Like most people, I didn't discover this record until after Nevermind came out. But discover it I did, and listen to the shit out of it I did also. I lost my old cassette copy somewhere along the line, and I actually didn't have a proper copy of this album for a long while. I've since purchased a fairly early original pressing on clear pink vinyl, and I think it's pretty sweet. I would love to one day own one of the first pressings on white wax, but they're a little out of my price range at the moment. (For a sweet breakdown of this LP's release history, check this page out. Wikipedia's got it all wrong.)
The LP I have does not include either "Big Cheese" or "Downer." The original cassette copy I had included "Big Cheese" but did not have "Downer." The CD version had both. Not sure why I'm mentioning this, other than to point out that I was always bummed to not have "Downer" on my tape, because I loved that song. Still do. But I also understand how it doesn't really fit too well with the rest of the record. Moving on.
Bleach really threw me off when I first started listening to it, because it sounded nothing like Nevermind. After digging deeper into their other material (via dubs of collected tracks like "Spank Thru," "Aero Zeppelin," "Mexican Seafood" - this was before Incesticide was released), I realized that it was a more a case of Nevermind sounding nothing like the rest of the band's output. Not only was the production on the old stuff grittier (to say the least), Cobain's voice was gruffer, deeper, and even more mush-mouthed. So ingesting Bleach was a bit tougher than I thought it would be. Still, it wasn't too hard. Tracks like "Blew," "About a Girl," and "Love Buzz" were catchy as heck, and a song like "Negative Creep" is not tough to sell to a teenage boy.
But songs like "Paper Cuts" and "Sifting" noticeably lacked the hooky qualities I so loved about the band, instead opting for a sludgier approach. They took a little longer to sink in, but it was easy to give them repeated listenings. The sequencing on the album helped a lot, with the faster numbers crowded around the slower ones, making nice transitions.
Cuts like "Mr. Moustache" and "Swap Meet" were sort of swept under the rug after the release of Nevermind, but they're great songs. Sure, Cobain had definitely moved forward in his songwriting by that time, but it's a shame that some of these tracks don't get brought up other than in really detailed writings about the group. But, it is fair to consider this Nirvana's finding-their-sound album. They were young, the songs were famously cut in record time for a minuscule amount of money, and the lyrics fall a bit short of the ones Cobain would write a few years later.
Still, this record isn't great just because of what it portended. I've been listening to it a lot lately, and it still stands up quite well on its own. Would it be so widely recognized if it wasn't for the eventual success of the band? Of course not. But that's another thing I love about it. Mostly, I just love that it exists. When I heard that Nevermind was Nirvana's second record, I couldn't wait to get the first. I didn't listen to Bleach quite as much as I listened to Nevermind(I've never listened to anything as much as I've listened to that record), but I listened to it a lot. And I still think it's incredible.
(Side note: Sub Pop recently released a Deluxe Version of this album, and I have that too. I'm going to write it up as its own entry, so don't worry.)