Sound — 9
Does this band really need an introduction? I mean c'mon! It's bloody Nirvana - ya' know, that band that formed in Aberdeen Washington when school friends Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic got together with a revolving Spinal Tap's worth of drummers and took on to world domination for the first half of the 1990's? The band that helped bring more attention to an already musical locale!
All ridiculous darn near Naurdwar level craziness aside. Here we have Nirvana's other big masterpiece - "In Utero." A large, club wielding Ogre of a Punk Pop album that likes to bash your skull in repeatedly, only to lament in tears and All Apologies after doing so.
This go out, Nirvana, Kurt in particular, wanted to capture more of the album that HE wanted to hear, wanted to sound like. Not that over-polished pop-metal beaten and driven to death 300,000 miles overdue clunker "Nevermind," but something more wholesome, more punk, more heavy, more... Nirvana!
So let's see where everyone is in 1993?
Kurt Cobain - He really needs no introduction. Our little pixie-like Mustang, Jaguar, and Univox slinging understates-man with a 100 foot tall voice is in top form again here. However, through all the singing, there is a bit of a screw-loose/squeaky hinges/rattling undercarriage feel to Kurt's performance on this album. A bit of that eyes turn red and kill the whole city...oh wait, that's Francis Farmer on track 5. Kurt's chain-drive tank sonic arsenal is powered by a few Univoxen (Hi Fliers in particular, the Mosrite copies), his 65' Jaguar, a 69' Mustang, and a Ibanez Les Paul, to name a few guitars. Also included in the sonic firepower is a new toy, the Tech21 SansAmp which to my ears seems to be what contributes to In Utero's gravely yet bouncy, almost blues on nitrous guitar sound. Also we hear some pretty heavy abuse of an EHX Echo Flanger/PolyChorus here (Scentless Apprentice, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter), some phaser on the solo of "Heart Shaped Box", and even some acoustic on this album, the Stella is back, with new strings and tuners. Kurt also used a Fender Twin Reverb, and of course the DS-2 Super Distortion pedals on this record, but the Tech 21 SansAmp is what gets it to that murky, fuzzy, Pitfall Error sound goodness.
Krist Novoselic - Krist at this point had gone full Gibson in the bass department. By this point he was playing a Gibson Thunderbird bass, a Gibson RD Artist, and using the Rippers occasionally. Seems the Rippers and RD were his standard fare though.
Dave Grohl - Beatin the shit out of the skins still, though he's a bit more dynamic on this album than on the last, a lot more softer moments for Grohl's drumming, which is fitting, because this album has a lot of light and dark - sort of like an abandoned mine in the desert that has collapsed in some places.
Overall, this album sounds a lot drier than the rainy heavily chorused and reverbed atmosphere of their previous megahit. It's a bit closer, darker, less gloss, more gravel. To me, this is more like a Nirvana album than "Nevermind" was - it does capture sort of a refined version of what Jack Endino's work on Bleach was. Endino and Albini are more from the same vibe than Vig was, though Vig was a great producer, but Albini was more on par with Nirvana's better type of production.
And I've read about the struggles in production, and I'd say, the mixes came out great. Sure, things are a little off and weird to some ears, but c'mon, this is Nirvana we are talking about here, the band that made off and weird cool instead of the sort of thing the argyle socks studio producer man is going to whine like a kicked puppy about. Who did you think I was reviewing, Kenny effin' Loggins?
Where "Nevermind" was a rainstorm of chorus and water, this album is dry, gritty, sepia toned city, just like the early-mid 1990's were vibe-wise. It catches the time just as much as it captures what Nirvana were about sonically.
Lyrics — 8
One two, buckle my shoe, three four, slam the door, five si (the faded ghost of Kurt Cobain walks into the room and kicks the reviewer in the back of the head)... erm, sorry about that.
Yeah, I've probably worn this one out on my reviews - the contrast between songwriters like Kurt Cobain and Ric Ocasek - with their witty between-the-lines lyrics, and guys like Mike Reno, Paul Dean, and Kiss, whom are at the opposite end of the spectrum with very blatant, obvious meanings to their lyrics. And I appreciate both types.
Kurt does take a bit more of a blatant context here though, without going so far off track it sounds like they hired someone from Night Ranger to write the lyrics. Let's do the track by track...
"Serve the Servants" - Seems like Kurt was trying to summarize up what this album is about, and the band, in 1993 as a whole. Covering things going on his life at the time. If you put chorus (or just recorded Kurt 3000X over) and reverb on this, it could have fit on "Nevermind." It includes the typical Nirvana controlled mangling of the song in places to give it character, and a pretty bluesy solo coming from Kurt Cobain complete with some pretty well placed bends.
"Scentless Apprentice" - Sounding like a marching band of sentient Refrigerators plodding down an empty hallway in the Perfume Factory and the book this song is about, this is one of the standout tracks by virtue that the antagonists hatred of humans is rather well expressed by bendy Echo Flanger hijinks and Kurt screaming "GO WAAAAAY!!!"
"Heart Shaped Box" - The hit single from this album. People surmise it's about relationship entrapment, pregnancy, or some heart shaped box Courtney gave Kurt. Whatever it's about, it's got this lovably bouncy, bendy, f***ed up feel to it, somewhere between a rapture and trying not to chunk your guts out after taking a entire glass-sized shot of Everclear. BTW, I don't think "Small Stone" was a misprint when it came to the solo, it sounds like a phaser, not a Small Clone, I HAVE a Small Clone and it can never sound like the HSB guitar solo.
"Rape Me/Waif Me" - If you bought this from Wally World, ol' Sam Walton did not want discussion of unspeakable acts of criminality in his store. Basically, about a guy who goes to jail and gets what he went to jail for. One of the simplest songs on the album with that classic clean/dirty syncopated rhythm thing, sort of like Smells Like Teen Spirit.
"Francis Farmer will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" - About an actress, Francis Farmer, who was from Seattle, and was improperly claimed insane by the state and put into a mental institution. Some people speculate this is about various things going on, but by god I love the imagery of this. Disease covered Puget Sound? C'mon Francis, can't you at least set fire to I-405 and clear out those Toll Lanes and wake drivers up from their Cell Phones? All personal requests to the dead aside, This one is super lovably grungy. I surmise he used the Jaguar on this one because it's got that thick club-like delivery.
"Dumb" - Ignorance is Bliss. Seems like here we meet a lovably happy character whose humorous ignorance acts as a nice pacer to the entire album. I still wonder if the chord choice was a form of implying something about fans of the breakthrough hit Smells Like Teen Spirit though? As it's basically the main chords to Smells Like Teen Spirit a whole step down, played using cowboy chords for most of the song.
"Very Ape" - A ground-bound, sky-bound, desert snake that eats lothario Machismo alpha males and is snake charmed by the sound of a Fender Mustang on neck pickup full-tilt. Am I writing a track by track play-by-play, or some kind of demented video game manual, I dunno anymore, gaaahhhh.
"Milk It" - God I love this song. Sounds like a co-dependant relationship described in as gruesome a way possible. Like a reigned in and controlled "Endless Nameless" it has some awesome random-esque noise guitar during the verses, before getting smacked in the face by a humbuckers on full sail for the screaming chorus.
"Pennyroyal Tea" - themes of Pregnancy and illness fill this somber acoustic/electric back and fourth. Hearing this conjures up images of some sickly person in a wheelchair, so they did their job here.
"Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" - A sonic and angry response to how music is a product to be crammed down the masses throats, friendly, only 3 minutes and 45 seconds long, unthreatening....use just once, then destroy, like a toilet seat cover!
"Tourettes" - very short and lots of screaming, sounds like he's singing about phones, electrical problems...whatever you want to make Kurt's random screaming, this is' Nirvana's version of ZZ Top's "10 Foot Pole" I swear. "mee fah dwa ho telephone, my wahhh, pee fah widdle stix, electricals"....I love this track, and it's the greatest pacer before we hit the final song.... or is it?
"All Apologies" - All Apologies is probably more familiar in it's quiet unplugged version, but this version starts off very strong before going completely f***ed and screw loose at the end with Kurt drifting out of harmony with himself in a barriage of feedback - which on any other band's album would have met the cutting tools immediately, but this is Nirvana, and the perfect ending to a Nirvana album....but.......
On some foreign presses of this record, there was a secret song - "Gallons of Alcohol Flow through the Strip" - this entertainingly disjointed mess of a song sounding somewhere between Nirvana as a literal Lounge Act, and some kind of unfinished demo. Either way, a fun addition that I wish was on the states release - I'm taking a point off for that.
Kurt's a pretty consistent singer. Not the greatest singer of all time, but he's consistent, and he has his own style. On this album, Kurt seems a little too consistant at some point, not varying himself as much as he did on Nevermind, but then I'm not sure weather to count off or not on it - because on the other hand, maybe that's the point since this is more of a straightforward Punk-Rock-esque effort than a big polished production like Nevermind was.
Overall Impression — 8
Compared to Nirvana's other efforts, I feel this is their big dollar album that actually hit the mark of what they were about. It's got that raspy, dare I say it, grungy approach like "Bleach," but with the growth "Nevermind" and touring gave the band.
Some standout tracks include "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter", "Scentless Apprentice", "Very Ape", and dare I say it "Heart Shaped Box" - each with their own unique soundcape that is given some consistency via that same tonality versus how it's applied to the situation. Not a clunker on here.
I like everything about this album, but I love the return to the dirty, muddy sound of the earlier records here, and the added occasionally meloncholy aggression it has. What I hate is this was to be the last studio album. Kurt Cobain was talking about the next album after this one being more like New Wave and being more experimental, I would have LOVED to have heard a New Wave Nirvana record, like a Grungy B-52's or The Cars minus synths plus some messy boutique pedals and Sonic Youth-esque guitar histrionics. It's kind of sad that sort of thing never came to pass.
Stolen? Not really possible, I still have the CD I ripped it from, and have it on my Zune and my PC. It still sees some regular rotation when I'm in that mood. Overall though, I give it an 8. It's one of those mainstays that I don't frequent so much anymore because it was a huge thing at the time it was first out, so I listened to it a lot, and have since, moved on and got into other stuff, but In Utero always has a permanant home in my music collection now matter what form it takes.