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Nirvana – In Utero 20th anniversary edition

Nirvana – In Utero 20th anniversary edition

If you’ve been to this site before, or ever talked to me in person (I’m good at mixing Nirvana into the subject somehow), you probably know I love Nirvana. Been like that since I was 9 years old and it will probably never change. Anyway, with the release of this 20th Anniversary Edition of In Utero we had quite a bit of Nirvana content up on the site, but this probably will be the last post about the band in a while.

20 years have passed since it came out. Time flies. I wish I could tell you a story about the day it came out, but I hadn’t even heard about the band back then. Nevermind was their big hit, but In Utero is probably the album the fans love the most. It’s my favorite album for sure. So let’s see what they made of this anniversary edition.

“I think the very best thing you could do at this point is exactly what you are talking about doing: bang a record out in a couple of days, with high quality but minimal “production” and no interference from the front office bulletheads. If that is indeed what you want to do, I would love to be involved.

If, instead, you might find yourselves in the position of being temporarily indulged by the record company, only to have them yank the chain at some point (hassling you to rework songs/sequences/production, calling-in hired guns to “sweeten” your record, turning the whole thing over to some remix jockey, whatever…) then you’re in for a bummer and I want no part of it.”

Was signed Steve Albini. A letter he wrote to the band before agreeing to record In Utero with the band. That 4 page letter, printed in the Super Deluxe edition of this reissue, is almost worth the price alone. The passage I quoted above gives such a perfect view of what happened. In short: The band wanted to record a raw album and loved the live, “roomy”, sound of Albini. They wanted something completely different from the slick sound of Nevermind. The album was recorded in no-time, everyone loved it. Highfives all around. And then the label heard it. They weren’t happy. And the band (as a result of that?) started to have some doubts as well. Kurt especially was never afraid to be a walking contradiction, so in the end a couple of songs were remixed (and some overdubs were added) or let’s say “sweetened”. The record got released like that and it was a big success.

You all know the story eventually ended, so no need to go into that here. Here’s what I think about this reissue:

The bad

  • No “Lullaby” or the instrumental Dave Grohl song. For completeness sake it would have been good to have them on here. I’m not expecting it to be good, I just want to hear it. Like with the “Sappy” from the Nevermind sessions. I don’t get why they omit stuff like that. For a future release?
  • I didn’t notice it when I reviewed the Live And Loud DVD, but there are 2 (to me, minor) problems with the DVD (that comes with the Super Deluxe edition and is sold seperately): Apparently the video isn’t 4:3, but 16:9 with black bars hardcoded into the video. That didn’t stop me from enjoying it, but still… And this version of the show is missing some great shots that were in the broadcasted version. I don’t know what exactly happened, but some people suggested this is the live feed from MTV and that for their own broadcast they edited other shots in. Either way, it’s still a great DVD, but apparently could have been even better.
  • CD 3 is the audio from the DVD again. I’m not a big fan of this, I don’t think I ever put the audio CD of the Paramount show in my CD player. I would have rather seen this disc filled with live rarities from that era. Like a soundboard recording of “You Know You’re Right” from the Aragon Ballroom show? Oh well, one can only dream. And this live disc sounds pretty good, I just don’t expect it to get much plays from me.

That’s it. For real. That are the only problems I can come up with. Some people complained about the price (89 euro in the Netherlands), but you can always go for the cheaper editions (the 3 LP set costs 39 euro for example, but there are also 2 and 1 CD editions) if that’s a problem. I do think it’s worth the money. But then again, I probably would have said the same if it was double the amount.

The good

  • The packaging. The book(let) you’re getting with the Super Deluxe Edition is great. I love it’s LP sized (like they did with the Nevermind reissue). It has the 4 page letter by Albini and some other documents (about costs), handwritten lyrics, unseen photo’s and an In Utero magnet to stick on your freezer (!). I also like that the 4 CD’s together create the picture of the angle. It just looks good.
  • The mastering: Finally, they got it right. No brickwalling, no normalizing to hell. No, they actually IMPROVED the sound this time. How’s that for a change? Mastering was done at Abbey Road Studio’s by Steve Albini. So expectations were high. The process of getting a master tape onto a CD / vinyl has improved since 1993 as well. And as expected, this thing sounds great. All editions of this 2013 reissue do. The LP is on 2 180g 45RPM LP’s and 1 180g 33RPM LP. In Utero always sounded good, but never this good.
  • 2013 Mix. Most people will not even hear any difference, but people who actually know this record inside out will. It’s pretty cool what they did. They just took different takes from the recording sessions here and there. So at some parts you’ll be hearing a slightly different solo or vocal take. Or they lowered the volume of the cello. Stuff like that. It’s not about being a BETTER mix, it’s more of an experiment. I like it. And we can finally hear what they’re laughing about at the start of “I Hate Myself And I Want To Die”.
  • The demo’s, including a remastered edition of the Late! – Pocketwatch (a demo Dave Grohl made while he was in Nirvana, Foo Fighters – s/t fans should check that tape out) version of “Marigold” and the new instrumental “Forgotten Tune”. The Scentless Apprentice sounds brutal. All the demos sound good actually, it’s a shame most of them don’t have vocals though or are really buried (“All Apologies”).
  • Live And Loud. I already reviewed that one, so I’m not doing it again. But it’s good. Aside from the fuck-ups above, but then again, a (post) Nirvana release without any fuck-ups is probably impossible. If you pick up the Super Deluxe Edition you’ll get the Live And Loud included in the package.

I think the main message is pretty clear: My favorite record ever got the reissue it deserved. And I’m glad it did.

Now I’m really curious what the next Nirvana release is going to be (aside from the In Utero 2013 mix vinyl for RSD I saw mentioned somewhere). A Kurt Cobain solo disc? How about they do the Fugazi / Pearl Jam thing and start releasing the soundboard recordings of live shows? Or video?

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4 comments

  1. Onno said on 2013-10-14

    they will probably find a new way to get money out of the name Nirvana after this… big Nevermind fan, not so much of this record, but I am really not a fan of reissueing stuff. however the new mix of Pearl Jam’s Ten sounded a lot better than the original so I will check this out soon!

    • Pim said on 2013-10-14

      Probably, I’m just not too sure what they can release to do that. I can see a Kurt Cobain solo / home demos thing to be released (maybe including Fecal Matter?). There was talk about a Kurt Cobain film some time ago, release it alongside of that and it probably works.

      The mix / sound on this release is great Onno. Really couldn’t have been better.

      • Just Killing Time said on 2013-10-16

        Isn’t Gus van Sant’s Last Days already a Kurt Cobain movie (sort of)?

        • Pim said on 2013-10-16

          Sort of is the right word to describe it. It’s fiction. ‘Inspired on’. There’s some stuff they didn’t touch that would have worked out great for the movie, if only visually – Kurt Cobain climbing over the wall of his rehab center for instance.

          There’s also: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0790769/

          But I think the working title of that one I’m hinting at is: ‘Heavier Than Heaven’ – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1129446/. I’m not seeing it happen anytime soon though.