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Published: 2013/11/23
by Ron Hart

In Utero 20th Anniversary Edition


In Utero was not supposed to be the last Nirvana album.

That truth is written all over it. With pretty much a creative blank check written out to them in the wake of Nevermind’s resounding success, Kurt, Krist and Grohl set out to make the antithesis of its multi-platinum predecessor—an album that would hack away at the Top 40 listenership which leeched onto the trio in the wake of the runaway commercial appeal of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

And where Utero —with its brontosaurus stompbox wail so excellently documented in tracks like “Scentless Apprentice” and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”—was always an impressive gesture of Nirvana’s power as one of the seminal noise rock bands from the late 80s/early 90s—their EVOL if you will—it was the more lucid moments like “Dumb” and “All Apologies” of the record that offered the promise of greater things to come for the group. Especially once they added the likes of TK of Rasputina on cello and former Germs guitarist Pat Smear as Cobain’s six-string foil to his right.

The band’s need to experiment and break from its aggro shell was Kurt once admitted to Rolling Stone’s David Fricke before he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the attic of his home. For all of his impassioned aggression, there is something to be said for the 27-year-old’s approach to the craft of songwriting. You can easily tell the man was poised to pen far greater compositions than the ones he did for In Utero, which can be construed as more of a sonic “fuck you” to mainstream America before blowing the nation’s collective minds over the endless horizon before them.

It is a fun little exercise in fan fiction to speculate what exactly a fourth Nirvana album could have transpired to become. Perhaps they would have finally gotten around to crafting a work that unapologetically expounded upon the pop sensibilities they were bounding toward perfection on with such favorite tunes as “Sliver”, “In Bloom” and “Pennyroyal Tea”. Perhaps they could have done a Bowie-esque album whose influence was laid bare before their fans with the group’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World” on MTV Unplugged. Maybe it would have turned out into something akin to what Grohl conspired with the first Foo Fighters LP.

Unfortunately, if you are looking towards this 20th Anniversary edition of In Utero for clues into the shape of things to come for Nirvana, you are barking up the wrong tree. Most of the bonus material contained within this set staunchly pertains to the album it represents. And while there is a cornucopia of treats awaiting those who truly love this record—including such hard-to-find B-sides as “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip” and “Moist Vagina”, a “2013 mix” of the entire album and gaggle of instrumental and demo versions of every album track—there is not much to be offered by this collection for the listener left to wonder “what if…”

If Courtney Love is not bullshitting us, apparently there is vaulted material in the Nirvana canon that truly offers a glimpse of what the music of Nirvana could have been like had they survived the 90s with all parties here on Earth. However, in hearing this 20th anniversary edition of In Utero, all it does is answer questions with more questions.

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