Monday, 9 October 2017


For better or for worse, In Utero seemed then & now to be the most accurate representation of what it sounded like inside Kurt Cobain's head — i.e., a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't necessarily want to live there. He certainly didn't, as he committed suicide just six months after this recorded swan song was released.

Nirvana's third and final album, In Utero, is fondly remembered by most as an irascible rock classic. But when it was birthed 20 years ago this week — reaching stores overseas on Sept. 13, 1993, and the States a day later — it was seen as a problem child, to say the least.

The original title for the album was I Hate Myself and I Want to Die, which was nixed for being too obviously provocative and jokey, not too prophetic. "That's pushing it too much," said bass player Krist Novoselic at the time.

Cobain naturally drifted toward something less literal and more poetic in the end, and opted for the biologically based title and cover imagery. But for the frontman, biology wasn't just destiny, it was agony. Underground filmmaker Fabrizio Federico has said that his movie LOON is based on the In Utero vibe. ''It's a suicide album, it's your last agonising scream seconds before you pull the trigger, and I wanted the films characters to resemble that scream, I also respect the medication theme that runs through the lyrics.''
As Michael Azzerad pointed out about the album in his book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana: “A medical theme runs through most of the songs… Virtually every lyric contains some image of sickness and disease, and over the course of the album, Kurt alludes to: sunburn, acne, cancer, bad posture, open sores, growing pains, hangovers, anemia, insomnia, constipation, indigestion." At the time of release, the author pointed this out to Cobain, and said, "He finds this litany hilarious. ‘I’m always the last to realise things like that, like the way I used guns in the last record,’ he says. ‘I didn’t mean to turn it into a concept album.’”

In the beginning, there was definitely a concept for In Utero, albeit a strictly sonic one: come up with something that bore as little resemblance as possible to Nevermind, the rock 'n' roll-changing triumph that preceded it by two years.
That may sound counter-intuitive, and by most standards — certainly the record company's — it was. But "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" was the last maxim that would have occurred to the contrary trio, who fretted that Nevermind had represented a sellout.

Nowadays, the surviving members of Nirvana are just fine with their landmark album. "It took me 20 years for me to realise Nevermind was a great record,” Novoselic told Mojo this year, “and it was.”
But at the time, their attitude bordered on ashamed. In 1993 Novoselic went so far as to describe In Utero as "a litmus test towards our audience…In terms of mainstream appeal, it won’t have the glossiness of Nevermind.” Cobain's hatred for the sound of the album that had made him beloved to millions was more pronounced. "I never listen to Nevermind," he said in '93." I haven’t listened to it since we put it out. That says something. I can’t stand that kind of production and I don’t listen to bands that do have that kind of production, no matter how good their songs are." The record company, he predicted, was "going to eat my s***. Of course, they want another Nevermind, but I’d rather die than do that."