Nirvana's 'In Utero' 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition - Does it stand the test of time?
It’s hard to believe it has been 20 years since the release of what would become Nirvana’s last album, following the tragic suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994.
At the time of its original release, Cobain himself described In Utero as the album he always wanted Nirvana to make, still uneasy about what he saw as the ‘over-production’ of the band’s massive breakthrough album Nevermind and the mainstream success it brought them.Getting there wasn’t easy though; in fact, the record’s production and release was mired in controversy and struggle throughout.
The band’s decision to employ producer Steve Albini was not a popular choice with Geffen, the band’s label, whose reaction to the initial mixes of the album was less than enthusiastic – Cobain later complained to journalist Michael Azerrad that they had described it as “unlistenable” and suggested that his songwriting was “not up to par.”
Feedback from some of the band’s friends was much better and Cobain was determined not to give in and “just make another Nevermind’. The band did concede however that some of the mixes were not as good as they could be, deciding first to employ Bob Ludwig in attempt to fix the record’s issues through mastering, then recruiting Scott Litt and Andy Wallace to remix some of the tracks on the album.
This didn’t go down well with Albini - he initially refused to hand over the master tapes, claiming he had an agreement with the band that the record would not be remixed, only relenting after a lengthy phone call from Krist Novselic – followed by a series of mud-slinging articles in the press between Albini and Geffen.
As if all this wasn’t enough, when the album finally hit the shelves in September 1993, Robert Fisher’s artwork – variously depicting a translucent, pregnant angel and various images of internal organs – proved too controversial for retailers Walmart and Kmart, both of whom refused to stock the album, prompting the label to insist that a repackaged version be issued and generating yet more controversy for the band, who were subsequently accused of ‘selling out’ by some sections of the music press. This is before we even begin talking about the furore over Cobain’s lyrics on the single 'Rape Me'.
Because of all of this, there has always been the sense that the released version of In Utero didn’t quite tell the whole story; perhaps it is this that has driven the release of In Utero (20th Anniversary – Deluxe Edition). Rather than being the usual ‘anniversary repackage’ affair with digital re-mastering and a couple of demos tacked on at the end, this 2-CD release is more an attempt to document the story of the record in its entirety, featuring both the original Albini mixes as well as the later Wallace & Litt versions. The release also boasts a selection of demos, unreleased tracks and b-sides (including the infamous 'Rape Me' b-side 'MV' and 'Marigold', Dave Grohl’s first songwriting contribution to the band). Finally the new release features a ‘2013 mix’ of the entire album - giving the performances more of a ‘live’ feel – and a new mix of 'I Hate Myself and I Want to Die', first featured on a Beavis and Butthead compilation back in 1994. For the hardcore fans, there is also a 'Super Deluxe' edition available, complete with a DVD of the 1993's entire 'Live & Loud' set from Seattle's Pier 48.
Whether discovering the album for the first time or revisiting a classic, the 20th Anniversary editions contain plenty for fans new and old alike.
In Utero (20th Anniversary - Deluxe Edition) is available in store and to download now.