11. Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
So, I’ve just done Closer, and here is the second album in the Holy Trinity of albums to flagellate yourself to.
I get really pissed off when brainless Nirvana-acolytes say “Oooh, Kurt was too fragile to be famous, too sensitive. He didn’t want to sell out. He had to remain true to his art.” What utter bollocks. Your man here was a phenomenally gifted songwriter who knew exactly how to write something that would sell. The system did not manipulate him, he manipulated the system. In Utero is the sound of a grown man who had the world at his mercy deliberately throwing a colossal tantrum.
Nevermind was slick, arguably the slickest record ever made. Cobain was grounded in a lot of US hardcore racket such as Black Flag and the Meat Puppets, but he was also a fan of The Beatles and lots of tuneful 70s rock such as Cheap Trick and Boston. He knew how to write a melody. The edges of his natural spikiness were sandpapered off by Butch Vig and the result was an album of pop songs that incorporated the sound of buildings being demolished; the sound that made them the biggest cross-over band of all time. But no, he didn’t like that.
So what did he do? He started omitting Teen Spirit from live shows, and gave the follow-up album the working title I Hate Myself And I Want To Die. Then he hired Steve Albini to produce it, a man who’d been in bands called Rapeman and Big Black, the latter of which made a practically unlistenable album called Songs About Fucking.
Daft old Lou Reed aside, its difficult to recall another record that shows as much distain for its target audience as this one. Scentless Apprentice, for this writer the best song on the album, is such an incredible act of reaching into oneself, its very uncomfortable to listen to. If you read the lyric sheet, the words to the refrain are “Go away, get away, get away.” In actual fact they are recorded as “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAG’WAAAAAAAYYYYYYEEEEEEEE!! GAWAAAAAAAYYYEEEEE!!! GAWAAAAAAAAAAYYY!” It is a track that has one of the best bombastic drumming performances in history, one that makes you realise that Dave Grohl is completely wasted in the Foo Fighters; the same with Milk It, Very Ape and the sarcastically-titled Radio Friendly Unit Shifter. The guitars sound like they have rust on the strings and Cobain’s vocals are sounding like he’ll be spitting blood when the songs finish. And Tourette’s, well…. its silly really, isn’t it?
His gift for melody shines through on All Apologies, Dumb and Heart-Shaped Box, but its no co-incidence that only three of the songs on this album were played on the seminal MTV Unplugged album; very few of these songs would work acoustically, they are all about the screaming, the racket, the catharsis and the sheer bloody-mindedness of a man who was in such conflict about what he had achieved that he would eventually blow his own head off. They were great. Someone should’ve told him.
Best Tracks: Scentless Apprentice, Heart-Shaped Box, Pennyroyal Tea
Best Moment: The disturbing line from Heart-Shaped Box: I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black. Best appreciated while watching the astonishing video.
Like this? Try: The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, 1994
Allen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014
Definitely an album that feels like a deliberate reaction to the slick Nevermind – hard to believe it’s been 20 years. It’s aging well!
My favourite Nirvana album and in my top five of all time