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Album Review: Nirvana's "In Utero"

What does Nirvana mean to you? Well, don’t think about the religious meaning, because that’s not where I’m going. In the month of October, we passed the 30th anniversary of Nirvana’s “In Utero” studio album. This album was no “Nevermind”, that much is known by anyone who knows more than ''Smells Like Teen Spirit''… and it meant so much more to the band, and Kurt Cobain specifically. “In Utero” marked the 3rd and last studio album, recorded by Nirvana. This album is heart-wrenching, but it’s not my place to tell you what Kurt’s songs meant, because he never wanted his fans, or even his friends, to know. It only makes sense from here to talk about each song in general, and why it fits the structure and tones of the album.

And mention the bonus tracks that make their official full appearance on any of the releases of “In Utero”

  • ''Serve The Servants'', The opening track, one only meant for the listener to interpret, but a catchy, melodic, and heavy experience. This is no Smells Like Teen Spirit, this is Nirvana in one of their most raw forms, although of course, their MTV Unplugged show will always be the best of all time.

  • ''Scentless Apprentice'', the second song off of this album, is Nirvana’s anger, love, and desire, all in one song. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, bassist and drummer respectively, really understood Kurt Cobain’s dreams, and what made a great band, even if they didn’t believe they were one of the greatest bands of all time.

  • ''Heart-Shaped Box'', the third track that took the world by storm as a single, and one that still plays even today. This song, many people assume, is about Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain’s wife at the time, but there is no substantial evidence. Kurt Cobain was an artist. A magnificent painter, and his artistic dreams were brought to life by Nirvana, and Heart-Shaped Box was a disturbing, powerful display of his artistry.

  • ''Rape Me''. Yes, that’s the title of the song, and it caught flack back when In Utero was released, too, but this is the one song Kurt spoke about. Kurt, and the rest of Nirvana, were feminists. They fought against sexism, racism, and fascism, all in one. Cobain also felt heavily that he was being exploited by critics, and magazines alike, and being forced to say what they wanted him to say about his songs and the rest of his art. Kurt felt cornered, and his only response was to give the people what they wanted, more nonsense to create stupid judgments.

  • ''Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle''. What a title, right? Kurt hated contemporary art, and he wanted something to last a lifetime and then some, so he chose to name songs with longer, more delicate names, and this was one of them. Frances Farmer was an actress that was heavily mistreated, so Kurt, in classic Kurt fashion, used his artistry to relegate pain and suffering to the audience by creating a heavier, sour toned, tune.

  • ''Dumb''. One of the very calm songs on this album, and it’s quite simply, very beautiful. Not much expresses the freedom Nirvana had, but songs like this do. A melancholy song, potentially about giving up, or realizing where your place is? It depends on how you feel, most certainly.

  • ''Very Ape''. Okay, to level with you, I can’t really explain this one, but it's oddly exciting? Kurt brought this kind of metal feel to the song. Well, more like hardcore punk. Incoherent metaphors that don’t really mean anything. For example: “I’m very ape, I’m very nice”... yeah, doesn’t make much sense. But it’s fun to listen to. Kurt Cobain loved expression.

  • ''Milk It''. I love this song. It’s so sickening, but so gut wrenching and powerful. His screams echo, reverberate through my headphones, even. Kurt’s voice was one filled with love and pain, equally, though it was hard to discern. The band really strung this together with the masterful understanding of what their instruments should do.

  • ''Pennyroyal Tea''. Another song that really has no specific truth to it, just your own unique flavor. Pennyroyal tea is an abortifacient, but what that really means, I don’t know. Kurt Cobain’s art was fascinated with life and death, he said so himself. It isn’t clear what it means, though.

  • ''Radio Friendly Unit Shifter''. Okay, I think this song was titled more literally. It’s a heavy song, it moves your “unit”, or whatever your sound system was called. Krist Novoselic's bass wails through the track. Dave Grohl’s drums create this unnaturally calming rhythm. This is a song they were proud of, and it showed.

  • ''Tourette’s''. The title kind of implies what you’re getting with the song. It is garbled nonsense, but it still means something. The shriek of Kurt’s guitars and the persistent rhythm of Dave and Krist's attempts at harmonizing chaos.

  • ''All Apologies''. The close to the album, and a serene one at that. I don’t think there’s another perfect way to end an album. Kurt could express how he felt but provided the stamp and seal of an envelope. There simply is nothing but artistry.

Okay, so that’s the original tracks, but on the B side of In Utero, and eventually later released as mainstays with the rest of the album, Nirvana also had tracks such as Marigold (written and performed by Dave Grohl), and Sappy (a competently mixed demo)

But why does In Utero deserve the love? Well, this album was a trilogy of studio albums, which approved upon the previous two. This album was masterfully produced by Steve Albini, and with the help of Albini, these musical tones and structures were forever solidified as Nirvana’s. There’s nothing else like the sound of In Utero’s ''Heart Shaped Box''. No other song creates such a harsh, chilling dissonance, that also welcomes and comforts those who are familiar with it. This album was a step away from the poppy, punk-like structure that Nirvana took in their days of ''Nevermind''. Nirvana created what I think is the best representation of grunge. Heartfelt, heavy, and disturbing words and sounds can evoke much more than simple satisfaction from serotonin. This is Nirvana in their most raw form.

With this album, there are also a number of live performances, all available and platforms such as Spotify. They’re all quite heartbreaking, for me, because of my love for the band, and the connection I felt both grow, and die, as Kurt passed along. It hurts to hear his voice crack, and play imperfectly because it reminds me of what will never be, again. Give it a listen.



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