Beyond their know-it-all, presumptuous arrogance, why would these “fans” want to deny Krist Novoselic and Dave Gohl (not to mention everyone else directly connected to Nirvana’s music) the opportunity to preserve and expand upon their band’s legacy? Because money is being made? Whether or not they “need” it (Grohl, for one, has done pretty well for himself since Nirvana ended), I don’t begrudge anyone profiting off their work. As long as the audience is there, keep the reissues and remasters coming. So now, following in the footsteps of the 2011 Nevermind deluxe edition, we have the 20th anniversary edition of In Utero. Is it their best studio album? That argument is almost unnecessary considering the band’s limited discography—it’s either win, place, or show.
Two decades later, there’s a reason why a second generation of Nirvana fans are still embracing this record. It rocks as hard as ever, as timeless in its raw, melodic, powerful beauty as the day it was released. For that second generation of fans, it serves as a glorious finale to the shooting-star career of Kurt Cobain. For those of us who were there the first time around, it remains as difficult as ever to listen without feeling like the band was just getting started. Maybe it’s an advantage for today’s kids to have grown up knowing that three albums and a rarities collection (Incesticide) was all there was ever going to be. At the risk of indulging in easy nostalgia, I still remember being knocked on my ass by In Utero upon first hearing it, but also wondering just what these guys might do next.
Confession: song-for-song I still think Nevermind is a stronger album. I know that’s not very hip to admit. That 1991 breakthrough was their commercial “sell-out” album, blah, blah, blah. But come on, from start to finish that album is a knockout. Call it heresy, but I’ve never been especially enamored of noisy, hookless thrashers like “Scentless Apprentice,” “Milk It,” or “Tourette’s.” I know, that was the idea, right? Turn off those who liked the more mainstream presentation of the previous album. The thing is, those noisier tracks are really the exception on In Utero anyway. As abrasive as it sometimes sounds, the hooks are all over the place, which is partly why “All Apologies,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Pennyroyal Tea,” and damn near most of the album have maintained their incredible popularity.
Anyway, no doubting the record’s stature as a rock classic will be found here. What is slightly in doubt is whether or not we needed two discs for this reissue. A lot of the previously unreleased content is made up of remixes rather than outtakes or alternate takes. The first disc offers the original album augmented by the European-only bonus cut “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip,” some B-sides, rarities, and alternate mixes. In fact, “Moist Vagina,” “Sappy,” and “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” are only included in newly-remixed form (I know the originals are available elsewhere, but you’d think they’d be worth including to make this package as comprehensive as possible).
Disc two opens with the entire album remixed by original producer Steve Albini, supervised by the surviving band members. My first thought was, “Why?” Upon listening to the 2013 remix, I realized that it does offer a more nuanced listening experience—without compromising the power inherent in the performances. I’m not saying it supplants the original mix, but it does offer the chance to hear the album from a fresh perspective even if the differences are, in the end, relatively subtle.
The previously unheard demos, mostly instrumental, are really interesting. Grohl’s acoustic “Marigold” is arguably better than the released version. “All Apologies” sounds like a jangly power pop number (too bad Cobain wasn’t singing into a live mic, he’s barely audible). “Forgotten Tune” and “Jam” aren’t much more memorable than their titles, but with a band like Nirvana, all the scraps are worth a listen.
For those with some disposable income, there’s a “super deluxe” version with extra goodies, including a concert DVD, Live and Loud, and an audio CD version of that concert. Luckily for the more budget-conscious, Live and Loud can be purchased separately. It’s a kickass show, recorded at Seattle’s Pier 48 on December 13, 1993. It’s a great opportunity to see the band with Pat Smear adding extra guitar muscle and assisting Grohl with backing vocals.
The extras are terrific, too: four Live and Loud rehearsal tunes, seven tracks from various European television performances, and two cuts of the “Heart-Shaped Box” music video. Don’t miss the rare sight of Cobain playing drums at the start of the Live and Loud rehearsals. Another highlight: their cover of The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl” (recorded in Munich). A great companion disc to go along with Live at the Paramount and Live at Reading.