NIRVANA – ” In Utero ” Released 21st September 1993

Posted: September 23, 2018 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The album “Nevermind” turned Nirvana from unknowns to the biggest musical act in the world and positioned frontman Kurt Cobain as the face of grunge. Although a sensational album, it’s follow-up record “In Utero” that cemented Nirvana’s legacy. Unhappy with the over polished production of Nevermind and concerned with accusations of selling out, Cobain ditched producer Butch Vig for Steve Albini and set about recording an album capturing the harsh, punk influenced sound of their debut Bleach.

In a detailed four-page proposal to the band, Albini laid down his ground rules, the most shocking being his refusal to accept royalties. “I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible. I would like to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what it’s worth,” he wrote. “There’s no way I would ever take that much money. I wouldn’t be able to sleep.” He suggested Pachyderm Studios for its isolation in the woods, claiming that recording in a city would cause distractions. He also banned visits from Geffen Records staff members, whom he called “front office bullet heads.”

Albini believed in working fast without over-thinking, so the band cut the album in just two weeks. “If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody’s fucking up,” he wrote in the proposal. The speed at which they recorded, combined with the raw, visceral sound and minimal production, differed greatly from Nevermind, an album that was incredibly clean and streamlined.

In the February 1993, Nirvana made their way to the secluded Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, to begin work on their third album. The last time they had stepped foot in a studio, they were a little known Seattle band that had just left Sub Pop for David Geffen’s DGC. Now, with a multiplatinum album that knocked Michael Jackson off the charts and turned them into one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, they were under immense pressure to follow it up.

“In Utero” achieved this in spades. Draining opener “Serve The Servants” (“Teenage angst has paid off well”), thrash influenced “Very Ape” and cascading hit single” Heart-Shaped Box” were raw sounding tracks exemplifying Cobain’s want of an abrasive sounding record. “Dumb” and the moving finale of “All Apologies” offered lighter moments amongst the chaos, and although Cobain claimed the lyrical content of the album impersonal, it’s hard not to draw parallels between In Utero’s themes and Cobain’s life at that time. It’s 41 minutes of raw, uncompromising rock that was unlike anything else in the pop landscape. Cobain, disenchanted by his overwhelming fame and the widespread media coverage of his personal life, was ready to vent.

Cobain’s bleak worldview was on full display. Many of the songs are best remembered for their gut-wrenching, stripped-back acoustic renditions on MTV Unplugged, but In Utero is treasured among hardcore fans as Nirvana in their purest form. The original title was “I Hate Myself and Want to Die”.
“Nothing more than a joke,” Cobain told Rolling Stone. The line, which first appeared in Cobain’s journals in mid-1992, became the working title for the follow-up to Nevermind. “I’m thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked-out schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time. And I thought it was a funny title. But I knew the majority of people wouldn’t understand it.”. Fearing the title would result in the same legal trouble Judas Priest faced three years prior when two fans shot themselves, Krist Novoselic urged Cobain to rethink it. The other working title wasVerse, Chorus, Verse, but Cobain finally settled on In Utero, which he took from a poem of Courtney Love’s.

Nirvana

Cobain had one goal in mind: to bring the band back to their punk-rock roots. Their millions of new fans may have reveredNevermind, but Cobain thought it sounded “candy-ass” and way too commercial. So he recruited esteemed engineer Steve Albini (who had recorded Pixies, the Breeders, the Jesus Lizard and other Cobain faves) and headed for the woods in rural Minnesota

Cobain wrote “Rape Me” to dramatically condemn rape and emphasize his support for women, but the song sparked immediate controversy. “Over the last few years, people have had such a hard time understanding what our message is, what we’re trying to convey, that I just decided to be as bold as possible,” he told Rolling Stone. A huge supporter of the riot grrrl movement and a fan of bands with female members like the Breeders and the Raincoats, Cobain wanted In Utero to pave the way for more female artists. “Maybe it will inspire women to pick up guitars and start bands,” Cobain said in 1993. “Because it’s the only future in rock ‘n’ roll.”

Wal-Mart and Kmart refused to carry “In Utero” because of the song “Rape Me” and the graphic imagery on the back cover.
Cobain agreed to change the title of “Rape Me” to “Waif Me,” while the back cover was softened to comply with the demands. “When I was a kid, I could only go to Wal-Mart,” he told his manager Danny Goldberg. “I want the kids to be able to get this record.” 

Understandably, “Rape Me” caused other issues for the band, most notably at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards when network executives told the band that if they played the song they’d immediately cut to commercial. Feeling challenged, Cobain played a bit of the song when they walked out and then went directly into a blazing rendition of “Lithium.” 

All three members received credit on “Scentless Apprentice,” an extreme rarity for the group since Cobain normally wrote the songs himselfThe raging “Scentless Apprentice,” inspired by Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel Perfume, is the only track on the studio album co-written by Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl. (On Nevermind, they shared credit on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and its B side “Aneurysm.”) “Scentless Apprentice” was recorded in just one take. “Nobody said, ‘We should do it again,’” Grohl said “Because that was the fucking take.”

Cobain wrote out a detailed vision for the “Heart-Shaped Box” video with William Burroughs as the star. “William and I sitting across from one another at a table (black and white),” he wrote. “Lots of blinding sun from the windows behind us holding hands staring into each other’s eyes.”

By the time he approached Burroughs, he had decided to cast him as an elderly Jesus, even offering to conceal his identity. “I realize that stories in the press regarding my drug use may make you think that this request comes from a desire to parallel our lives,” he wrote in a letter. “Let me assure you that this is not the case.” Though Burroughs declined the offer, Cobain finally got to meet his beat hero at his home in Kansas that fall. 

After Cobain met Courtney Love in 1990, Love gave Dave Grohl a heart-shaped box to give to Cobain. She filled it with items that matched Cobain’s taste — a porcelain doll, dried roses and other tokens — and sprayed some of her perfume on it. As Cobain and Love’s romance blossomed, the item became a symbol of their love. It was also the one item in their home they had in common.

 

“Pennyroyal Tea” was one of Nirvana’s first songs to showcase the soft-loud-soft formula they became famous for. It was first written and recorded on a four-track with Dave Grohl in Cobain’s house in Olympia, Washington. It went through several permutations before its release on In Utero, including instrumental takes recorded by Jack Endino in 1992. “Pennyroyal Tea” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were debuted live the same night, at the O.K. Hotel in Seattle in 1991. “Pennyroyal Tea” was slated to be the third single for In Utero,but was cancelled after Cobain’s suicide in 1994.
After Cobain’s death, the label decided to recall copies of the single, which had a B side of “I Hate Myself and Want to Die,” and destroy them. But copies had already been sent overseas and somewhere between 200 and 400 of them reached the fan community.

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