If there was ever an argument that Kurt Cobain was a living, breathing “Twilight Zone,” episode, it’s Nirvana’s third and final album, “In Utero.” Nirvana’s singer-songwriter crafted songs that were predominantly a response to the well-produced tracks from the band’s massive breakthrough release “Nevermind,” which changed the face of music in 1991.
“Nevermind” turned Nirvana from a club band to the most popular act in the world in months, which is incredible considering the group was a pre-Internet phenomenon. Cobain was always cognizant of being labeled a sellout.
No matter how much Cobain tried to muck up his songs to make the tracks as dissonant as possible, the tunes were pop at its core. The late Cobain, who killed himself in Seattle just over a month after Nirvana’s final show in Munich, was cursed with the ability to make virtually any song catchy.
Cobain’s covers were often better than the original versions, which is incredibly uncommon. Cobain was able to make virtually any song sound good. Most other recording artist’s would sell their soul to possess such a gift but it seemed to disturb Cobain.
Tunes with the bleakest, even nihilistic lyrics that were delivered in cacophonous squalls somehow were sing-along songs. Cobain tried to muck up such “In Utero” deep tracks as “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and “Very Ape” but the tunes have infectious elements.
There’s an eternal debate whether “Nevermind” or “In Utero” is the better work of art. During a recent chat with Cobain’s close friend and mentor, Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins, believes “Nevermind” is the superior work since the songs are there.
However, I give the edge to “In Utero.” The songs are exceptional. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” “Pennyroyal Tea” and “Heart Shaped Box” hold their own with any “Nevermind” cut.
There’s just something deeper and more revealing about the “In Utero” tracks. Cobain insisted that the songs weren’t personal but that doesn’t seem to be so considering an examination of the last two years of his life.
It’s fascinating looking back at “In Utero” since Nirvana was the rare band always ascending. However, the album might have been the band’s final act even if Cobain didn’t take his life since it appeared that the enigmatic legend indicated to friends that he wanted to move on.
Regardless of whether Nirvana continued, what is most sad is that we’ll never know what Cobain would have accomplished next. Perhaps the world of music would have moved in a different direction.
However, we’re left with an album that still stands up. There’s too many discussions comparing the production of Nirvana’s second and third albums. Butch Vig did a masterful job elevating Nirvana and the band decided to go in another direction with punk icon Steve Albini behind the board.
Two different results, which is what fans should desire since why would you want a recording artist to repeat itself?
And then there was the “In Utero” tour. I caught two shows during the autumn of ‘93. Cobain hardly said a word as he stood Bill Wyman still as he snarled his lyrics.
There was no band quite like Nirvana, who single-handedly pricked the hair-metal bubble. The urgency, passion and power are reasons the band still sounds resonant today.
Kudos to the Seattle Pop Culture Museum (https://mopop.org) for keeping the Nirvana exhibit open after closing its Pearl Jam display. I’ve visited the SPCM three times in four years and much like Nirvana’s music, looking back at the videos and memorabilia, never gets tired.
Some have dubbed “In Utero” a commercial disappointment but that’s inaccurate since more than 15 million albums sold.
The album was originally dubbed “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die.” According to Cobain, that title was a joke. Perhaps it was since Osbourne stressed that Cobain would often kid around in a dark manner.
“In Utero” was the end of a remarkable run of game-changing alternative albums dating back to 1988 with such seminal releases as Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation,” The Sugarcube’s “Life’s Too Good” and the Pixies’ “Doolittle.”
Few musicians’ coda is as impressive as Cobain’s “In Utero.”