It’s been 20 years since Nirvana‘s In Utero was released. That’s 22 years since the release of Nevermind and 19 years since Kurt Cobain’s notorious suicide.
For an increasingly large amount of music listeners, myself included, Nirvana weren’t actually a band we were around to experience. Instead they were something which loomed over popular culture as we grew up. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was constantly on the radio, countless guys walked round with Nirvana face t-shirts and Kurt Cobain remained one of the most referenced celebrity suicides.
When I became interested in music, In Utero was the album that made me realise Nirvana were actually a real band. Not just a section of popular culture. Unlike a lot of the tracks off Nevermind, In Utero doesn’t get much radio play, if any. It’s hard to be taken aback by songs which you’ve always heard whilst you were growing up, no matter how good they are. However, hearing the primitive guitar playing on ‘Scentless Apprentice’ or Cobain groan “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black” on ‘Heart Shaped Box’, it’s likely you’ll stop and consider these guys might be the real deal.
Similar to The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Siamese Dream, released the same year, it was an album made by a band under tremendous pressure to follow up a breakthrough record, whilst simultaneously wrestling with personal problems. Just like Billy Corgan, Cobain’s heroin addiction was at its peak in ’93; not to mention social and mental problems band members were facing. When there’s so much instability involved in making a record, it runs a high risk of becoming a flop.
In Utero does the alternative. The album is a raw outburst of passion tamed with just enough navigation and control, treading on the delicate lines between genius and garbage, just managing to stay on its feet. As a result of balancing in chaos, the album’s depth increases to an unfathomable extent. When Cobain sings “choking on the ashes of her enemy” as the band slide into the chorus of ‘All Apologies’, it’s a real goosebumps moment, and there’s no manual on how to achieve that.
…Ian is listening to Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Mayonaise’…