From Rolling Stone:
“It’s just about people and what they’re expected to act like,” Kurt Cobain told an interviewer when asked about the second major hit off Nevermind. “The lines in the song are really contradictory. One after another, they’re kind of a rebuttal to each other.” The track is driven by a simple, undeniably catchy riff that producer Vig goosed with a flanged, subaquatic guitar effect. Cobain created a stir when news surfaced that he’d lifted the main riff from a 1985 song by U.K. art-metal band Killing Joke, whom Dave Grohl “paid back” twelve years later by playing drums on their 2003 album.
Hearing Kurt Cobain sing “And I swear that I don’t have a gun” gives “Come as You Are” a sting it was never meant to have when Nirvana’s breakthrough album, Nevermind, was first released in 1991. However, coming from a band (and an album) whose raison d’être was usually bad karma, “Come as You Are” was a rare oasis of compassion and understanding; if it’s hardly an up tune, with its descending minor-key melody and wobbly, effects-drenched guitar lines, it also suggests that the often judgmental Mr. Cobain was willing to accept his audience on their own terms, at least at this moment — either “doused in mud” or “soaked in bleach.” When Cobain declares that he’s unarmed, it’s an attempt to reassure listeners that no matter how much of a misanthrope he may be, his target is the world at large rather than the individuals in it, and that there was still room in this damaged world for everyone. A year after he recorded “Come as You Are,” the world at large was showing up at Cobain’s doorstep as he went from being a minor cult figure to a bona fide rock star, and it’s significant that he wouldn’t express quite this degree of openness for his audience again.