Classic Album Review: ‘In Utero’ by Nirvana

In Utero – Nirvana (1993)

After the astronomical success of their album ‘Nevermind,’ the easiest thing for Nirvana to do would have been to make a ‘Nevermind 2.’

But feeling swamped by their crossover from underground artists into the mainstream, and with a desire to rile against the monster they had created, they instead decided to return to the raw unpredictability of their first album Bleach, but with a more nihilistic, emotionally charged feeling on their next album In Utero.

Musically, The band challenged experienced producer Steve Albini to move away from the big rock sounds of Nevermind producer Butch Vig towards more of an improvised, live and stripped down sound.

Lyrically, songwriter Kurt Cobain’s often improvised lyrics on songs like the sarcastically titled ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ toyed with the idea of deconstructing cliched song structure and picking holes in the myth that had grown around his own band.

Instead of rebelling against the musical culture around them like their first two albums had done, they turned in on themselves and started rebelling against what people expected of them as a band.

Kurt himself was not coming from a good place during this album. He was trying to come to terms with the twin pressures of becoming a father (when he himself had not had a very stable childhood) and the inward shame of becoming everything he always hated; the big-deal mainstream rock n roll celebrity. In Utero documents his accelerating spiral, and in a similar way to albums like Joy Division’s swan song ‘Closer’ this tinges the album with a certain sadness.

But In Utero as a piece of work is about much more than the singer’s tragic decline. It is the most experimental and fascinating work they created; and against its own best wishes it’s also a barnstormingly good rock album to boot. As much as Kurt tries to rebel against rock tradition, he can’t help but write great melodies, and as experimental as this album is, the songs still shine through on this utterly brilliant last album.

Incapsulating all of this is my song choice; this is ‘Scentless Apprentice.’


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