In Utero by Nirvana

Buy In Utero

In Utero by NirvanaEven though it was a phenomenal commercial success, all three members of Nirvana had expressed dissatisfaction with the polished production of their 1991 album, Nevermind. With this in mind, the production of In Utero was intentionally stripped down with little to no overdubs and recorded in two weeks flat. Produced by Steve Albini, the oft-abrasive sounding album was nearly rejected by the group’s label DGC and ultimately the band hired a secondary producer to make minor changes to the album’s two radio singles. Still, the album shot instantly to the top of the album charts upon its release and has since been certified five times platinum.

The band had originally wanted to record during the summer of 1992, but domestic situations made that impossible. In October 1992, they recorded several instrumentals during a Seattle demo session with Jack Endino, who had produced the group’s 1989 debut album Bleach. In January 1993, the group recorded another set of demos while on tour in Brazil, one of became the “hidden” track “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip”. Using these groups of demos along with other material composed as early as 1990, Albini and the band members decided on a self-imposed two-week deadline for recording and paid for the sessions with their own money to limit label interference.

Albini felt the sound of Nevermind was “sort of a standard hack recording that has been turned into a very, very controlled, compressed radio-friendly mix. After the recording sessions were completed, Nirvana sent unmastered tapes of the album to several individuals, including the president of DGC’s parent company Geffen Records Ed Rosenblatt. When asked about the feedback he received, the group’s leader Kurt Cobain said “the grown-ups don’t like it.”
 


In Utero by Nirvana
Released: September 13, 1993 (DGC)
Produced by: Steve Albini
Recorded: Pachyderm Studio, Cannon Falls, Minnesota, February 13–26, 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Serve the Servants
Scentless Apprentice
Heart-Shaped Box
Rape Me
Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle
Dumb
Very Ape
Milk It
Pennyroyal Tea
Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
tourette’s
All Apologies
Kurt Cobain – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Krist Novoselic – Bass
Dave Grohl – Drums
 
In Utero by Nirvana

 
An almost “new wave” approach makes for a surprising start to the album with “Serve the Servants”. The song is strong, upbeat, and melodic (with the exception of what seems to be intentional de-tuning of some notes). “Scentless Apprentice” is the only track on the album not written solely by Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl add their compositional skills. However, the production of this second song is a bit unfocused with an attempt at junk metal, which comes off as less-than-authentic with noisy guitars and muddled drum sounds.

“Heart-Shaped Box” is the first track on the album that sounds similar to the material on Nevermind. Although it never really leaves the same three chords, the song was melodic enough to be released as the album’s first single after some additional “treatment” mixing was done by engineer Scott Litt. The song reached number one on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart and reached number five on the UK pop chart.
 

 
The controversial “Rape Me” had been performed live by the band since 1991. The song addresses Cobain’s distain of the media in light of their sudden success and is the first on the album to contain decent sounding bass by Novoselic. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” was inspired by the 1978 biography Shadowland, which Cobain had read in high school. Sonically, the song is all about dynamics but is not very well put together compositionally and the droning vocal screams tend to wear thin by this point in the album. The album hits a bit of a lull through the middle. “Dumb” is a very apt title and is uninspired with its subject of the struggles with complacency. “Very Ape” is fast and surprisingly crisp for this album’s production, punk influenced with some actual overdubbed guitars. “Milk It” contains some slightly interesting stop/start action musically, but this is counterbalanced with some frivolous lyrics.

“Pennyroyal Tea” starts as an almost REM-like song before breaking into a strong punk/metal section during the chorus with an (almost) standard guitar lead. The song was due to be released as the third single from the album but plans were halted after Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” is one of the most unique and rewarding songs on the album. Grohl’s steady drumming holds together this wild piece with flavored feedback effects and a cool anti-hero chorus hook. The experimental “Tourette’s” contains a heavy “noise machine” type sound with a three chord punk screed which ultimately does little more than set up the fine closer.

The finest track on the album is saved for last with “All Apologies”, a melodic, deep, and excellent closer. The song had been around since 1990 and Nirvana first recorded the song in Seattle on January 1, 1991. The In Utero track features Kera Schaley on cello, the only extra session player on the album. It was also remixed by Litt when Cobain asserted that the original vocals and bass sounded muddy. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Cobain’s wife and newborn daughter. The song received heavy airplay and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1995. More importantly, the song was an excellent closer for the band’s final album.

Nirvana embarked on a world tour to promote the In Utero. On the European leg of the tour in March 1994, Cobain suffered a drug overdose in Rome and agreed to enter drug rehabilitation, but he soon went missing. On April 8, 1994 he was found dead in his Seattle home as the result of self-inflicted shotgun blast, ending his life at age 27, and sealing Nirvana in the tomb of rock history.

~

1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

Nevermind by Nirvana

Buy Nevermind

Review by J.D. Cook

Nevermind by NirvanaI was born on the same day in February 1991 that Kurt Cobain, the lead singer, guitarist, and principle songwriter for Nirvana, celebrated his twenty fifth birthday. Later that same year, Nirvana released their breakthrough album Nevermind, an album which many reviewers consider a classic and some even consider “all time” material. But, even though I’m virtually the same age as the naked baby on the album’s cover (although, I assure you, it is not me), I couldn’t disagree more with this “classic” and “all time” jibberish.

In all honesty, it was not until my freshmen year of college that I started to allow myself to like Nirvana. My pre-college hatred of the band was due entirely to their popularity, especially among a very fickle group of emo, “misunderstood” high school teens who seemed to love the band just because Kurt Cobain committed suicide. The way the man and the band is idolized because he was “brave” enough to kill himself really irks me to this day, especially when it seeps into the realm of mainstream music journalism. All of that said, when I went off to college I was able to accept the music without being confronted with teenage Goths sporting his face on their purses.

But I still contend that Nevermind is NOT a classic. It certainly has some good tracks, and maybe even one or two great ones, but as a true album it falls short of being anything beyond mediocre to OK. In the early nineties this album’s new grunge sound may have been cutting edge but that hasn’t stopped it from sounding dated and trashy today. Of course, it will always be a famous album for simply being a Nirvana album since they had such a short run before Cobain’s death. In a way this may be understandable, as the “shooting star” phenomenon has always been romanticized in rock n’ roll. But I will try to give this album as fair and honest review as any other.


Nevermind by Nirvana
Released: September 24, 1991 (Geffen)
Produced by: Butch Vig
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Hollywood, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
Smells Like Teen Spirit
In Bloom
Come As You Are
Breed
Lithium
Polly
Territorial Pissings
Drain You
Lounge Act
Stay Away
On a Plain
Something In the Way
Kurt Cobain – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Krist Novoselic – Bass, Vocals
Dave Grohl – Drums, Vocals

Buy Nevermind by Nirvana

The album opens fairly strong with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In the past I had always viewed this song as an overplayed cliché tune, but it really is the best of that album. Further it is one of only two songs that wasn’t written completely by Kurt Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl share the credit (maybe that means something). Stranger still the song would be vastly improved if the lyrics weren’t completely nonsensical and hard to understand. That said Cobain provided awesome reverb sounds from his guitar, and the drums sound straight out of a garage which really works for this song. Combine those elements with the continuing changes in the songs melodies and you’ve got a hit.

The following two tracks, “In Bloom” and “Come As You Are”, contain more of the same – the guitar is crisp and fun on both, the lyrics stay nonsensical, but Cobain’s voice no longer hurts one’s ear. Novoselic’s opening bass rift of “Come As You Are” is of particular note, but it unfortunately stays mostly the same throughout the song. The guitar solo of this song is also quite fun. The song following these three solid opening tracks is Breed. There is little to nothing good about it. It is fast, it is furious, it is boring.

With “Lithium” the album returns to the sound most people define as Nirvana. The lyrics are actually discussing being on lithium pills and this lends the song a bit of lyrical meaning. Cobain’s vocals are both understandable and emotional throughout the songs various changes in pace. I especially appreciate the lyrics “I’m not gonna crack,” when placed with the various other lyrics like “I killed you”. You can really hear someone emotionally cracking and trying to pretend they aren’t. Unfortunately from Lithium the album pretty much drops into the gutter.

“Polly” and “Territorial Pissings” are both entirely forgettable. The only thing of value the songs lend to the album are an acoustic break from the fast pace in “Polly” and a bizarre intro featuring the lyrics from The Youngbloods “Get Together” on “Territorial Pissings”. The screaming on this latter song is particularly terrible.

By the time “Drain You” comes you are breathing a sigh of relief. Grohl’s drums in this song are admirable, and the crescendo within is fun, but it’s special. This is followed by the decently solid “Lounge Act”, a song with not much to it, but nothing terrible either. It is a good mid-album filler song with the exception of Cobain’s banshee vocals in the middle of the song which do nothing but make you want to skip to the next track.

Nirvana

After “Lounge Act” the album sticks to being mediocre – “Stay Away”, “On a Plain”, and “Something In the Way” are all fairly forgettable. “Stay Away” has a boring and simple drum into that leads into a decent song with an interesting dueling-voices dynamic, “On a Plain” is simply boring, and “Something In the Way” would have been a good ending had it not been so monotonous. But wait the album is not over! After waiting though ten minutes of silence there is a secret track called “Endless, Nameless”. I will simply say I was so enraged by its sheer horrid nature that it harmed my ears.

Nevermind was Nirvana’s breakthrough album and it certainly has been successful commercially. By the end of the decade, it was certified diamond (double platinum) and has continued to sell very well since. Unfortunately it just seems like Nirvana’s success is due to their folklore as much as their musical capabilities and philosophical lyrics. I guess sometimes your first impression of a band, that they were only popular because of Cobain’s suicide, is right. Nevermind isn’t a terrible album – there are some really good tracks – but much of the album is entirely forgettable.

~

1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1991 albums.