19 June 2011

nirvana - in utero


1. serve the servants

c: before i start on the song... it is 1993, my shit for fuckheads counterpart and i just moved to boston the year before. looking back now, nirvana was very influential on why we ended up in boston, pursuing silly fame & fortune, fronting a band called "sons of john glenn." we transplanted from state college, pa, leaving the best rhythm section we ever had behind after we graduated with our valuable english degrees. unfortunately, the release of "nevermind" and superchunk's first LP was so influential on us, that they collectively destroyed the incredible originality we had going prior to listening to these bands. but that is our own damn fault.

if i remember correctly, i had just started working at nuggets records in kenmore square. we received limited clear vinyl editions of "in utero" the day before it's release. that night i took one home & listened to it over & over again until i passed out, only to wake up the next morning with the needle tripping over the last grove of the second side. it must have been doing that for hours. i was pissed that it etched a deep grove into my new wax, but that is not the only thing that eventually pissed me off about this LP, though it took many years for those aspects to reveal themselves... now on to the review.

"serve the servants" immediately hits you as a heavy number, not much polish in the production, nothing like "nevermind"... it is rough, it rocks, the lyrics are biting & bitter, but cobain & company just sounds plain tired & bored with it all. his lyrical delivery & demeanor brings the tune down, there are no two ways around it... a perfect example of what time does to you. when i first heard this song, i absolutely loved it's power. 18 years later, like cobain, i am a bit tired & bored & this song certainly does not ring true to me anymore. it is drudgery at it's best. nirvana certainly was not trying as hard as they did with "bleach" or "nevermind." the opening track is good enough to fool a young & angry listener. at 40 years old, i found it difficult even to nod my head to the beat & i still like to rock, damnit. this track just does not rock.

j:  I have a lot to say about In Utero, and Nirvana in general. Full disclosure-I believe in Nirvana as transformative artists in music and culture. Over maybe a six-month period after the release of Nevermind, they made an entire generation of hair metal and 'alternative' bands totally uncool. And as everyone knows an entirely new generation of mostly shitty bands rode the wave that they set in motion. And by 1993 it was apparent to everyone that the trend would continue.

"Teenage Angst has paid off well, and now I'm bored and old" sings Cobain in Serve The Servants. I can't deny the power of this song, it's great. But right off the bat we see Cobain in an almost apologetic mode, talking about how things went wrong. There seems to be an undercurrent of re-establishing cred in this album. By 1993, of course, Seattle was waning and the first wave indie rocks bands were on the rise-Superchunk, Pavement, Archers of Loaf, etc. Nevermind seemed fairly rooted in west coast metal, and that just wasn't as cool anymore. Who better to draw Nirvana 2.0 into the indie rock fold? Albini.

2. scentless apprentice

c:  jesus, why didn't they make this the opener?!?!? now this rocks! i remember hearing "scentless apprentice" before the LP was released on the boston classic rock station, 104.1?, and the dj that debuted it was creaming his pants after the track was over & he simply exclaimed, "now that, is rock & roll!" and he was right. i was surprised it was played on a classic rock station to begin with & i still am. i am more inclined to think the dj went renegade & played the damn thing despite the mandatory rule to play the same ancient songs over & over again. anyhoo, this track is more along the lines of what i was expecting from nirvana at the time. the lyrics are cool, but they are secondary to the emotions & energy this song evokes. this is what nirvana is all about. this is what they did best. this track still makes me want to jump in a pit & beat the hell out of myself and those around me... my heart rate doubled just listening to the damn thing.

j: Seems like a muscle flex-all those crappy mainstream grunge bands
floating around at this point, and Nirvana puts them all to shame with this bleak, ear-splitting masterpiece. I love it, but I always wonder how it might have sounded had they retained Butch Vig. Albini was all about making bands sound like they did in rehearsal. It's an artistic choice, and not a bad one. But I'll always wonder. This was my first favorite from this album, by a country mile.

3. heart-shaped box

c: "she eyes me like a pisces when i am weak"

the single... they brought in scott litt to clean up whatever steve albini recorded & that must certainly have rubbed albini the wrong way, but who cares, the guy is a dick. and this recording is clean as a whistle, sounds fantastic in a good headset, which i am doing now...

i still listen to this song when it pops up on the radio, but if there is
something better on the oldies station, like gordon lightfoot or something, i will listen to that instead. cannot help but think this tune has something to do with cobain's regret in hooking up with his murderous wife & the lyrical content clearly foreshadows things to come in the near future. mainly, cobain trying to figure out how to get out of the mess he is in. beyond all that, "heart-shaped box" is a well crafted pop tune, bordering on gloom, but maintaining enough energy throughout to keep it from being some over-dramatic goth dirge... though the "soft then loud" formula was already starting to get old at this point. there are other dynamics in between. this was the right choice for a single though. it is the only one on the record.

j: The single-one of the most gawked-at singles ever, really. I have to
admit I didn't warm up to this when it released, and I don't love it now. The riff during the chorus seems kind of cookie-cutter 'grunge.' And the Pixies' LOUDsoftLoUD treatment is a little too spot-on. Again, THIS IS NOT A BAD SONG. But it's like computer-generated Nirvana. I'd imagine the studio had their fingers in this one quite a bit. All that said, the lines "I was drawn into your magnet tarpit trap/ wish I could eat your cancer when I turn black" are spectacular.

4. rape me

c: i never really liked this song, even way back when. i think i would if
the lyrics were different. musically, "rape me" rocks, but rape is a pretty serious thing. yeah, perhaps curt & his band were being taken advantage of, so to speak... they made a ton of money from being "raped" though & this is the first tune where it is apparent that curt has truly gone down that lazy, long and winding road of complaining & yeah, he is not the only one. in fact, i find so much current pop/rock/punk/emo unbearable because of the copy cat whining, which stems from just a few tunes cobain wrote and decided to put on a record. seriously, the punk rock flag has been mainly carried by a bunch of lazy-assed, woe-is-me pansies with loud/soft drums & guitars ever since this LP came out. you would never catch the replacements or the ramones putting a song with this type of lackadaisical lyrical content on it. it is one thing to be suffering & painting a picture about it... it is another to just go on & on telling everyone how crappy yer situation is. albeit, cobain certainly had problems, mental illness, a bad smack habit, an unstable wife, more money than he knew what to do with, but AOR and the music industry taking advantage of him & his band was probably the least of his worries or it should have been. oh, whatever, nevermind.

j:  Always felt mailed-in to me. Like this is the sort of transgressive sentiment we expect from Cobain. Again, seems too spot-on, like hey rape me! Isn't that dark? If Cobain hadn't written this song, someone else would have eventually, and I expect more from Cobain. There's no unexpected twist, it's just Cobain singing about dark stuff and screaming at the end. A rocking tune, but that's it. Breed blows this out of the water.

5. frances farmer will have her revenge on seattle

c: this song would have fit nicely on their b-side collection, "incesticide", which is better than this LP by the way. "frances" (yeah, his daughter's name sake) is more along the lines of what you should expect on this LP, unfortunately, that does not always a happen. it sounds live. nice in yer face guitars, the drums are solid & the bass holds down the fort. it is a rough & loud & simple ride, with a sweet chorus that you can hum along to while putting yer fist through a wall.

j: It's good. But the record seems to be losing steam here. This sounds like a really good demo, like maybe it needs more fleshing out. It rocks, but I find it difficult to say anything else about it. This didn't do much for me in 1993 and it still doesn't. But there's nothing wrong with it.

6. dumb

c:  this a product of cobain trying. he is painting a picture & it rings true. i can relate to it, more so now as time drags on... "dumb" has withstood the test of time, one of the few on the LP. the cello works perfectly on this tune, but nirvana went on to over-use it on their mtv acoustic LP. good closer for the first side & it leaves you with some hope that there are better things to come...

j:  Dumb is a relief at this point in the record, because it sounds like Nirvana taking one of those delicious turns that are all over Nevermind. Kurt singing those short lines--compact, simple thoughts about simple things. I think this would have been a better first single than Heart-Shaped Box. This is the first song in this re-visitation that's standing out for me like it never did before.


1. very ape

c:  yes! good start! please keep it going, damnit! "very ape" also belongs on "incesticide." i am beginning to think that said LP needs to be properly re-released as a 3 sided double-LP with some nice artwork etched into the fourth side. the best songs from "in utero" comprising the third side. if i had the money & a record press, i would do it.

having said that, remember now, "incesticide" IS a b-side LP... the fact that i want some of these songs put on a b-side collection is not exactly a good thing. yes, like my counterpart, i expected more out of cobain at this point...

j:  I'll say it-this song always bored me. It's totally fine, of course. The chorus sounds like "I'm On A Plain" but that song is 100 times more interesting. It's like they started Side B with an outtake.

2. milk it

c:  heavy, heavy, heavy... reminds me of jesus lizard. my guess is this was albini's favorite tune nirvana offered for him to record. cobain's vocal is incredible on this track. i would give my useless left nut to be able to scream like that. love the noodling guitars in the in-between parts... lyrically, cobain has a winner and he focused on his strengths... threading words that rhyme, but do not necessarily work together, but twisting them to make'em work. "protector of the kennel, ecto-plasma, ecto-skeletal, obituary birthday, your scent is still here in my place of recovery." and you have to love it when he cracks up right before he belts out "test meat" for the third time. this side is getting better and better. enough weirdness and genuine emotion to keep me listening.

j: Scentless Apprentice reprise. Also an opportunity to deliver the line "My shit is her milk." It's good, it just isn't anything we haven't heard before from this band. Maybe the most direct Pixies homage Nirvana ever recorded.

3. pennyroyal tea

c: this was supposed to be the second single & video released (why so late in the game?), but cobain was whacked & all the current plans for making money were changed to bigger ones...

i don't know how this song would have done as the second single. it follows the formula that made nirvana famous, "the quiet, then loud act," but "pennyroyal tea," has a certain stink about it, though it should be minty fresh going down, it is more like taking a laxative. the song is about death, i guess, or waiting for it. if cobain didn't slip in so many songs eluding to death & guns & suicide, perhaps courtney would not have gotten away with what she did. the herb pennyroyal (mentha pulegium) supposedly causes abortions... i am flushing out the rest of what i have to say...

j:  This has always been my least favorite song from this album. The complacent junkie is speaking here, and I just don't care. That he name-drops Leonard Cohen is, to me, the most interesting element of this song.

4. radio friendly unit shifter

c:  signature nirvana tune, though i wish the vocal was a little more up in the mix, but after reading the lyrics, perhaps albini made the right move... borderline whining again, but nothing close to "rape me"... the noise drowns out any down-side to this song & that is a good thing. the title is a bit too obvious... this lil' ditty is certainly not a radio friendly unit shifter.

j:  "Hate, hate your enemies/save, save your friends/find, find your place/speak, speak the truth"

I feel like I hear the Nevermind Kurt singing in this awesome bridge verse. My favorite moment in In Utero. I'm so happy Kurt didn't' die before he wrote these lines. As unfocused as I believe this record to be, especially compared to Nevermind, he was definitely starting to zero in on something here. I think I would have liked this as the first song on the album instead of Serve The Servants.

5. tourette's

c: nirvana's supposed attack on moderate rock continues... this is by far my favorite track on the LP & in a perfect world, it should have been the first single of the record. it is a cross of a traditional russian kalinka & an outright bile-spewing hyper-active punk... no words to understand, but the song's meaning is loud and clear... "i do whatever the fuck i want to! fuck you, you fucking fuck!"

j: I kind of tune out during this song, even though it clearly rocks. Don't know if I'll ever get my grunge ears back. I think I still have my grunge hat somewhere.

6. all apologies

c:  perfect end to a not so perfect LP. "in utero" is an LP full of emotion, no doubt. some of it good & some of it bad. all apologies is difficult to listen to at times, for reasons of my own. in light of what unfolded in the aftermath of cobain's death, all i have to say is that i do wish that there was more good & bad to listen to, i would even take just the bad. now there is just the could'a, would'a, should'a & all the mess that rides along with it... que sera sera...

j:  It's great. And there's nothing like this on Nevermind. Stockton has come to Washington. I'd imagine the next Nirvana album would have been a whole album of songs like this. Which would have been great, but not really what made Nirvana so famous in the first place. But artists need to grow and all that.


  1. Nice review; hard to disagree with anything here. Fwiw, I always thought Pennyroyal Tea was a whine about hoping to create, as an artists, and having all his progeny come out feeling dead, like abortions. And 'Pennyroyal Tea' sounds like 'Penny Royalty' (i.e. what he made off each track). Cheers.

  2. good point. and yer right about "penny royalty." i am enjoying the last bit of our cow right now.