame
“Scentless Apprentice” is the new greatest Nirvana song of all time!