Having Your Cake and Hating It: Nirvana ‘In Utero’ 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Unit Shifter

nirvanaA shotgun hole is so absolute. The vacuum a suicide leaves behind so engulfing, it’s the epitome of ambivalence in its dichotomy of grief and resentment. A disavowal. A denial. The crepuscular introduction of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ heralded summer’s decay on August 30th 1993, through the pregnant fluff-bubble of a cassette tape piped down wires that ran through the cobwebs, pipes, atrophying plaster and laths of the cellar ceiling, up into the kitchen speakers after school as the clouds bruised with the impending deluge. ‘In Utero’ would accompany me on a walkman through the rigor mortis of autumn, to the decidedly funerary flavour of ‘Unplugged in New York’, the snowy satellite TV-taped VHS of which us siblings watched on the bright, crisp, February 1994 morning we interned my mother in the furnace after cancer had turned her black.

Today, Universal Music Group unabashedly exhume a 20 year old album featuring songs called ‘Milk It’ and ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ from the mind of a man who ejaculated 20 guage into his brain in large part due to the inescapable pressures of his profession, and repackage it (as they will periodically, ad infinitum, long after the Generation Xers who survived their prime have died at a ripe old age) in supreme ‘new and improved’ sonic quality, best played on prohibitively priced audio equipment. ‘Pet Sounds’ in Stereo this is not, nor was it ever intended to be.

Even back then it seemed like a dark departure; still compliant in it’s adherence to the loud/quiet/loud dynamics of (but somewhat lumbering and troubled in comparison to) what had most memorably come two years before. Until of course you considered the bleed-through from ‘Nevermind’s brooding conclusion. ‘Worst Live Band’ awards abounded after their breakthrough had ill informed its audience of an erroneous aesthetic out of keeping with the real sensibilities of the band. ‘In Utero’ was a conscious attempt to derail their own gravy train and re-educate the salivating masses, starting as it meant to go on with it’s opening ‘chord'; shambling-in, shoulders shrugged unapologetically, drenched in bilious sarcasm and astringent, angular guitar, the antithesis of the chorus pedals and multitracking of it’s predecessor.  Recorded in February of 1993, the album corralled a malaise well over a year in gestation, it would be only another year before Cobain would abscond from Exodus, head back to Seattle and rendezvous with the shotgun he’d procured the week before, to complete the job he’d started a month prior. Arguments over whether his survival would have left it with the same potency are moot, ‘In Utero’ is now as much a cry for help as self-fulfilling prophecy.

From those bootleg cassette beginnings, I’d go on to own it on CD, limited edition clear blue vinyl, and 24 carat gold plated “Ultradisc II Master Recording” CD, (whatever that means) and latterly the alleged Steve Albini mix of the album has been freely available to be weeded out from the not too deep recesses of the internet. After a certain amount of time spent listening to any of the aforementioned, I forget that I’m supposed to be scrutinising it’s constituents and enjoy it for what it is. Pristine quality is a baseline you appreciate, then forget about as the artistry overtakes you. The medium is a vessel for the music, the music a medium for the message. This message is ultimately visceral, cathartic and brutal, yet beautifully impressionistic in it’s lyrics and composition, and of course kicks like the proverbial mule with duct taped nuts. But as much as I love it, it’s not something I want to pay a multinational conglomerate £100 to hear again. That price-tag indicates this release isn’t intended to convert any naysayers or noobs, and there’s precious little they can offer us long serving servants in terms of unheard material that hasn’t probably wormed its way onto YouTube in the last couple of hours, for an album so indelibly imprinted on our memories as to have  become entwined and inextricable from our own experiences and emotional make up. It’s a cynical attempt to extract your disposable middle age cash in exchange for a nostalgia expansion pack.

If it’s the closure of an epilogue you’re after, you need look no further than Gus Van Sant’s criminally overlooked and underrated, ‘Last Days’ and watch a slowly vaporising Cobain languidly haunting his own house before finally going through the formality of exorcising himself. It’s a tortuous reminder of what price the man paid to bring us this ‘product’, and what a disservice we do his memory to continue to feed the beast.

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks

Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.

2 Responses to Having Your Cake and Hating It: Nirvana ‘In Utero’ 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Unit Shifter
  1. Shawn C Baker

    Shawn C Baker Reply

    Fucking awesome article!
    I’ll admit that this record never meant to me what it did to others. I love some of the songs but have never owned it, never even dubbed or burned or ripped it because I have always hated the production. But some of those songs…
    This was extremely helpful, as in hearing peripheral burble about this release I wondered if I might finally plunk down some $ for it. If I do now I’ll just buy the old version and deal with it, supplementing it with the Live at the Muddy Banks record for the energy and tone of the songs I love.

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