When Nirvana entered the studio to record their third and final studio album, “In Utero,” they were looking for a major departure from their first two albums. Instead, they scored a big hit with a record that fused the sonic pieces from those two previous LPs.
Back in 1989, when they released their debut album, “Bleach,” the musical mainstream wasn’t ready for swirling guitars. The huge chunks of distortion, the hard-hitting drums. And the slacker pop songs written by the leader Kurt Cobain. Sure, Jane’s Addiction, the first guardians of the alternative nation, released the seminal Nothing’s Shocking a year earlier, in 1988, but the seeds of revolution had yet to be sown.
Just two years later, Nirvana’s follow-up Nevermind simultaneously brought razors to the metal of the hair and a razor to the neck of contemporary adults. His arrival was arguably the biggest rock ‘n’ roll moment since the Beatles debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show, an appearance that Nirvana would later pay homage to with the “In Bloom” video, or when Bob Dylan dropped by. turned electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
The grunge pandemic swept the world at lightning speed, spawning imitators and crowning the Nirvana kings of the time. The overnight success of the trio raised the question: Would it be such a massive following? On September 21, 1993, Nirvana answered that question with In Utero.
The first noteworthy thing about the album is its producer. Given the success of Nevermind, it would have made sense for Nirvana to recruit Butch Vig again. But Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl took a less obvious and less commercial route by turning to the controversial Steve Albini. Albini, a former member of the Big Black and Rapeman noise bands, had run the boards on the Pixies’ 1988 debut, “Surfer Rosa,” and while Cobain and the gang looked to broaden their sound and broaden their reach by shrinking things, Albini seemed like the perfect person. man for the job.
Nirvana was also looking for a way out of the grunge gutter. “In Utero”, like “Bleach”, was going to be something the world wasn’t ready to hear. Except this time, the world was ready. And no matter what the band delivered, after “Nevermind” it probably would have sold a million copies.
Still, “In Utero” wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. Stronger, yes, but if Nirvana were looking for something truly out of the ordinary, they only got halfway there. If you listen to “Bleach” and “Nevermind” back to back, you can hear the chrysalis of “In Utero’s” sonic attack. It’s as if the band and Albini have ripped the previous albums to shreds and reassembled them into a Frankenstein monster. Taking the less accessible aspects of the first album and combining them with the gigantic hooks that Vig helped create on “Nevermind”.
“In Utero” differs from its predecessors in a couple of key ways. There are fewer effects and rawer guitars, which reduced the low E to a D. That technique became a hallmark of grunge and of the era. “In Utero” also features some weird time signatures (“Milk It”, “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”). Screams of speed-metal (“Tourette’s”). And even a cello (“Dumb”, “All Apologies”).
Cobain’s deeper, darker lyrics take the twisted attraction of love and sexual violence (“Rape Me”) to film (“Frances Farmer Takes Her Revenge on Seattle” was partially inspired by a 1978 biography of the doomed actress).
Also notable are the listenable “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Rape Me” and closer “All Apologies”. Cobain had a knack for writing pop songs that sound inspired by 1960s garage rock and the British Invasion. They included simple structures (verse-chorus-verse) and sometimes a bridge; furthermore, they could be easily digested by a mass audience. The catchy songs sold “In Utero” to the masses. While the louder, more arty songs were there to represent the growth of the band, and perhaps to appeal to fringe fans caught up in the punk, metal, and hardcore scenes.
Even as the band tried to break new ground and possibly even turn off casual fans with a harder, less direct album, “In Utero” was a huge critical and financial success. It topped the US and UK charts, and the singles “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.
Some might argue that Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged in New York”, recorded on November 18, 1993, is actually the band’s farewell statement. But “In Utero” was his last album of new material. And, in that sense, it was his farewell to the world. He only listens to the ending song, “All Apologies”. Then and now, it marked an end.
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Nirvana and “In Utero”: shaking things up
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