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Melody Behind The Chaos

Reviewing: Nirvana In Utero  |  Rating:
Toth Andrei By Toth Andrei on
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IN UTEROI have re-listened to In Utero for the 800th time today and I’ve decided that a great album like this, probably my most favorite album of all time, deserves a more thorough and complex review than the one I wrote in 3 minutes more than 4 months ago. I’m still going to use the phrase that while Nevermind changed everything for the band and the mainstream, In Utero changed everything for the fans. And Kurt Cobain knew this. It was his mission practically: creating this perfect punk record that would alienate his fans that only appreciated and were familiar to the clean and poppy sound that Nevermind had. He had the vision of this since the beginning of 1992, stating in interviews that Nirvana’s next record will be completely different. And boy it was.

Of course, casual listeners and non-hardcore fans didn’t want a change; they wanted another “baby blue” record with Smells Like Teen Spirit on it. And Kurt loathed that so much that he decided that it was time to shake those “fans” off their trail and consolidate their stature as a punk-rock band and not an instant-commodity.

RecordingSome of the songs like Pennyroyal Tea and Rape Me were written way before Nevermind came out, so Kurt had some of the material that would be on his masterpiece.The band decided to work with Steve Albini, the famed underground punk-rocker and producer who’s been in the controversial band called Rapeman. Cobain liked that band and as well, he was a fan of Albini’s sound that was exactly the opposite of Butch Vig’s clean and mainstream sound.

The band started recording In Utero in Wisconsin during February 1993. The recording process was finished in quite a short time even though Cobain had lots of unfinished lyrics that were done at the last second. There were tensions in the group, between the band members at the time, tensions that would get bigger until Cobain’s death. But this wasn’t an obstacle in the recording process; on the contrary, it seemed like Grohl and Novoselic had more input in the writing as Dave was the one who basically came up with Scentless Apprentice. Kurt Liked it and they recorded and included it into the soundtrack.

NameIn Utero means “in the uterus” in Latin; which would basically mean “before birth”. It’s actually a rather beautiful and clever symbolism that defines the fact that the band tried to get back to their grungy roots with this album.It was originally supposed to be titled I Hate Myself And I Want To Die but Kurt dropped this idea after the management told him that people won’t get the joke. Of course, it would have been very ironical and dark if the title would have been IHMAIWTD because, of course, Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Another working title was “Verse Chorus Verse”.

Kurt found the In Utero expression in a poem that his wife, Courtney Love wrote. So he borrowed it.

CoverThe front cover of In Utero features a Transparent Anatomical Mannikin, with angel wings superimposed on a green background. It was the perfect example of Cobain’s obsession with the female body and not only; all of which filled the album’s lyrics. The back cover features a collage of model fetuses which Kurt described as "Sex and woman and In Utero and vaginas and birth and death" spread all over the the floor of his living room. This caused great controversy as Wal Mart refused to sell the album so the band had to edit the back cover and change the Rape Me title to Waif Me.

This came as a surprise to the management as Cobain’s tough nature was very famous. His explanation was that when he was a kid, he could only buy music from Wal Mart, and he really wanted kids from small towns to own In Utero.The CD cover features Cali DeWitt, Frances Bean’s babysitter dressed up in drag.

StyleSomeone described the album as “melody behind the chaos” which is the perfect definition In Utero could have.It’s raw and heavy, fast and punkish with unusual lyrics but also, very melodic and catchy. Each song has something unique that adds to the album’s glorifying sound. It sounds nothing like Nevermind, but also it’s nothing like Bleach either. The distorted effects are all over the record while Cobain’s dry and hoarse voice along with his screams blends perfectly with that.The band was very proud with what they have accomplished. Cobain said that finally he was able to record the sound that was playing in his head since forever.

Release and ReceptionThe album was released on the 23rd of September 1993. It climbed on the top of the Billboard 200 chart by selling 180.000 copies in its first week of release but because of the raw and aggressive sound and that SLTS was missing, sales started to drop by the end of the year.The lack of touring also damaged the sales. But nevertheless, it was still commercially successful.

The critics adored the album and the new sound, crowning In Utero as Nirvana’s true masterpiece and one of the best records of the 1990’s if not of all time.I hate to say it, but I will: NIRVANA became more famous after its creator died and the sales of In Utero are the perfect indicator. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies right after Cobain’s death was announced, reaching the 5 million mark in the US only.

It was the perfect example of how death can be the perfect “marketing” scheme.

Songs1. Serve The Servants is the perfect opener with the greatest opening lyric from Cobain: “teenage angst have paid off well, now I’m bored and old”. The autobiographical lyrics are priceless, along with the distorted, yet very catchy sound.

2. Scentless Apprentice, as I’ve mentioned already was written by the whole band, and Dave was the one who came up with the riff. The lyrics are based on Patrick Suskind’s bestseller novel “Perfume”. Cobain was obsessed with it because he empathized with the alienation the main character was going through. This is the heaviest song not only from the album but also from their repertoire. Kurt screaming “Go away!” makes it almost scary.3. Heart-Shaped Box was the album lead single and also its best song. It’s somehow mellower and more laid back than the previous two songs but it gets louder when it erupts in the magnificent chorus. It’s one of Nirvana’s best known songs. The obsession about the female body and things like that are clearly visible in the lyrics. The title comes from the heart-shaped boxes that Kurt and Courtney collected.

4. Rape Me is an anti-rape song, even though, at first sight, the lyrics show otherwise. The attacking and aggressive lyrics were primarily aimed at the media, Cobain’s worst enemy. For obvious reasons, the song caused great controversy. It was also one of Cobain’s favorite songs and he played it on every In Utero tour concert. It is an amazingly nuclear song.5. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle Frances Farmer was a 1930’s Hollywood actress from Seattle that ended up locked in and died in a mental institution. Cobain somehow felt empathetic to her fate and admired her. The song starts off really slow but it erupts into this heavy and distorted catchy chorus. The “I miss the comfort in being sad” is one of Cobain’s best lyrics in my opinion.

6. Dumb is the album’s most beautiful song along with All Apologies. It has a very beautiful and haunting melody. It doesn’t represent In Utero’s aggressive sound but that makes it even better. It’s simply a very cool and catchy song to listen to. One of my personal favorites. The lyrics talk about how a dumb person is incapacitated to feel sorrow or depressed and how Kurt wished that he was dumb sometimes for the same reasons.7. Very Ape is one of the album’s underrated songs. It’s a good grunge track, but that’s all I kind of have to say about it. It resembles to the sound that “Bleach” had.

8. Milk It is the album’s weirdest and “dirtiest” song with its almost creepy sound. Nonetheless, I love it because Kurt’s despair is wonderfully captured. The lyrics follow the same obsession pattern about the human body.9. Pennyroyal Tea was written way before Nevermind actually. It’s a highlight on the album and also the perfect song that shows Cobain’s amazing skill as a songwriter. It’s a relatively sad song with a dynamical chorus. The title refers to a plant that some say induces abortion.

10. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter has the perfectly cynical title because RFUS is not a song meant to be played on the radio because it’s dirty, heavy and very grungy. That doesn’t mean that it’s not listenable. It is an amazing rock song to which you can bang your head and press re-play after it’s done. The noisy intro is irritating at first but you grow to like it after a few other listenings.11. tourette’s is the album’s least-listenable song simply because of the incomprehensible vocals and the punkish sound. I love it because it was purely made to take the piss out of the casual listener. But I still don’t know what the hell Kurt is screaming about.

12. All Apologies is a very beautiful yet unusual closer for an album like this one. Don’t expect an aggressive and angry song because you will be surprised. All Apologies is one of Cobain’s most sincere creations with wonderful lyrics written for his wife and child and also with a very beautiful and mellow melody. Disarming his nihilistic view, he shares with us a part of the beautiful person that Kurt Cobain was. The song was debuted live at the legendary Live At Reading Festival from 1992 when Kurt dedicated it to Courtney and to his new-born baby girl, Frances Bean.

LegacyIn Utero was Kurt’s favorite album, as it is Novoselic’s. Grohl prefers Nevermind. As I’ve already said, it is regarded as the best album from NIRVANA and also one of the best in recent rock history. While it’s a landmark work of art it still makes me sad at the thought that nothing was meant to follow it and that we’ll never know how Nirvana would sound afterwards.

PersonnelKurt Cobain – guitar, vocals, art direction, design, photography

Krist Novoselic – bass guitar

Dave Grohl – drums

Kera Schaley – cello on "All Apologies" and "Dumb"

Steve Albini – producer, engineer

©2009 Andrei Toth aka andmad