Release Date: Sep 24, 2013
Record label: Geffen
Genre(s): Rock, Grunge, Alternative/Indie Rock
NirvanaIn Utero: 20th Anniversary Edition(Universal)Rating: 5 out of 5 stars After Nevermind, Nirvana obviously wasn’t an indie band anymore. That famously gave them an identity crisis, but it also gave them an outlet to introduce a mainstream audience to the alternative music that had been bubbling just under the surface. Twenty years later, that alternative rock movement has been fully absorbed into the pop culture at large, to the point where a song like “Home” by Phillip Phillips might get labeled as “indie-folk,” even though it’s by a guy who won American Idol.
Once more into the time machine, my dear music fanatics, for we have yet another reissue to unpack and pore over. This one, like so many others, is chockfull of new liner notes, demos, B-sides, and even live material from the album’s era, enough to push über-fans to grind their teeth with anticipation. This particular anniversary reissue is for the disciples of Kurt Cobain, and it comes in the form of In Utero.
The question of whether to write a pie-eyed paean to a record you've loved for two decades or whether to seriously appraise all aspects of its latest commercial incarnation is thrown into hilariously sharp relief by the twentieth anniversary reissue of Nirvana’s third and final studio album, In Utero. At the risk of writing some sort of godawful review about writing the review, it is a slight pickle. On the one hand In Utero is a truly wonderful record, Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Noveselic’s attempt at annoying their vast post-Nevermind fanbase by creating a work of harrowing unpleasantness - something they failed at gloriously by dint of their own inherent tunefulness.
For the past two decades, we've essentially been living with two versions of In Utero. The first was officially released Sept. 21, 1993, though its legend was established several months prior. As the intensely anticipated follow-up to the most transformative rock album of the 1990s, Nirvana’s third record was pre-destined to become a battlefield in the heightening clash between indie and corporate culture, as mediated by a band that was philosophically faithful to the former but contractually beholden to the latter.
In 1993, In Utero's venomous sound scared DGC Records so much it hired R.E.M. producer Scott Litt to polish two key tracks. This reissue returns to the scene of the crime, with producer Steve Albini's remastered version. The LP remains corrosively beautiful, the sound of Kurt Cobain fleeing success for the cocoon of his "Leonard Cohen afterworld." You also get obscure treasures like the B side "Moist Vagina," a Dave Grohl solo demo from 1990 (of the delicate "Marigold"), and a DVD with unreleased live footage – including the band eviscerating the Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl," at once fans and saboteurs, throwing stuff off the shelf of the pop supermarket.
Countless conspiracy theories surround the recording of – and Geffen’s release strategy behind – Nevermind’s 1993 follow-up in such a way that, at times, the record itself gets obscured. What’s more, these sorts of brickbat tattletales are really rather dull. The backstory on the remixing and switching of the odd track from Steve Albini- to Scott Litt-produced versions – especially after comparing the two today – seems unimportant.
It’s 1993 and the nation’s disaffected youth have their new anti-heroes. Nirvana, as a consequence, are being battered by the unrelenting, uncaring glare of the media and it is tearing them apart. With their last album having sold 30 million copies, they have gone from being an unknown garage band to being one of the most controversial rock ‘n’ roll groups of all time.
Nirvana In Utero 20th Anniversary Edition (Universal) Aiming to restore its credibility after the atomic overexposure of Nevermind, Nirvana solicited Steve Albini to record a follow-up. The post-punk icon accepted, but penned a letter warning of "front office bulletheads" who would "yank the chain at some point, hassling you to rework song/sequences/production, calling-in hired guns to 'sweeten' your record, turning the whole thing over to some remix jockey." Of course he was right. Suits objected to initial In Utero mixes and Kurt Cobain relented by allowing R.E.M.