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Nirvana – In Utero (1993)

June 1, 2013

New month, new theme: In June, revisiting records celebrating milestone anniversaries, enjoy!

[Album 189/1001]


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.

Here goes!

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!

From → 1990s

  1. The “3G” system! I like it. Well done! And I think the math works out well too.

  2. My CD also has international bonus track ‘Gallons Of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip’ on it, which I’d categorize as “generic,” so that’s 8/13. But wait, I’d move ‘Rape Me’ up to “good,” so then it’d be 9/13. Damn though, then it doesn’t reduce!!

    6.923 out of ten songs on In Utero are good or greater!! (I like the grade 9 math version of the CD better.)

    • lousy decimals – mathematically at least, it’s a shame they didn’t trim a couple of the ‘generic’ tunes to make it a nice neat score out of 10!

  3. Nice write-up and I like you’re grading system, although I disagree about “Rape Me,” which is one of my favorite Nirvana songs (I’ve never been a huge fan, so my opinions may differ from the faithful). I completely agree that “Pennyroyal Tea” is one of the best things they did. My impression is that the title is an intentional misspelling of “penny royalty,” which was probably a commentary on the small amount of money earned by the band for each album sale while the record company raked in the dough. I worked in Royalties at a major label at the time, which may explain that interpretation.

    • Of the 3 people to comment so far, 2 have suggested a rating upgrade for ‘Rape Me’ – so 2 decades later, the criticism of the song may be subsiding!
      That’s another interesting take on the lyrics: I remember seeing the math once from a $16 CD sale.
      After the label expenses/promotion/distribution/packaging/management…so little went to the artists. I suspect many have justified downloading music as ‘the royalties weren’t going to the artist anyways.’

  4. Great review, although I disagree strongly about Scentless Apprentice, I think it’s the best song on the album. The drumming is unbelievable.

    • No slight was meant to Mr. Grohl’s contributions, that is for sure! As a singer/guitarist, I guess I typically hear those parts first, and I wasn’t as impressed with Kurt’s performance on track 2 as I was on others. But yes, Dave Grohl, he’s the drummer in my supergroup (if you could choose one singer,guitarist,bassist & drummer), no question!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994) | 1001albumsin10years
  2. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991) | 1001albumsin10years
  3. Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998) | 1001albumsin10years
  4. The Who – My Generation (1965) | 1001albumsin10years
  5. Neil Young – Tonight’s The Night (1975) | 1001albumsin10years
  6. Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978) & Fear of Music (1979) | 1001albumsin10years
  7. the Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs (1999) | 1001albumsin10years
  8. 1993 | 1001albumsin10years

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