Twenty years is a strange milestone. A tenth anniversary is usually met with the kind of reminiscent joy of something that you can recall enjoying like it was only yesterday. But twenty? Jesus its ancient! Still memorable but simultaneously so far back its difficult to come to terms with. Nirvana’s 1993 album In Utero is one of those albums that has never felt old, perhaps a little dated in retrospect, but definitely not old. Its with its 20th birthday of release that suddenly Nirvana fans feel a twinge of sadness. Yes, effectively Kurt Cobain’s last masterpiece is now a ‘classic album’ but it is also proving the be the final scraping of the barrel. After years of live albums, reissues, best of’s, b-sides and rarities, this reissue of In Utero is according to drummer Dave Grohl, the last of the series. A fitting send off? You bet.
Recorded in two weeks at an isolated Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls in Minnesota, the band’s third and final album In Utero was a far more minacious affair than previous efforts and in many ways a strong diversion from the clean production of 1991’s Nevermind, a huge critical success that proved too much for Cobain to deal with as he made a spiral of decay that started with drug addiction and ended in his suicide in 1994. Steve Albini, famed alt rock producer and punk musician was bought in produce the album, a move that cemented the fact that Cobain wanted to embrace the band’s heavier indie rock roots and forget Nevermind ever happened, a sentiment showcased beautifully in the opening lines of opening track Serve The Servants “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old”.
The original mix of the album stands the test of time with tracks like Scentless Apprentice, Milk It and Rape Me still containing the ferocious energy with harsh instrumentality and often unnerving vocal and lyrical substance. The drums are massive, the guitars are massive and singles Heart Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea remain forever loveable. The charm of this reissue however actually lies away from the original album. Firstly, the b-sides that accompanied the album’s singles have been included, a highlight of which being Marigold, the only Nirvana song to not feature Kurt Cobain being a Dave Grohl penned song played by himself and bassist Krist Novoselic.
The undoubtedly most interesting part of the reissue however is the 2013 remastered version of the album, a real revelation of what the album could have been without interference from the bands label, DGC Records. Although Albini produced the album, his finished master tapes were scrapped in favour of REM producer Scott Litt’s more radio friendly mix. This remastered version has seen the original tapes remixed in the hands of Albini, Grohl and Novoselic… nuff said. Indeed, the new mix is raw, harsh, buzzing, cutting but ultimately a more stripped back affair. Noticeable differences come with Heart Shaped Box feeling like a much less slick affair and Very Ape having an overall much more punk friendly sound. Another notable change is in Dumb, the softest moment on the album that becomes even softer with a delicate mix that makes the background cello twice as effective while Cobain’s voice is stripped bare of studio magic, croaky and troubled.
Elsewhere, the reissue includes a live album that whilst perhaps unnecessary with millions of live albums already existing under the Nirvana name, is a welcome and still enjoyable addition, especially the inclusion of In Utero songs that were of course sadly not played for long. All in all, its a fine package that pays fine tribute to probably the most misunderstood of all of Cobain’s material. If this is now the end of what Nirvana can give the world, let it at least be known that everything we are left with is and will always be treasured whether it be by angsty teens rocking out in the back of a car or their parents humming along in the front.