Wednesday, January 27, 2010

439. In Utero- An audio suicide note.

Album: In Utero.

Aritst: Nirvana.

Year: 1993

Genre: Grunge

  1. Serve the Servants
  2. Scentless Apprentice
  3. Heart-Shaped Box
  4. Rape Me
  5. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle
  6. Dumb
  7. Very Ape
  8. Milk It
  9. Pennyroyal Tea
  10. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
  11. tourette's
  12. All Apologies

Nirvana are one of those bands who never did what people thought they were going to do. In their short career and longer pre-history they’ve defied expectations every step of the way. Nobody expected them to become a mainstream success and then suddenly they did. They stunned their record label by becoming the biggest band in the world with a commercial breakthrough. Then they released an attempt at career-suicide which was expected to flop but still sold bucketloads. Just when people assumed they’d become a permanent fixture in the rock stratosphere their leader decided to effect the music world’s most permanent form of band break-up. After Kurt’s death the rest of the band were expected to forever live in his shadow but 50% of the leftovers formed the Foo Fighters and Nirvana became just his first band.

In Utero is the last Nirvana album, it was recorded when the band was uncomfortable with the superstar status they’d received and wanted to record a raw album without the commercial sound that the mega-selling Nevermind used to make them the biggest band in the world. Kurt Cobain threw polished production (and actual tunes according to some people) out of the window and went for a sound that moved towards hardcore punk. The result is a bit of a tricky listen if the only Nirvana you’re used are the hit singles that were all over the radio back in the early nineties. The second track Scentless Apprentice replaces a chorus with a series of distorted screams, which makes it slightly more accessible than Tourettes in which Kurt screams every single word. There is also a lack of cheeriness in the lyrics as well. Rape me caused some issues when it was released and a lot of confusion. I’m going to assume it’s not a tautological request for consensual unconsensual sex and is actually related to record company executives (anyone out there ever heard a positive song about a record exec? If your favourite band has a song called “Hooray for the suits!” or something similar please let me know)

But while there’s a lot on In Utero that would never make it near commercial radio it had two big singles which prove that Cobain could produce a hit when he needed to. Heart Shaped Box is a song that makes good use of the light/heavy technique that Nirvana made popular and many have overused since: Acoustic verses and electric choruses with added grunt. All apologies, the album closer gives us another good riff which a million teenager boys were probably practicing in their rooms within an hour of buying the album.

Cobain’s suicide within a year of its release turned In Utero into something he never meant it to be: his final statement to the world. Kurt may have written a note and quoted Neil Young in his greenhouse but for the fans this album and its lyrics are his final message. The overall effect is definitely a harrowing portrayal of a troubled soul. The press were keen to label Cobain “The voice of his generation” a tag he apparently hated as much as Bob Dylan did when he copped the title in the sixties. Nobody in their right mind wants to be called the voice of his generation. The only person who has embraced the idea is Kanye West who took on the title himself and is as big a tit as the hip-hop world has ever managed to produce.

It’s not fair to suggest that Nirvana owe their popularity and record sales to the death of their lead singer. Cobain could clearly write a song. If you want further proof that they weren’t one trick ponies then give Nirvana Unplugged in New York a listen. Many bands would be fairly pitiful when stripped of their distortion pedal and bombastic drumming but Cobain, Grohl and…um… the other guy prove that they had the musical talent to outlast the grunge fad they helped start. They also continued to defy expectations by playing a 14 song set mainly comprised of obscure covers and their lesser known album tracks. It’s just a pity their lead singer’s mental health couldn’t live up to his talent.

Influenced by: Gang of Four and death metal.

Influenced: Countless thousands of angst ridden teenagers.

Highlight: Heart Shaped Box and All apologies.

Lowlight: Tourettes.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: “I gave this 1 star because ive only heard 1 song off the album I didnt hear the song that well, it was blasting in a furnace Running into telephone pollsThis album just isnt very good, ive only heard 1 song off the album though, but if i may quote some lyrics

"Hay! What?!
Ive got a rude compliment
Only looking out of my heart shaped box!"

THose lyrics Cobain wrote arent very good, someone needs to tell this guy to get his head together”

-Normally I’m scornful about people who review an album after one listen and incandescent about people who only hear one song, but this one just left me baffled. What’s with the furnace and telephone polls reference?

So is this audio nirvana for you or sonic hell? Let me know below.

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