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Nirvana, Pearl Jam in Grungefight at the OK Corral

July 18, 1993|Steve Hochman

Nirvana and Pearl Jam--the twin peaks of Seattle rock--are on a collision course.

The bands--arguably the two most celebrated acts of the '90s alternative-rock explosion--are both releasing their first albums of new material in two years in September.

"In Utero," Nirvana's official follow-up to its 4.5-million selling "Nevermind," is due Sept. 14. Pearl Jam's untitled follow-up to "Ten," which has also sold 4.5 million, is loosely scheduled for September, though no firm date has been set.

A strong possibility exists, though, that the two could come out the same week. Will fans be interested enough in the bands to buy both albums at once? Or--with the economy still mired in a slump--will they feel a need to choose?

Some industry observers fear the latter.

"If the record companies are smart, they'll space them out so people can have the 14 or 15 bucks to buy one and then go out a month later and buy the other, rather than have them go head to head," says Bill Gamble, program director of Chicago rock station WKQX-FM. "It's like with major movie releases, you don't want both coming out at once, because someone will be the loser."

If they do go head to head, radio programmers are pretty definite about whom they'd put on the air first: Pearl Jam.

"Based on everything that we measure with--research and the vibe on the street--the anticipation for the Pearl Jam is probably bigger than the Nirvana," says Kevin Weatherly, program director of L.A.'s KROQ-FM.

That's the consensus of rock and alternative programmers around the country surveyed by Pop Eye. Of a dozen, only one said he would play Nirvana first (another copped out by saying he'd play one in the left stereo channel and the other on the right side).

The same view is reflected by record store suppliers, who expect initial demand for the Pearl Jam release to be at least 33% higher than for Nirvana.

"Pearl Jam's buzz right now is huge," says Ginelle Vicary, sales manager of the Pacific Coast One-Stop record distribution service in Chatsworth. "They've been in the spotlight all the time since 'Ten' came out, while Nirvana kind of dropped out of sight."

There has also been concern about reports that the Nirvana album--which was produced in part by Steve Albini--will be a lot more abrasive and punkish than "Nevermind." That would raise Nirvana's underground credibility, but it could dampen its mainstream commercial potential.

Still, no one expects either band to suffer a "sophomore slump."

"They're both going to be major, and we look forward to getting them on the air as soon as we get them," says KROQ's Weatherly.

When asked how MTV programmers would decide which band to air first if videos from each were received simultaneously, Rick Krim, the music channel's vice president of music programming, passed the buck: "We'd give one to Beavis and the other to Butt-head," he said.

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