Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
New month, new theme: In June, revisiting records celebrating milestone anniversaries, enjoy!
In 1993, In Utero had the unpleasant/nearly impossible task of following up Nevermind. Much was made of its rough sound at the time, a deliberate reaction to the polish of its predecessor.
The question is, how does In Utero hold up 20 years later?
I’ll categorize each song under the following ‘3G’ system:
a) Great – Still powerful as ever, solid supporting evidence for the group’s impressive legacy.
b) Good – No complaints, doesn’t harm the resume at all.
c) Generic – The song hasn’t aged well or is noticeably inferior.
1. Serve The Servants – Excellent opener, from the first dissonant chord onwards. GREAT
2. Scentless Apprentice – I recently read a Chuck Klosterman piece about this record. Not sure if he coined the term, but I believe he accurately deemed much of In Utero as the sound of ‘Guilt Rock.’ Nirvana was massively successful and as a response, created a ‘difficult’ record for listening (to maintain artistic cred). This tune is the exemplary guilt rock song: just as the band settles into a groove, Cobain throws in a scream, decreasing accessibility. It feels too calculated, too much of an effort to be ‘scrappy’ and ‘unpolished’ and is not terribly interesting.
3. Heart Shaped Box – back on track with the lead single. Not a great song to begin with but still sounds just fine on the radio in 2013.
4. Rape Me – Musically at least, a Smells Like Teen Spirit knockoff below Cobain’s songwriting ability level.
5. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle – Nirvana might have been criticized for their frequent employment of the soft verse/loud chorus template but they apply that framework effectively.
6. Dumb – Might be the best of the bunch here. An understated triumph.
7. Very Ape – One of those songs that is tough to dissect. It is what it is, and it’s good.
8. Milk It – The song has potential, the recording/performance feels like it was never fully achieved.
9. Pennyroyal Tea – Also in the conversation for the album’s finest. Nice Leonard Cohen reference.
10. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter – Hands down the best song name in the Nirvana catalogue. The song itself isn’t quite as impressive.
11. Tourette’s – Perhaps a nod to Sonic Youth’s Goo, making the penultimate track a one-minute thrash out. Both fine albums, neither track (Scooter + Jinx & Tourette’s) is particularly memorable.
12. All Apologies – The star here is Dave Grohl. There’s nothing flashy but as usual, it is perfectly appropriate. Listen to the beat in the verses: 99.9% of drummers would open the hi-hat cymbal at the end of bars 2 & 4 (or maybe just the end of 4). He opens it slightly to wrap up bars 1 & 3. Simple, but beyond effective. It’s that sort of unique touch that makes him one of the best drummers in the world.
All in all (is all we are): 5 Great, 3 Good, 4 Generic.
8/12 songs are good or greater.
My grade 9 math class would tell you that fraction could be reduced to 2 out of 3. They may or may not get the reference that such a reduced fraction ain’t bad!