Those four-count drum clicks that start off the overwhelming success of Nirvana’s In Utero, one of the many albums that will live in infamy for its working with one of the largest rock groups of modern history, but also the sound that it spawned. Generations would know the names Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic as the three destroyers of barriers within punk rock, blending the styles of new age angst with representative lyrics of lost voices.
In Utero was another stepping stone in Nirvana’s career that would span their final career studio record. With Steve Albini as the lead producer who was best known for his legendary work with The Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, and Fugazi. Albini would help shaped the sound behind Nirvana’s twisted and dark realities that lived within fantasies. In Utero was a step in the positive direction as Nevermind launched global success, In Utero would release as a double sided record that had the first half become more straight-forward and approachable rock. The second half however is mostly punk rock cuts of distorted strings and punching percussion that flashed in the eyes of millions like a great wildfire.
As the crushing guitars of “Very Ape” jump into frame, or even “Milk It” which is a rather sporadic track that crashes through brick and mortar. The Nirvana train chugs along at rapid speed while the band tries to quickly form a seguing motion between each track. Watching the soft, almost strung together vocals from Cobain that forms over the raging instrumentation is still chilling. On “Milk It”, Cobain explains “Look on the bright side suicide, lost eyesight I’m on your side. Angel left wing, right wing, broken wing, lack of iron and or sleeping.” It is a broken framing of lyrics that works to form these strange appearances behind Cobain’s lyrics.
Shown through another example of punk expression comes “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” which takes the introspective lyrics to a foreground with these walls of sound that blast through amplifiers and feel more vicious than human. “Hate your enemies, save, save your friends. Find, find your place, speak, speak the truth” Cobain describes as Dave Grohl pounds along on the drums with snares and bass hits that almost shatter the microphones. Sending levels into the red is no new feat, but with Nirvana, there is always this untold element behind their sound. It takes the strange and ferocious, making sure there is no disconnect between the stage and the crowd.
As the smoke finally clears and Nirvana is left within a broken mess of microphone stands and cymbals, there is that moment of clarity. It comes often within the last moments of daunting progress, the hours of feeling misused, the idea of accomplishment, taking one last busted breath before drawing the curtain on In Utero.
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Producers: Abby O’Neill, Morgan Noelle Smith
Creative Director: Bob Boilen
Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin
Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kaylee Domzalski, Maia Stern, Bronson Arcuri, CJ Riculan
Editor: Kaylee Domzalski
Production Assistant: Brie Martin
Photo: Cameron Pollack/NPR
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