In Utero


DGC Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After the smashing success of Nevermind and the rise of grunge as the "next big thing", one had to wonder what Kurt Cobain and Nirvana had planned for their follow-up. They were in a position that not many bands would want to be in; how do you top an album that seemingly defines a generation?

After a side trip to the vaults with Incesticide, Cobain, Chris Novaselic and Dave Grohl came back in 1993 with In Utero, an album that left a lot of people scratching their heads in confusion. Was this the same band that had ridden the crest of popularity just a few years ago with "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? Had they abandoned their more pop-like sound in exchange for a noise that demanded you accept Nirvana on their own terms?

Fact is, six years after its release, In Utero has its moments, but it is a major disappointment. Cobain and crew do indeed turn their back on a more approachable sound (quite possibly generated by producer Butch Vig on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Nevermind), and instead turn to ambient noise and chords that don't resolve, all under the knob-twirling of Steve Albini.

The first single, "Heart-Shaped Box," seemed to be the first sign of confusion, both for Nirvana and its fans. A track that partially embraced the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" approach (moving from gentler tones to all-out madness), it didn't seem like the obvious next step for Nirvana. While the song is good, it caused some head-scratching. I remember thinking when I first heard this song, "What is Nirvana trying to prove?"

Of the other songs I can remember hearing on the radio, "Rape Me" (later re-named "Waif Me" thanks to some complaints) is the most "Teen Spirit" like, at least when it comes t the guitar riffs, but is a bit of a disappointment. "Dumb" and "All Apologies" reveal the softer side of Nirvana, and sadly remain the best material on this album. Too bad, 'cause I really wanted the harder stuff to rock out more.

In Utero's lead-off track, "Serve The Servants," seems to mock the success that Nirvana had - the first lyric, "Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I'm bored and old", says more about the impending end of the band than one could have expected in 1993. Other tracks, like "Scentless Apprentice" and "tourette's", almost feel like we're listening to Cobain go through primal scream therapy. It's not the most comfortable position to be in - and it represents Nirvana's thumbing their nose at commercialism.

Unfortunately, In Utero also represents a loss of focus musically for Nirvana. Tracks like "Very Ape," "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle" and "Milk It" all fail to get out of the starting blocks, leaving the listener feel cheated.

In the end, In Utero is a disappointing, confusing listen that may have some fair-weather music fans running for the exits. And no matter how many times I listen to this album over the years, I still can't help but feel cheated, as if Cobain withheld his best material and put out some dreck just to see how many fans would stay with the band. If only he had lived to create one more album (not including the two posthumous live releases); I honestly think that we would have seen a return to form for Nirvana. Instead, In Utero is a last, blurred family photo.

Rating: C+

User Rating: A-



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of DGC Records, and is used for informational purposes only.