Nirvana is the poster child for grunge music; a mix of punk and more classic styled rock with just a hint of death metal sprinkled in. Before listening to much of this band and learning that Kurt Cobain was an alleged genius, I was surprised to hear they had three albums on the Rolling Stone’s 500 best album list. After listening to “In Utero”, I understood why.
This album really is a wonderful journey down a dark and twisted path. The whole band has this very stripped down sound that creates an awesome punky vibe. I think the album cover, an angel without it’s skin revealing all of her organs, blood, and tissue, makes sense for their sound at this point; naked, dark, and unearthly. The bass has little to no effects on it and is played very clean which adds a cool contrast to the blaring distortion of the lead guitar. Dave Grohl pounds on the drums with such vigor and speed in most of the songs, often taking center stage. But in slower tunes like “Dumb” he plays a very quiet ride cymbal beat with rim shots on the snare. It’s a very abrupt change and it shows how versatile of a drummer he is. Kurt conveys a lot of emotion in his vocals, as if there is some kind of deeper meaning or feeling behind his every word. I also enjoy how he plays guitar. In a lot of the tunes, like “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” the amp screeches and weeps as he plucks so far down the neck it’s almost inaudible. It’s just noise at that point, but it’s all intentional. It’s all genuine. As the album progresses, to me, it’s almost like listening to someone who’s drowning or cracking under the pressure of fame.
Then there’s the fore-mentioned slower songs. “Dumb”, “Rape Me”, and “All Apologies” in particular all have such beautiful riffs that make you wonder why Cobain would ever write anything that is so much harder to listen to. That’s what makes this album such genius. In a lot of ways it’s so heavy and seething with anger, but there’s such a quick shift to despair and sadness in tunes like “Heart Shaped Box”. It’s a cesspool of emotions.
My top 3 tracks for this one are “Serve The Servants” which has a really cool dissonant guitar solo, “Heart-Shaped Box”and “Rape Me” which I personally think embodies the stripped down sound the best. Cobain sings quietly about feeling discarded in this tune and the guitar riff is very simplistic.
All in all, I think this album left a very good impression on me for Nirvana and I look forward to working my way through the rest of their discography.
Over the past few weeks I have been watching the Foo Fighters’ multi-episode Sonic Highway documentary in which the band travels from city to city, soaking up the local color, interacting with area musicians, and recording songs . In the first episode they head to Chicago and land at Electrical Audio Studios where Dave Grohl is reunited with famed music producer Steve Albini who produced In Utero.
When you hear Albini discuss his approach to recording and experience working with Nirvana at that time, you understand how he was able capture the rawness and energy this album emits.
Post 1991’s Nevermind, Cobain seemed be struggling with his new fame, the rising public sentiment on his life and relationship with wife Courtney Love. Nothing is held back as the frustrated feelings come pouring out in this album. Every vocal track is littered with raging emotions that range from haunting sorrow in songs like “All Apologies”and “Heart Shaped Box” to intense anger in “Serve the Servant” and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”.
Nirvana has never been a core band for me. When the 90’s grunge scene was raging, I was largely on the sidelines – I listened, but was not a loyalist. Sound Garden, STP, Pearl Jam, the Pumpkins and Nirvana would get radio play in my car, but I didn’t buy the CDs. Strangely, as the years have passed, I find that I have more interest in these bands.
Overall, this is a very intense and cool album. Cobains’ purposefully emotional and aggressive vocals and crunchy distorted guitar leads are backed so well with Krist Novoselic and Grohl’s driving rhythm section, that together they created their unique sound that set a new standard and path for the artists that followed in that genre. The tunes that have me pushing replay are ” All Apologies”, “Rape Me”, “Heart Shaped Box” and “Dumb”.
In Utero is ranked #435 on the Rolling Stone Magazine Greatest Albums of All Time
“All in All is All We Are
All in All is All We Are”