Today: Jun 17, 2024

Nirvana album review: 20th anniversary edition

Xavier LassiterSpecial to the Southern News

Albums tend to have a single meaning- an overall vibe that permeates each track. 1993’s In Utero, is peculiar because it has two identities. It was initially known as a loud, polarizing, and uncompromising creation.  Something the die-hard fans would love, and casual fans would be alienated by. It was the ugly kid brother of the more streamlined, and accessible Nevermind. But after Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, the songs retroactively became mournful and wistful. Songs that may have seemed like a whirlwind of noise and screams became possible cries for help.

However, this was not the intention of the band, presumably, during recording sessions. They set out to make an album that would sound like their aggressive, low-fi, Seattle underground, Bleach days. Producer Steve Albini was hired to give the band a raw and challenging sound in the vain of The Pixies and The Breeders (both of which he produced.) The sessions had a blistering pace, and recording only took six days. The result of which was a raucous, manic, emotionally charged rush.

Yet, the 20th anniversary reissue of In Utero seems to lean toward making the album a hazy, ride into the sunset. A lot of the mixing is done to unmask Cobain, to really put him in the forefront. At times it seems like a remembrance of the late frontman, instead of an enhancement of the entire band. It’s a move that may alter the intentions of the album, but as the years go on it’s increasingly difficult to listen to it as their third album instead of their last album.


The focus on Cobain is undeniable. The instrumentals on tracks like “Milk It” and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” are slightly subdued to give Cobain’s vocals more presence. The original vocal effects on “Scentless Apprentice” and “tourette’s” are removed to make the vocals intelligible, which is something not easily achieved because of Cobain’s singing style. The biggest example of Cobain becoming the focal point is on “Dumb”. The signature cello line is almost completely removed. This is a move I would be completely against if I were mixing because the cellos made the original a sweeping, though apathetic, contemplation. However in their absence the folk qualities of this song really shine, and it becomes intimate; Cobain is strumming a tune for you on the range.

The remix of “All Apologies” also plays into the album’s feeling of warm regret. There is a second guitar that is given more prominence than in the original. The guitars play off of the cellos, which are also more apparent, to give it a glimmering effect. It makes the classic even more heart wrenching.

Don’t worry, the album has not lost its bite. Krist Novoselic’s bass is cranked up in “Rape Me” to give it a harder groove in the chorus. Dave Grohl’s drumming is given a nice highlight in “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” as if to say Hey, Dave Grohl is like a rock legend now, so let’s carve out some more space for him. And of course, Cobain’s challenging lyrics are still intact. Some are even revealed; “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” begins with Cobain murmuring and taunting the listener “Do you like me?” further adding to the irony of the song’s title.

Like most reissues, In Utero is packed with extras. The most exciting of which are Albini’s original mixes of “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies”; fan favorites “Sappy” and “Marigold”; and the entire MTV Live & Loud concert, which showcases my favorite Nirvana lineup of Cobain, Novoselic, Grohl, and the wonderful Pat Smear on guitar.

In Utero is 20 years young, and time has not quelled its impact, creativity, or boldness. It’s a testament to Cobain’s songwriting, and proof that Nirvana were not just a part of the grunge fad.


Rating: 5/5

Key Tracks: “Dumb”, “Scentless Apprentice”, “All Apologies”

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