Album: In Utero
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Recorded with Steve Albini, the final proper Nirvana album is dingy and great. "Heart Shaped Box" was the lead single, but hardly the great song, as the album also had "Rape Me," "Dumb," "Scentless Apprentice" and the classic "All Apologies." Nirvana's look towards harder rock was tailor-made for Albini's touch and he did not fail.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's a great album and should be higher.
Best song: "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" is great, great, great.
Worst song: "Milk It" is mediocre.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.
The first words sung on "In Utero:"
Teenage angst has paid off well. Now, I'm bored and old.
Cobain's lyrics on "In Utero" have two main themes. Several songs deal with medical issues, apparatuses and such. "Scentless Apprentice" talks of medical issues (the song is based on a horror novel), "Milk It" and "Pennyroyal Tea" both speak of tonics. Hell, the album's artwork is full of womb-influenced.
The other theme is the media and fame. Cobain references his wife's image in the press (the "My favorite inside source" is a nod to the Vanity Fair story alleging -- via an unnamed source -- that Courtney Love was using heroin while pregnant), Frances Farmer's problems and, well, the first lines of the album. The biggest dig is "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," two phrases mashed together to indicate the vapid, economic-based commercial radio formula.
The saga of Albini's entrance into Nirvan's orbit is an odd one. This is, after all, a guy who was not a fan of Nirvana. Albin has often said he'll record just about anyone who asks -- he did, after all, record Bush's "Razorblade Suitcase" -- and "In Utero" was another one of those projects. Let's have our good friend Wikipedia tell it:
Months before the band had even approached Albini about the recording, rumors had been circulating that he was slated to record the next Nirvana album. Albini eventually sent a disclaimer to the British music press refuting the allegations, only to get the call from Nirvana's management a few days later. Although Albini considered Nirvana to be "R.E.M. with a fuzzbox" and "an unremarkable version of the Seattle sound," he told Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad he accepted because he felt sorry for the band, whom he perceived to be "the same sort of people as all the small-fry bands I deal with" at the mercy of their record company.
Albini used his usual habit of only listening to the band while recording, choosing to keep the label people at bay.
The actual tracks turned out to sound far too much like an Albini record for anyone's liking. The vocals were, of course, too low in the mix. The bass guitar sounded off. So, despite Albini's touch, the band remastered some of the songs with Scott Litt before the album was actually sent to stores.
What would the original, Albini-produ-er,engineered record sound like? Would it be harder and less accessible? Is Albini's style that bad for a hook-heavy band like Nirvana?
Who knows? I'd like to hear that record, though.
"In Utero" is sometimes looked at as some sort of oracle into Cobain's death. That's really stupid. Cobain was always on the precipice of suicide and/or an overdose. Nevertheless, it's a fine album, straddling the line of punk rock and catchy pop rock.