Nirvana – [Box Set]

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

To this day – twenty years after the album's original release – it's astounding how badly Nirvana sought to challenge their fans with In Utero. When Nevermind was released in 1991, Nirvana found itself landing in the right place at the right time with the right sound and the right set of songs and listeners rushed to the group en masse; the movement was so dramatic, it ended up totally the conventions of pop music in the process. Suddenly guitar-driven grunge began to overtake both the charts and popular imagination and Nirvana became the biggest name in the maelstrom. At the time, such language might have sounded great to critics and rock fans, but the members of Nirvana weren't so sure. They had been the ones who made Nevermind and, while the band was pretty vocal about the fact that they liked it when they made it, they couldn't understand how it blew up the way it had. They wondered if it was the band that people loved, or the trend. They decided to make their fans prove their love and made In Utero; a genuinely powerful album which would remove all doubts by focusing on the most caustic sound the band had in them and thereby alienating any fairweather fans.

Even with a very light-handed remastering job done to the twelve songs which appeared on In Utero originally, the album is still capable of shocking listeners and violently taking their attention from the all-too-familiar explosion which opens “Serve The Servants.” There, the totally unrelenting and caustic guitars are paralleled by Kurt Cobain's vocals as they always have (the “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm bored and old” line lacerates ears with its condemning tone to this day) but, here, the vitriol almost seems to have been pushed up ever so slightly by the subtle remastering job applied; it's not dramatically different (that comes elsewhere in this set), but it's definitely not identical to the copy of In Utero that fans bought in 1993 either – that's the first hook which will engage listeners.

Because of the mild re-mastering job applied to In Utero and first showcased on “Serve The Servants,” listeners will begin approaching this In Utero reissue with very keen and sensitive ears; trying to pick out every minute difference between this and the 1993 release. They'll find a few (new equipment and technology now really make it possible to get a sense of Steve Albini's “small room” production style as it seems possible to hear Krist Novoselic's fingers on his bass and the clip of Cobain's West Coast sibilance in his vocal performance), but it's clear that everyone involved with the original release of In Utero continues to stand behind it; the Original Album Remastered portion of In Utero Super Deluxe keeps everything listeners heard the first time very prominently in place, but things start changing after the album's original twelve tracks play out.

After the original album has been covered, Disc One begins delving into the songs which originally appeared as B-sides for the singles from the album, but they also start the segues for other ideas which appear on the Super Deluxe Box Set. Most noticeably, yhe presentations of “Moist Vagina,” “Sappy” and “I Hate Myself And I Want To Die” feature re-imagined mixes produced by Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Steve Albini, and that begins the build-up to the “new” portion of the reissue. These new mixes aren't bad and really don't offer a hell of a lot of difference from the originals (why would they? None of them was particularly well-known) , but they will definitely get fans excited as they try to absorb the music and either sing its praises or absolutely deny its value as soon as possible.

Fans will be able to keep trying to over-critically analyze the songs of In Utero after switching discs over to the “2013 Mix Album,” but they'll have a little more to work with there. On Disc Two, the surviving members of Nirvana attempt to revisit both the mindset and spirit of In Utero; just as they had originally hoped to do twenty years ago, the band has taken what its fans think they know and love about Nirvana and attempted to challenge it. Here, they have changed the mixes of songs that their audience already proved they loved once to (presumably) once again see if it was the songs or the moment which actually hooked them and – in at least some cases – they'll find that it was still the songs. In fact, listeners will find they're relishing in the differences presented. Now, it's possible to really lift the layers of the songs and hear what was obscured beneath the feedback (check out the “What's your name? Why do you like me?” line at the beginning of “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and see just how loose and almost unfinished “Milk It” really does seem) and how an impressionist viewpoint proves to be able to change what fans thought they knew so well so completely. Standout tracks like the fantastically caustic remix of “Very Ape” and the somehow off-handed re-presentation of “Serve The Servants” force fans to re-examine music they thought they knew and, in doing so, injects a completely new life into music which is now twenty years old and, with it, comes some new excitement. It's really, really cool to experience.

Beyond the different impressions of In Utero, the Super Deluxe Box Set digs as deep as it can for more and, while what it finds is satisfying, the fact is that there isn't a whole lot more to present. The DVD presents the excellent Live And Loud show which happened at Pier 48 in December, 1993 with remastered audio which is an excellent touch (though the writer wishes the intro supplied by Flea and Anthony Kiedis as well as the sets by The Breeders and Cypress Hill would have been left in), but the book which accompanies the box illustrates that there really wasn't a whole lot left in the vault. Other than a short essay supplied by Bobcat Goldthwait and a shockingly spare number of photos, the book hasn't got much and is really just a placeholder; it's nice to have, but is by no stretch essential.

Taking the whole set and all of the angles it offers into account, it's funny that, somehow, In Utero remains bittersweet – even with twenty years of distance and a whole lot of extras included with the album. Comparatively, there was more in the tank with Nevermind as the inclusion of the Devonshire Mixes with the reissue of that album proved, but the reissue of In Utero still leaves listeners wanting just a little more. Perhaps that's because they know there's no more to have – this is where the trail ends – and it remains a shame.


Further Reading:

Ground Control Magazine –
Nirvana – [Discography Review (Part One)]

Ground Control Magazine – Nirvana – [Discography Review (Part Two)]


The Super Deluxe Edition of the In Utero reissue is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

Comments are closed.