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Nirvana - In Utero (Cover Artwork)

Nirvana

Nirvana: In UteroIn Utero (1993)
Universal Music Group

Reviewer Rating: 5
User Rating:


Contributed by: JeloneJelone
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Sixteen years after its release and 15 after the death of its primary creator Kurt Cobain, it feels almost pointless to review Nirvana's studio swan song, In Utero. Almost. The record topped numerous "best of" lists both in its day (Rolling Stone ranked it number one for 1993, while Village Voice ga.
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Sixteen years after its release and 15 after the death of its primary creator Kurt Cobain, it feels almost pointless to review Nirvana's studio swan song, In Utero. Almost. The record topped numerous "best of" lists both in its day (Rolling Stone ranked it number one for 1993, while Village Voice gave it the number two slot) and since (Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin and others have all factored it into some sort of rock retrospective, both `90s-centric and otherwise). Plenty of words have already been dedicated to its description -- Spin's Charles Aaron delivered the best, most to-the-point review with "The difference between drums produced by Butch Vig and drums produced by Steve Albini is the difference between watching somebody get punched in the gut and being punched in the gut." Rolling Stone's Charles M. Young once wrote that "if you time the album, the dissonance would probably outweigh the melody by a factor of three to one -- but the dissonance is compelling." And Gillian G. Gaar's 101-page look at the album for the 33 1/3 series, while at times tedious (she catalogues every In Utero demo ever), covers the album's creation with a record collector's obsession.

With so much hooplah about it, why bother reviewing In Utero? Well, for starters, it's the only essential Nirvana release lacking from the Org's vaults (feel free to champion/tear down lesser works like Incesticide and From the Muddy Banks of Wishkah, ye hounds of the Internets). Which is a shame, since it's a pretty good album that tends to get overshadowed by Nevermind's cultural impact and MTV Unplugged in New York's honesty, humor, and fragility. As Charles R. Cross once wrote, "If it is possible for an album that sold four million copies to be overlooked, or underappreciated, then In Utero is that lost pearl." And based on the comments floating around on this site -- "not to be a dick but they really sucked and i agree with everyone that said they sucked" and "This review reqlly sucked" -- it seems there are a few looking to knock the grunge kings down. The more intelligent negative comments lash out at Cobain for his heroin addiction, scene posturing and really shitty parenting skills. Which are valid criticisms for Cobain the person, but not Cobain the musician. Not to oversimplify, but I think at least part of Nirvana's backlash stems from the fact that one day they stopped being a band that sounded good and started being a band we're expected to like, and then, maybe, to a band we're expected to think was overhyped. You'd think the latter would stem from the former, but that leap is a big, alienating one.

So let's compromise by forgetting that Nirvana conquered hair metal and Michael Jackson to champion the supposed underground rock movement. Let's forget about Cobain's contradictory, churlish press statements. And let's forget about his world-shaking suicide, if only to evaluate In Utero without hype or hate or yesteryear reverence for context. Given that I was eight years old when Cobain's body was discovered April 8, 1994, it's easy for me to do. For me, it was a blip -- I was more into Sega Genesis and Boyz II Men at the time. I hope these things are easy for you to ignore, too. The only outside context you need is Nevermind, by which I mean the actual collection of songs, not the cultural juggernaut.

In Utero is the uglier, perhaps punker kid brother to the glossy yet powerful Nevermind. Almost everything about In Utero is a reaction to its predecessor -- the lyrics are at times confused and angry, caught up in the haze that comes with fame, while digging deeper into personal issues. "Serve the Servants" hits both -- "Teenage sex has paid off well / Now I'm bored and old" satirizes the band's success, while "I tried hard to have a father / But instead I have a dad" hits the listener with familial strife through subtle word differences. The songs are also much more confrontational, both lyrically and musically, as evidenced by the dissonant "Scentless Apprentice" and the rather direct "Rape Me." Even its poppiest track, the single "Heart-Shaped Box," bears a muddied guitar tone and a dissonant solo. All of which is thanks to the record's engineer, Steve Albini.

Albini was chosen to record In Utero specifically because he was Butch Vig's opposite. Vig has helmed some great, spit-shined rock breakthroughs, such as Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, AFI's Sing the Sorrow and Against Me!'s New Wave. If you want to blow up, he's your man, thanks to lots of overdubbing and glossing. Albini, by willful contrast, achieves power by different, seemingly simpler methods -- well-placed mics, spacious rooms with good acoustics and an emphasis on sounding live (or "real" if you prefer). No one sounds quite like Albini, but he makes the recording process sound so easy. As a result, In Utero's dry sound is enhanced by dirge-y guitar/bass and seemingly bottomless drum sounds. Dave Grohl, one of the best drummers of the `90s, gets his best sound on tracks like "Scentless Apprentice" and "All Apologies." Even with additional vocal tracks, strings and guitar overdubs, the record still sounds raw.

But In Utero doesn't just succeed thanks to Albini's aesthetically pleasing techniques. Ya still gotta have the right tunes, man. "Serve the Servants" announces In Utero as a wholly different animal with its distorted opening note -- a `90s update of the Beatles' single attention-grabbing chord from "A Hard Day's Night" if I might be so bold. "Scentless Apprentice" ratchets the harshness up a notch. "Heart-Shaped Box" is haunting by comparison, hitting the listener with a mix of cancerous, romantic, feminine and mournful images. It's a fucked-up love song. A bitter diatribe. "Rape Me," with and without contrast, is a lot less convoluted or fleetingly sweet. It's about being used, and Cobain uses his voice to inject meaning into the fairly basic lyrics (he says the title a lot). By the song's end, Cobain, with Grohl on backup, drowns out all the music with his angry urge to be abused. It's daring and energetic.

The record's first half or so, for all its ebb and flow, is pretty cohesive. The second half diverges. Relatively gentle, Lennon-esque tunes like "Dumb," "Pennyroyal Tea" and "All Apologies" are spread among freakouts like "Milk It," "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" and "Tourette's." The listener can never fully get comfortable here, but everything is catchy so who cares. Cobain reveals a knack for pop genius on "All Apologies" and shreds his vocal cords seconds earlier on "Tourette's," and it all works.

"You Know You're Right" left me hoping for a great "lost" fourth Nirvana album. With the Lights Out proved that, if there is such a thing, it's going to take time and editing before anything close emerges. But maybe it's OK if it never happens. Nirvana left behind three immaculate studio albums, plus Unplugged, arguably their best album overall. Regardless of when the next rarities set drops, there's In Utero to punch me in the gut every time.

 

 
People who liked this also liked:
Nirvana - NevermindThe Clash - London CallingNirvana - BleachAgainst Me! - is Reinventing Axl RoseAlkaline Trio - GoddamnitOperation Ivy - Operation IvyNirvana - MTV Unplugged in New YorkDescendents - Milo Goes To CollegeNOFX - Punk In DrublicRefused - The Shape of Punk to Come

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
bobby72 (September 20, 2013)

What can I say about a band who changed the way I listen music. No doubt 5 starts album. Back then I didn't know that much about real underground. I loved Butthole Surfers, Pixies before I had even heard band called Nirvana. I was lucky enough to see them live. Rest In Peace Kurt!

blatz89 (November 28, 2011)

Sure. Do you have a time machine or would you like to borrow mine?

Petrrex (November 17, 2011)

Do you know how to delete comment?? I wanted to write my last comment for Kill em all by Metallica and unfortunately, I“ve post it on In Utero :-(

Petrrex (November 17, 2011)

hardcore punk heavy metal=thrash metal :-)

Petrrex (November 17, 2011)

Great punk album with pop melodies on one side(all apologies), hardcore punches(tourette“s). Lyrics are one of the best ever written and legacy?? fuck corporations, fuck mtv!

Spooky (June 24, 2009)

I have to disagree with some of the negative comments on here. This album is amazing.

mikexdude (June 23, 2009)

Jelone -- four of those are true. Can you guess!?

chrisafi (June 23, 2009)

Over-rated. 7 is about right.

Jelone (June 23, 2009)

-mikexdude once ate an entire cheesecake in one sitting while riding a bike. BACKWARDS.
-mikexdude's middle name is xavier. "dude" is short for dudejzwoski, which mike doesn't know how to pronounce because he isn't down with his roots.
-mikexdude vandalized the local mall with a plunger and a bad attitude.
-mikexdude isn't allowed back in the bowling alley.
-mikexdude is friend to children.
-mikexdude is made of turtle meat.
-mikexdude runs a discotheque. He has a strict no remix policy.
-mikexdude is powered by the hate children feel every day.
-mikexdude used to eat irrational numbers in prison.
-mikexdude comes with a free 2010 calendar.
-mikexdude is equal to the sum of the tangent and the cosin.
-mikexdude: a good place to live.

pufferfish (June 23, 2009)

mikexdude is a little bitch.

Jelone (June 22, 2009)

I'M SORRY!!

mikexdude (June 22, 2009)

Uh oh! You got me!

Fuck you, buddy. You've complained more than I about other bands/.

DanBress (June 22, 2009)

The line is "Teenage ANGST has paid off well, now i'm bored and old" get your mind out of the gutter.

KevinJamesSuperFan (June 22, 2009)

MIKEXDUDE - basically hates on every band on this site that everyone else like's except for Polar Bear Club or whatever the fuck he listens to; that said this quote is just ignorant....

"I agree that Nirvana is a movement, but that's about all they were to me. A movement of boring music. I really don't find this "from the heart"; it's been admitted that Kurt Cobain didn't give two shits about lyrics and would write them last minute in the studio.

It had nothing to do with their music, they were just at the right place at the right time."

If your under the impression that that isn't the case with a great deal of bands out there you're sorely misnformed. Bands from THE CLASH on down to whatever flavor of te month band you listen to all write lyrics last minute in the studio. Half the time the don't give a shit what they mean. Watch No Driection ome about Bob Dylan; he says he has no idea what a lot of is songs mean and laughs about how people will still be interpreting them years from now. A lot of people are

that said i like Nirvana and this album but couldn't care less bout debating the merits of them or there songs

JakeBoyardi (June 21, 2009)

These comments are making me feel officially old.

SilentStorms (June 21, 2009)

This is def in my top 5 of all time. There's:

Nirvana - In Utero
White Zombie - Astro Creep 2000
Botch - We Are The Romans
The Blood Brothers - March On Electric Children
and I don't know what number 5 would be! Shit.

fallingupwards84 (June 21, 2009)

"Teenage sex"?? Come on editors...

mikexdude (June 21, 2009)

When I say "get it" I mean ENJOY their music. I've accepted what they did to the industry and mainstream and the underground, but musically I don't find them that great at all.

mikexdude (June 21, 2009)

I respect them, but musically they weren't good to me.

It'll come to me someday I guess.

joeg (June 21, 2009)

"R3venge -- I hope you're right cause I'd sure love to finally understand the love."

"I agree that Nirvana is a movement, but that's about all they were to me. A movement of boring music."

You answered your own question. You didn't come of age when Nirvana was around so your perspective of them is distorted through Nirvana tribute bands, VH1, and blogs. Just like I wasn't around to see the Ramones kill prog rock, we'll never truly appreciate the context of that change and what it meant to those who lived through those times. I do understand why Nirvana are so respected and can not be so dismissive of what they accomplished, even though I DO agree their music is a bit overrated. And that "boring" movement you speak of they inadvertantly helped usher forward into the mainstream was punk rock.

fear (June 21, 2009)

Great review and your words exceed any expectations of your relative youth, well done.

It has made me get the CD out and play it again to recall the great memories I have of when I used to listen to it 10 plus years ago.

I relate it to being like Sugar's Beaster eclipsing Copper Blue.

mikexdude (June 21, 2009)

mikexdude lives with his mommy.

Most people do when they're in highschool.

pufferfish (June 21, 2009)

mikexdude lives with his mommy.

ChaosJJ (June 21, 2009)

good album.
label it whatever you want.
it will always be a very good album.

ChaosJJ (June 21, 2009)

good album.
label it whatever you want.
it will always be a very good album.

mikexdude (June 20, 2009)

I really don't think someone even brought this up as not "being punk."

PoliticsOfStarving (June 20, 2009)

This album is cool. Reminds me of being 14 again, in a good way.

Also, the reviewer instantly has 100% credibility because he played Sega Genesis.

xkidxdynamitex (June 20, 2009)

gotta be honest and say this album is way more punk than anything that has come out since.
this album is genius.

brandonsideleau (June 20, 2009)

Sorry to break it to the kiddies....but, despite their popularity, songs like "scentless apprentice" and "tourettes" are more "punk rock" than 90% of what's released and called "punk."

Deadpan (June 20, 2009)

Did you not read the huge part of this review that highlights Steve Alibini's production techniques over Vig's?

Well... yeah. I mean, that was kind of the whole point of my post. It was sparked by that specific point raised in the review. That's why I said it.

mikexdude (June 20, 2009)

that was in response to the "faggot" comment.

R3venge -- I hope you're right cause I'd sure love to finally understand the love.

mikexdude (June 20, 2009)

totally.

R3vengeTherapy (June 20, 2009)

So overrated it's not even funny and far from a perfect score -- maybe a 7. I just don't understand it.

You know, that might be the case. You just don't understand it yet. I really didn't like Nirvana through high school because they really were overrated. And that was in the early 2000's, long time after they'd been done.

I went back to it a couple years later and I found that Nevermind and In Utero were actually pretty great. In Utero is the best, though. This record is easily my favorite. The other stuff...not so much.

pufferfish (June 20, 2009)

mikexdude is a faggot.

inagreendase (June 20, 2009)

After listening to Nevermind, I could never be bothered to check out any more Nirvana. The production was fucking awful. Butch Vig should just... not produce stuff. He really doesn't seem to get the whole "less is more" thing, and every record I've listened to with his production has suffered from the same glossy, overstuffed swampy feel. His production is the aural equivalent of being stuck in a tiny caravan with too many people during a thunderstorm - stuffy and horrible.

So, I've never really given these guys a chance. They just passed me by. I keep meaning to check out stuff free from the Vig-shit, but I can never be bothered.

Just puttin' that out there.


Did you not read the huge part of this review that highlights Steve Alibini's production techniques over Vig's?

PowderDaze (June 20, 2009)

man this makes me feel old.

i grew up in the 90's starting really listening to music in the 90's and bands like Nirvana were my gateway to punk and hardcore.

this is my favorite Nirvana record by far, to me their overlooked masterpiece. way underplayed than Nevermind, more mature than Bleach, and easier to listen to than Incesticide.

mikexdude (June 20, 2009)

I will never understand why someone would read a review about the album, just to comment on how they didn't like it... why are you reading it?? I know you've heard of it. Maybe it's not "punk" enough for you, but I garuntee the music Nirvana produced will put 90% of your favorite bands to shame.

I love comments like this because it's always posted by a super-fan of the band in question. A lot of us like more than punk, just not this. The point of forums and comments are for musical discussions and without disagreement, there would be lots of boring conversations.

mikexdude (June 20, 2009)

I agree that Nirvana is a movement, but that's about all they were to me. A movement of boring music. I really don't find this "from the heart"; it's been admitted that Kurt Cobain didn't give two shits about lyrics and would write them last minute in the studio.

It had nothing to do with their music, they were just at the right place at the right time.

hooverstreet (June 20, 2009)

Thank God that this record is finally starting to get the press it deserved. [/sarcasm]

oneborneveryminute (June 20, 2009)

wow... i can't believe how many negative comments are posted for this album. Nirvana wasn't just music. It was a movement for a generation. When the beatles first recorded their music, they set the bar high, cause no one else was doing anything remotely like that. The same can be said about Nirvana. I will never understand why someone would read a review about the album, just to comment on how they didn't like it... why are you reading it?? I know you've heard of it. Maybe it's not "punk" enough for you, but I garuntee the music Nirvana produced will put 90% of your favorite bands to shame.

Deadpan (June 20, 2009)

After listening to Nevermind, I could never be bothered to check out any more Nirvana. The production was fucking awful. Butch Vig should just... not produce stuff. He really doesn't seem to get the whole "less is more" thing, and every record I've listened to with his production has suffered from the same glossy, overstuffed swampy feel. His production is the aural equivalent of being stuck in a tiny caravan with too many people during a thunderstorm - stuffy and horrible.

So, I've never really given these guys a chance. They just passed me by. I keep meaning to check out stuff free from the Vig-shit, but I can never be bothered.

Just puttin' that out there.

Eelsupinsideya (June 20, 2009)

Don't get Nirvana. The people who say they weren't over-rated are the people that enjoy their songs, not really objective in their arguement. I think that the main reason they were so successful was what they actually did was prove to kids that you don't need to be any good at what you do to be successful. They may have 'changed the face of music', but not through brilliance as most fans would have you believe...

anti-stev (June 20, 2009)

I'm glad that someone can appreciate this for what it is. I don't comment often, but this is one of those albums definitely reserved for my top 10. They get panned for Kurt not being able to sing, they get panned for being overrated, for redefining commercial radio and all the generic bullshit that ensued, etc. etc. etc. But there's no denying that this album has fucking heart. After all these years of listening to it, it still has all the intensity from the first time I listened to it [I think I was 10 when it came out] and shook the piss out of me. Anyways, good review!

incomplicit (June 20, 2009)

I would just like to say two things:

#1: I love Nirvana and they did not have a bad release while Kurt Cobain was alive.
#2: Incesticide is a BONA FIDE POP PUNK ALBUM. Listen to it. It's not even really grunge.

mikexdude (June 20, 2009)

score is for destroying shitty music in 1991

By replacing it with equally shitty music from the opposite side of the spectrum.

lostandclowned (June 20, 2009)

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter is my favorite.

mikexdude (June 20, 2009)

So overrated it's not even funny and far from a perfect score -- maybe a 7. I just don't understand it.

sugarfull (June 19, 2009)

Their best record. "All Apologies" is such a great song.

X__X (June 19, 2009)

fact#1 : Nirvana released maybe what is the most popular album of the 90's with nevermind
fac#2 : Nirvana came back with one of the darkest album of the 90's instead of just cashin in...

not the punkest music but def' one of the punkest attitude...

score is for destroying shitty music in 1991

kylewagoner (June 19, 2009)

I don't listen to Nirvana as much as I should. I listened to them a lot more in 7th grade, but that's been a while. Score is for what my guitarist would give the album, since it's her favorite album of all time if Pinkerton isn't.

dumhed01 (June 19, 2009)

My favorite Nirvana album.
Though i do think the band's overrated.

Sorry.

haha.

chickswithdicks (June 19, 2009)

probably my favourite album of all time. i enjoyed the review though the "teenage sex" mis-quote was pretty lame.. i mean really..

skeetopunk01 (June 19, 2009)

For those of you in your mid to late twenties, you know what this album meant at the time. To slam this album is blasphemy! Whether you're a fan of this band of not they came on the scene and changed everything. I don't listen to them as much as I used to but I attribute my love of punk and metal to Nirvana, Picked up Nevermind at 10 years old in 92' and have been listening to rock music ever since.

colin (June 19, 2009)

i probably like this better than nevermind. it's close but, this album just rules. brooding and great.

imademon (June 19, 2009)

“Teenage sex has paid off well / Now I’m bored and old”

it's teenage "angst" jackass. who hired this guy?

Cheesetits (June 19, 2009)

I know Nirvana gets tons of shit on this site, but they seriously put out some good albums. Pennyroyal Tea is one of my favorite songs.

torgo (June 19, 2009)

Great album, 5 is a little much though.

almostpunkenough (June 19, 2009)

the single most overrated album that has ever existed. well, maybe "Nevermind" beats it out... still, not bad, just hyped to the point where everyone would have to crawl out of it's ass before they could properly rim it.

inagreendase (June 19, 2009)

luv dis album

DreeeamWeaver (June 19, 2009)

never heard of it. sounds kind of lame.

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