Sound — 6
Okay, Nirvana is a legend, seminal band and bla-bla-bla. We all know that. One thing that's worth noting here is that famous Kurt's comment on his love to the Pixies. "Surfer Rosa" and "Bleach"? "Bossanova" and "Nevermind"? No way this is relevant. But this album's finally confirms Kurt's statements. Not a rip off, but sonically and somewhat lyrically it resembles Pixies' and Jesus Lizard's works. The recording process in early 1993 at Pachyderm Studios, Minnesota, was totally controlled by the band and their producer Steve Albini - no interference from the label. By that time, Nirvana was so huge, that, had they put out a Madonna covers album, it'd gone platinum in a matter of weeks anyways. But they decided to go the opposite way. No guitar/vocal overdubs, no polishing, live recording with the whole band - the best way to describe "In Utero" is "raw and angry", which may have been what Kurt actually felt at the time. But, what could work for an eager indie band, did not work the same way for Nirvana. Probably, Kurt was so overwhelmed with sudden fame and acclaim, so that he specifically wanted to alienate the fans in return, disconnect the band from anything they've done earlier (save for "Bleach"). The whole album to me is like a struggle, when a great songwriter tries to restrain himself from writing a great song. "Serve The Servants", "Pennyroyal Tea", "Rape Me", "Dumb" and even "Very Ape" - all these songs have great catchy melodies and thoughtful lyrics, but they were recorded and presented in such way, that it made them almost unplayable on radio and TV. On the other hand, cuts like "Scentless Apprentice", "Milk It", "Tourette's" are more music collages than songs to me. No wonder that, upon first hearing, bosses from Universal were terrified and immediately ordered to at least re-mix what's been recorded. So's been done to "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies" by Scott Litt.
Lyrics — 7
Lyrics on the album, just like the songs, fall into two categories: deep, thoughtful ones ("Heart-Shaped Box", "All Apologies", "Pennyroyal Tea") and extemely abstract and even absurd ("Milk It", "Scentless Apprentice", "Tourette's"). Most of them describe dealing with an unexpected stardom, alienation and reflect Kurt's personal feelings ("Dumb"). "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle" tells the actual story of the person mentioned in it, "Scentless Apprentice" is based on a novel "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer" by Patrick Sskind. What "Milk It" is about - I'm sure even Kurt himself was only guessing.
Overall Impression — 6
"In Utero" was conceived as an anti-"Nevermind" record and in that way it succeeded. However, it feels to me that, had the things were a little different for the band, Nirvana would've hired Butch Vig again and we all could've got another remarkable record by a great band. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Personally, I believe that Kurt "with a little help from his friends" intentionally killed any potential for this LP in favor of his own opinion on how things should be, which also deserves respect, but nevertheless saddens me. Best songs are "Heart-Shaped Box", "Serve The Servants", "Dumb", "All Apologies". First thing I would do if they invented time machine is go back in 1993 and ask Kurt: "Please, it's your last record man, make it not for you, but for us, people who respect you as a person and truly and unconditionally love your music". Yeah, and one more thing: it states on the sleeve "Recorded by Steve Albini" (not "Produced"). Does it mean anything at all now?