Review Summary: In Utero's self-destruction creates one of the greatest albums of our time.
You have to wonder, with a legacy like Kurt Cobains, if he was still alive today how would he have coped with the current musical landscape? Would he still be relevant? It's an honest question, and one I think of occasionally when I listen to Nirvana's third and final entry. Because, let's be honest, this is an album built on hate. An artist resenting his global success, ideas were set to sabotage what the band built: to creating a raw, underground sounding punk album that would result in Nirvana's fanbase ripping itself in half. The final product is, put bluntly, not only the band's magnum opus, but one of the best alt-rock/grunge albums of all-time; lyrically intelligent, musically visceral, and it speaks volumes as to where the frontman was emotionally. Heroin was a big problem for Kurt at this point in his life, and it didn't help it was his go-to drug to cope with the overwhelming aftermath of Nevermind
. Prior to In Utero
's inception Kurt was tired of touring, tired of the business, tired of the fake
latch-on fans Nirvana's sophomore album brought, and it was rumoured he was considering pulling the plug on the band to work on other musical ventures. He wasn't enjoying any of the success that had been brought upon him and his two band mates. However, through all the problems In Utero
was made, and hit shelves in 1993.
Produced by legendary punk icon Steve Albini, responsible for producing revolutionary albums like the Pixies Surfer Rosa
, God Speed You! Black Emperor. Yanqui U.X.O.
and Jesus Lizard Goat
, as well as playing in influential bands Big Black and Shellac. He is a man with an unusual moral-code when compared to most in the business: open about his disdain for the music business; his unorthodox stance on being called a recording engineer [not] a producer; and his no-royalty-attached one-off payment for recording with him are just some of the infamous characteristics that solidify Steve's status as a true punk icon. He's a no BS kind of guy, and a peculiar choice of producer from the clean-cut Butch Vig and super-slick productions of Nevermind
. Though Steve's mixes would later hold ramifications for Kurt before release (falling unhappy with the mix of some tracks, and subsequently requesting a remix by Scott Litt), Kurt's mindset was to burrow the band back into the underground with In Utero
, and Steve was a perfect choice for that goal.
Yet despite the studios worry that it wasn't going to be Nevermind
2.0, and Kurt's devotion for self-destruction, the album is still very much a Nirvana record, albeit a much more abrasive one. All the songs on here are as catchy as any album previous, they just bring a much darker tone; fuelled by anguish and self-loathing, tracks like "Milk It" and "Scentless Apprentice" would have come as a big surprise to fans listening to them for the first time, upon the album's release. Kurt constantly convays a man on the edge: vocals and screams are unhinged and wild, while the distorted music creates mass chaos; the album is an alt-rock/grunge effort, but is constantly tugging at a punk sound. Resulting in an album with all the hallmarks of what made Nirvana Nirvana, but there is an uncompromising edginess to it -- think Nevermind
being meshed together, with a couple of ghost chillies thrown in there for good measure.
It all seems like doom and gloom, Kurt's lyrics are, as always, extremely personal and go into the pains of drug addiction, medical conditions, hate of the music industry, as well as himself, but there are subtle positive messages found here, too: "Serve the Servant" criticises his upbringing from his father, siting he never had a father, only a dad; but its concluding message is that he fogives him. There are bucket loads of topics to unearth here: "Rape Me" was a song designed to cause controversy looking at it briefly, but it's a tongue-in-cheek parody to "Smells Like Teen Spirit", describing his disliking of the song in question; while "Francis Farmer Will Get Her Revenge On Seattle" is about an actress in the 40s who was institutionalised, not for insanity, but for being different. Nirvana's strongest asset has always been Kurt's genius with lyric writing, and In Utero
delivers the goods in spades.
Musically the album stands as much a highlight as the lyrics and vocals: the opening to "Scentless Apprentice" being one of the most memorable drum intros ever made, before the rest of the band delivers a face-peeling, heavy groove to compliment the rest of the song; "Pennyroyal Tea" is more tonally upbeat compared to the rest of the album, and is one of the catchiest songs written by the band -- it will be stuck in your head long after playing it. (The irony is that this is one of the darkest songs lyrically, going into the tormenting pain he went through with this stomach problems.) "Heart-Shaped Box" brings the middle ground of abrasive and radio-friendly, while the likes of "Tourette's" and "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" throw you to the other end of the spectrum and give you raw punk tunes.
I don't say it often, but this is essential listening to anyone who loves good music. It's as beautiful as it is dank, and I can't think of a bigger or better way of leaving a band. It's an outright masterpiece and eveyone deserves to give it a listen at least once before they die. The question of Kurt's relevance in today's world occasionally runs curiosity in my mind, but this album will be played far, far more.
Edition: 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe, 2̶0̶t̶h̶ ̶A̶n̶n̶i̶v̶e̶r̶s̶a̶r̶y̶ ̶D̶e̶l̶u̶x̶e̶ ̶C̶D̶, 2̶0̶t̶h̶ ̶A̶n̶n̶i̶v̶e̶r̶s̶a̶r̶y̶ ̶V̶i̶n̶y̶l̶, M̶P̶3̶
Packaging: Giant slipcase hardback book, with In Utero anatomical 'Angel' mannequin magnet and poster included.
Special Edition: The 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition comes with 3 discs: the first is the original album and includes the full Steve Albini mix; the second disc comes with a 2013 overhauled remix, with demos and b-sides; and disc three contains the Live and Loud performance in Seattle in 1993.