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“Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old.” This is the opening line of what will become Nirvana’s last studio album, ‘In Utero,’ produced by Steve Albini and released on the 13th of September 1993 via DGC Records. The sentence introduces a fierce album, destined to revolutionize the expectations built over the band after the release of ‘Nevermind’. To underline the distance between the two records Kurt Cobain said “The pussies and wimps who liked the last album won’t ever like this one.”
Defined by many as the best album by the Seattle band, ‘In Utero’ has the ability to provide a full, clear, picture of the many personalities Nirvana is able to assume. Spanning from raw, hard sonorities to more delicate ones, running from punk to melodies, ‘In Utero’ comes to the listener as honest and aggressive as a punch in the face. The record is true, pure and aggressive; it is ironic and obsessed, as well as mature and fragile. It looks for no excuses, while describing in deep detail some of society’s features, as well as expressing feelings sometimes hard to handle. Through his lyrics, Kurt Cobain addresses society, the music business, his fame directly, the listener, his family and himself, painting a picture that comes out of the smog of confusion with defined and marked borders; picture which will stay firmly attached to the listener during the entire record and beyond.
At the time, Cobain stated ‘In Utero’ was what the band had always wanted to do; the members approached the album in a different way in respect to the more commercially successful ‘Nevermind.’ After ‘Nevermind’ was released in 1991, consecrating Nirvana as one of the most influential bands of the modern era, the band was subject to a high level of pressure. The record label was pushing for a new album following the flow of ‘Nevermind.’ The band members, Cobain above all, were hardly handling the huge and fast success acquired with the album’s release, copyright issues arose because of a band from the ‘70s called Nirvana. The outcasts were now the idles and the examples to follow, the alternative had transformed into ‘the must,’ and the grunge movement had already become a money machine perfectly integrated into the vacuity of musical personality’s over-exploitation.
Nirvana was taking longer than expected to create its new work, so much that the label decided to release the compilation ‘Incesticide’ in 1992, in order to feed the fans craving some new music by the Seattle band. Nevertheless, Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl did not adjust themselves to the image created through their previous album and over-pushed by the media and industry players; they created an album whose main characteristic is the truth.
The level of maturity in Cobain’s lyrics is astonishing. The album sounds like the description of an introspective journey towards his most secret and hidden flame of self-being. It sounds like a journey towards the primordial state of the soul, towards the honesty of a being in a mother’s uterus.
Although Nirvana expected ‘In Utero’ not to be highly successful in terms of sales and critics, it reached No.1 of the Billboard 200 chart upon release, confirming a large base of the band’s fans and attracting mixed to positive reviews. The record has been certified five times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Looking backwards, ‘In Utero’ seems to be the perfect ending of a journey started with the raw ‘Bleach’, passing through ‘Nevermind’, and ending with majesty and maturity.
After twenty years the relevance of this album is unchanged, and its level of depth probably unmatched. ‘In Utero’ should be considered as an opportunity for the listeners to get in touch with something to which every kid of music should aim: the purity of sound and lyrics. A listen to this album has to be given with concentration of both, mind and emotions.
The 20th anniversary of ‘In Utero’ will be celebrated by Universal Music through the release of several special editions which will serve well a great variety of music lovers. On September 24 fans will be able to choose between a Super Deluxe Edition, containing 3 CDs and the DVD of the ‘Live and Loud’ performance, LPs re-releases and more simple versions of the remastered album. Included in some of the releases are rare and unreleased recordings, which are set to excite fans and collectors. You can pre-order here (U.S.) or here (Europe).
Enjoy the promotional video for ‘In Utero 20.’
Image credit: Nirvana via Facebook