Review Summary: Moderate rock
What was really going on in Kurt’s mind is a conclusion I’ll leave to what few good psychologists there are left in the world, but any idiot knew that he was angry. With a hauntingly powerful scream he unleashed his discontent unto the world that had treated him so very badly. The unwelcoming, dreary Seattle where he grew up fought constantly against his creativity but any good artist uses their misfortune to their advantage, as anyone should know. He married his anger with his guitar and birthed a musical powerhouse, and an international phenomenon. Some people say he didn’t want this to happen, that he even went so far as to kill himself for his music’s integrity. To that I say, if it’s true, I doubt he would have signed to one of the biggest record labels in the richest country in the world. His fame preceded him wherever he went and for a while he was able to handle it. He was living the comfortable quiet life with his wife and daughter, painting, and writing. Perhaps the socially estranged Kurt was discontinued, replaced by, as you would say, a normal human being. And then: boom.
brings up the point against his newfound content. It’s a sarcastic blend of biographical metaphor and social commentary with a negative attitude. It sounds like it was recorded in a closet. Even a trained ear could be mistaken as to the mindstate of Kurt Cobain after hearing this recording. While it is very consistent and goes to show the whole band put a hell of a lot of effort into it, it’s still sad; he sounds trapped in a prison of his own peeves. Although it does sound like the album that Kurt always wanted to make, judging by his disagreement with much of ”Nevermind”
and the signature sound of Sub-Pop classic ”Bleach.”
And all the B-Sides, and the early demos…you know this record just might be the definitive Nirvana, and probably would be widely considered their best work to date if they were still a band today, if we gave their discography time to simmer. It’s ***ing perfect. It flows better than a river and there isn’t a single faltering song on here, nothing brings ”In Utero”
down a notch, and especially not in terms of decibels. This album forgoes the poppy “Nevermind Nirvana” that many are accustomed to, digs up the roots that Bleach laid out and evolves into one of the purest instances of raw emotion in rock music. As the best album Nirvana ever recorded this has a lot to live up to. I mean, you’re hard-pressed to convince any casual fan that this is better than ”Nevermind.”
The correct response to that kind of person is, “In Utero is much more fun, and deeper too.” Let’s face it, people bought Nevermind because Smells Like Teen Spirit was the catchiest thing since fishing poles, and they wanted to be a part of a new youthful energy. Some call Kurt the “voice of a generation”, and his music was the glue that put so many different misguided people in the same room together. “In Utero” will boil your blood and quicken it’s pace.
Steve Albini’s production methods allowed Dave Grohl’s drumming to be the most prominently heard instrument on “In Utero”, and that gave the album a distinct sense of direction, unlike the random collection of pop songs that was “Nevermind”. Alongside the drums Kurt’s guitar tones are sinister and heavy, distorted beyond recognition and clear as crystal when they need to be, like on “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies”. His voice recalls painful memories and strives to be set apart from the stereotypical addicted rock star label he ungratefully obtained. “Hey, wait, I got a new complaint, forever in debt to your priceless advice”. These lyrics, being the first climax of “In Utero” (before Milk It stirs up emotional relationship grievances in the form of meaty metaphors), exemplify Kurt’s misdirection and regret for following the advice of those clearly on a lower mental plain. “In Utero” is metaphorically the rough birth of a new Nirvana. So rough in fact that it alienated fans who were used to hearing Kurt babble nonsense and overlap it fifty times ‘cause “John Lennon did that too, blah blah blah I’m Butch Vig and I’m an asshole”. This songwriter is comfortably insane; his social skills drowning and his artistic relevance increasing; he alludes to high-school memories of bullies, contemporary rock music, lost love, and the undeniably heinous treatment of actress Frances Farmer as an example of the Neanderthal lusts that society has yet to shake off. Sometimes I think that Kurt feels he was treated in a similar way; not gang-raped, beaten and institutionalized in a literal sense, though.
Kurt once said this about his performances on stage:
“Performing is just a mixture of every emotion that I’ve ever experienced. It’s anger, it’s death, and absolute total bliss, as happy as I’ve ever been when I was a carefree child running around throwing rocks at cops. It’s just everything. Every song feels different.”
These thoughts describe my passion for the passion of this record. “In Utero”, to be frank, is a summarization of Kurt Cobain’s emotions. On “Bleach”, he was making rock and punk songs that everyone in the band wanted to play. On “Nevermind”, he was abiding by the rigid law of mainstream production. But here we see Kurt unhinged and all over the place. He’s a wild musical animal spouting deranged philosophies in the form of personally fueled lyrics that make average people clowns when they try to decipher them. Kurt is the musical acrobat swinging from addictive melodies and nasty riffs to a final destination that is unclear but I’ll bet everyone can agree existed. “In Utero” is one of the few records that is so raunchy, so vivid and so powerful it makes me feel as alive as I did the first time I heard it years ago.
Out of the ground, into the sky, out of the sky, into the dirt
Nirvana’s blatant disregard for their label’s desires make this record even better. Executive big wigs saw “Nevermind” as lucrative as the music industry’s oil, but Nirvana had something else in mind. Punk rock to the core, man. Simple melody, blood-curdling, throat-twisting screams, stifling production…and no filler. I’ve always thought of Nirvana as a punk band more than a grunge band; their universal influence was that only art can produce, and if there is anything more artistically, aesthetically concerned than the fervent politics of uniting punk-rock I have yet to know about it. The dive Nirvana took from Butch Vig to Steve Albini was just as that lyric suggests. It’s a metaphor, man. “In Utero” was Kurt’s musical response to Nevermind; he wanted to outdo himself the songwriter, and Butch Vig the producer. He wrote in a similar “poppy” style, adding his own arrogance and sarcasm to the mixture, preparing something intense that gets better as it ages like a fine bourbon.
Kurt’s life is an enigma, which is why it’s so interesting. His death makes absolutely no sense and his purpose is still unclear to many but to me, he is celestial. The fact that someone had the guts to join ‘em, beat ‘em and deal with the pressure, for however long, of being one of the most famous people in the world is inspiring to say the very, very, very
least. I’m humbled, I would sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea with Kurt Cobain any day. But absolute power corrupts absolutely and the monopoly Nirvana reigned over was bound to end someday. Too bad it had to be so early. When I listen to “You Know You’re Right”, an alleged demo from the record that was supposed to succeed this one, I still feel that “In Utero” would always have been Nirvana’s finest moment. It’s like confessions from inside an asylum that I’m being held in against my will, experienced in the cathartic atmosphere of the peak of a drug trip. Listen to this album, and become enveloped in a man’s fury.