Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5: Nirvana, "In Utero"

Artist: Nirvana
Album: In Utero
Year: 1993
Label: Geffen

I am well aware that I tread on hallowed ground and may be accused of musical blasphemy, but I am about to drop a bombshell: Nevermind is NOT Nirvana's best album...never was, never will be. There, I said it. Deal with it. Nevermind was a decent PUNK record (grunge is just the updated term for punk), but it only showed a fraction of what Nirvana was capable of as a band. The truth of the matter is, the album that followed "the record that destroyed hair metal," 1993's In Utero showcases the trio at the top of their game and is, by far, their finest recording.

As a whole, In Utero has a bit less "polish" than it's predecessor, and this is most likely due to the fact that Steve Albini (of Pixies fame) produced the record; and the fact the record was recorded in less than two weeks. This choice is often cited as a move by Nirvana to regain a bit of "street cred" in light of the success of Nevermind. Regardless of this speculation, Nirvana, as a band, are FAR more together on this record, with better instrumentation, and Kurt Cobain having far more distinguishable lyrics. In Utero bears very little resemblance to the album that brought the band international fame, and many people have made the argument that this was an intentional shift by the band. With crushing guitar riffs, wild feedback, and bleak, if not nihilistic lyrics, In Utero often seems as if the band was trying to rid themselves of a majority of their fan base.

When it comes to amazing drummers, one cannot have the discussion without mentioning Dave Grohl. Beyond brilliant, Grohl possesses amazing creativity, and more intensity than nearly any other drummer in history. He truly attacks the drum kit, and riding the line between controlled chaos and unbridled mayhem, Grohl provides the perfect backbone for Nirvana's sound. Bassist Krist (Chris) Novoselic spends most of In Utero picking up where he left off on attacking the bass at lightning speed, and driving the songs faster and faster. Though In Utero lacks any clear bass "solo" (the closest being the opening to "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle"), Novoselic's bass perfectly fills the gaps between the other instruments, and is an absolute essential piece of Nirvana's sound. Much like his singing, the guitar of Kurt Cobain is often on the edge of "out of control," yet he also possesses the talent to write beautiful musical pieces. From the simple, sad refrain of "All Apologies," to the aggressive, pulverizing "Very Ape," Cobain seems comfortable in both styles, and both styles clearly fit the band.

The anger, frustration, pain, and intensity found in the vocals of Kurt Cobain played a large part in making Nirvana a worldwide success. The superb combination of angst and malaise that define the singing style of Kurt Cobain are in the spotlight on the record, and in many ways, this is what gave Nirvana their overall sound. One of the largest differences between Nevermind and In Utero comes with the manner in which Cobain's vocals are presented. Often times throughout Nevermind, the vocals are altered or doubled. In Utero displays Cobain's vocals in an exceptionally raw, sometimes chilling form. The grit and growl that distinguishes Kurt's voice, which was often lost in the mix of Nevermind, is far in the front of the mix, and this helps to give the record a much more edgy feel.

The lyrics throughout In Utero have been debated since the albums' release. All of the songs were written by Cobain, and he insisted until his death that the lyrics were ""for the most part very impersonal." However, anyone with any knowledge of Cobain and the band can clearly see many of the songs as self-reflective. "Rape Me" can easily be seen as a shot at the number one enemy of Cobain: the media. Kurt also eludes to the rapid success of Nirvana in the opening lines of "Serve The Servants" when he screams, ""Teenage angst has paid off well/now I'm bored and old." Later in the song, Cobain plainly addresses his parents' divorce and his animosity towards his father with: "I tried hard to have a father/but instead I had a dad/I just want you to know that I don't hate you anymore/there is nothing I could say that I haven't thought before." Kurt seems to take a shot at his own fans during "All Apologies" when he sings, "I wish I was like you, easily amused..." There are dozens of other examples throughout In Utero to prove that the album was, in fact, exceptionally personal, and many of the themes found on the record were found in the alleged suicide note that was found near Cobain's body (I won't delve into my own theories on Cobain's death in this blog).

Even after nearly twenty years, Nirvana remain one of the most revered and well respected bands in history. Their loud, confrontational sound permanently altered the musical landscape, and their impact still resonates today. From the peerless drumming of Dave Grohl to everything that made Kurt Cobain the legend that he is, countless bands have attempted to copy Nirvana's sound, but none have succeeded. There are points where In Utero is so loud and that it was clearly done to turn away "pop" listeners, but these are also moments that show the band in their purest form. Though most people believe that their breakthrough record, the borderline cliche Nevermind represents everything great about Nirvana, the FACT is, the record that followed it, 1993' In Utero, is the best record Nirvana ever released. If somehow, you've never given this record a few thorough listenings, go find a copy and let yourself experience the majesty that is In Utero.

Standout tracks: "Serve The Servants," "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle," and "Pennyroyal Tea."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great review. i disagree with you in that I think nevermind is their best, but whatever. why is there no mention of bleach?