Rewind: Nirvana's In Utero, 20 Years Later

Categories: Fiesta!

As far as history is concerned, Nirvana is Cobain's band. And that's not just because he's the idolized dead guy; he's considered the driving force behind the music. Nirvana was shaping Cobain's public reputation, and he knew it. And though he claimed to be deeply uncomfortable with his newly appointed "Voice of the Generation" title, Cobain still used his powers for good -- pushing pro-woman, pro-choice and pro-gay values in interviews and liner notes. He was also acutely aware that he was perceived as a sellout, another title that was offensive to his punk-rock heart.

With this in mind, Cobain hired Steve Albini, the legendarily difficult no-bullshit engineer, to record In Utero. For a band concerned with its street credit, Albini was a step in the right direction. Albini is not only is the guitarist for original alt-rock heroes Shellac and Big Black, in his studio he uses ancient machines and records to tape. He is known for recording not just cheaply and efficiently, but also for imparting a certain nebulous honesty to his products. (Some of the songs on the album were also mixed by long-time R.E.M. producer, Scott Litt, but Litt's contribution was downplayed in favor of highlighting Albini's involvement.)

The album introduced unsuspecting Nirvana listeners to a whole new sonic palette. In the damp, dark sludge-fest that was the Seattle scene, Nevermind was a cute-sounding, almost childlike release. It was an album full of rhymes and hooks and sing-alongs, really. With In Utero, Nirvana seemed determined to prove that it could out-grunge the grungesters. The sound is abrasive. The drums are relentless, the guitar frequently feeds back and Cobain howls like an injured animal, all bitterness and bile.

At the time of its release, In Utero seemed to be a dare to the listeners. Songs like "Scentless Apprentice" and "Tourettes" tested their endurance for chaotic, grinding expression. It was as if the popular band was saying, "Oh yeah? You liked Nevermind? Well, here's In Utero. Do you still like us?" As a whole, the album sounds like a defiantly bold statement for a band that was so well-known. Even now, twenty years later, In Utero still stands as a piece of art and a proud, defining bookend for a troubled yet brilliant band.

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6 comments
Whit Movesian
Whit Movesian

Nirvana sucks. Let's put out the most mediocre product possible and sell it. Let's write the simplest songs ever and when people realize what a joke we are, I'll kill myself. Doing GOOD things with your life makes you a hero, not doing heroin. Writing PROGRESSIVE songs that push the boundaries of music makes you a true artist, not pandering to the cheap seats. Plus, getting teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel. Way to set the bar high, Nirvana.

Sean Wells
Sean Wells

Bleach/ Nevermind/ unpluged in NYC...

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