The other reviews of this have well and truly covered the backstory of this band and the album, so I wonít spend too much time on it.
Everyone knows the story behind In Utero
Ė how it was the true expression of Kurt Cobainís musical genius and how the bend felt that they had to make an album that turned out exactly how they wanted, after being forced to conform with Nevermind
. This album has been widely hailed as one of the finest grunge efforts in the history of the genre. So naturally, when I saw it for AUD$10, I had to pick it up. I wasnít even a huge fan of Nirvana Ė it was just one of those albums that you should own.
Unfortunately, and surprisingly, In Utero
failed to impress.
Yes, itís raw. Steve Albini certainly did his job on the production side of things. Novoselicís bass thunders unashamedly through the mix, Dave Grohl is the manic skinbasher with no concept of dynamics other than Ďlouderí, and Kurt Cobainís fuzzy yet somehow penetrating guitar tone covers everything whether itís making musical sense or not. While the production values are one of the albumís finest points to many people, to me theyíre off-putting. Being raw is all very well and good, but in this case it actually makes the music painful to listen to.
Kurt Cobain in his capacity as singer/guitarist doesnít do a lot to alleviate this. The man obviously knows how he wants to represent his musical ideas. In that regard the album is near-perfect. But the problem remains that Cobainís voice is aggravating, his guitar playing is sloppy and his tone undefined. This is, of course, precisely how Cobain wanted the album to turn out. Itís not his songwriting thatís at fault Ė the sound of the album simply fails to sound good to me.
And so we come to the tired, overworked ground of Cobainís lyrics. Thereís some gems in here Ė ĎI miss the comfort in being sadí is one, as is ĎTeenage angst has paid off well, now Iím bored and old.í However, Cobainís few moments of blunt but strangely evocative lyrical insight are more than outweighed by the spectacular duds contained in the album. Lowlights include ĎLike most babies smell like butter, his smell smelled like no otherí, and the monstrously bad ĎWhat else should I say/Everyone is gay.í Laughs courtesy of All Apologies.
Despite the musical box that Nirvana had worked themselves into with this album, there are a few tracks that manage to cut through the mess of noise. Serve the Servants
is a promising opening, sporting a groove that is missing from most of the rest of the album. Cobain delivers a fine vocal performance, venturing into the lower part of his range in the chorus, and (gasp) produces a solo commendable for both its chaos and unlikely melody. Dumb
is worth a mention just for the understated cello line floating below Cobainís simple yet effective guitar line. Heart Shaped Box
is one of my favourites, and one of the only times where the messy production comes off well. Pennyroyal Tea
is a surprisingly effective contrast of soft, laid-back melody and distorted guitars into which Cobainís strained yells blend nicely. Overall, Nirvanaís softer, more reflective moments are their best, as the loud and in-your-face songs suffer from a complete lack of melody and seem to be almost trying too hard Ė ironic, as Cobain wasnít trying
to please anyone with this record.
I guess the point is that Kurt Cobain is welcome to express himself however he likes, and use whatever sound he deems best to do so, but he should not expect me to accept it as listenable music. And of course, he doesnít Ė Cobain always expected this record to fail commercially. Thatís ironic, or something. Nirvana did In Utero
for themselves, and Iím happy to leave it with them. So kudos to Nirvana for coming up with an album that expressed their musical and emotion position rather well, but this time Iíll pass, thanks.