Nirvana – In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition) Feb20

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Nirvana – In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition)

Strip away the myths, the lies and the conspiracy theories that sprung up in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death and you are left with one unassailable truth – Nirvana were the most important rock and roll band of the last 30 years.
They came along just at a time when the music scene needed a vigorous and violent shake up and they delivered that with an almost malevolent glee.

Recognising that great rock and roll was synonymous with youth and rebellion, Nirvana harnessed the energy and barely controllable rage of youth and channelled it through their raw and visceral live shows – suddenly, here was a band that parents didn’t understand, and this made them all the more appealing for a new generation of rock fans that were too young to have lived through Punk.

Nevermind may be regarded as their defining classic album, but it was In Utero where the real Nirvana stepped forward. Now, remastered, remixed and repackaged for our listening pleasure, we get In Utero: The 20th Anniversary Edition. There is something sadly ironic about an album like In Utero getting the full valet service, yet another cynical example of tomb raiding of the highest order in an attempt to generate more cash from their slender back catalogue of material.

Because make no mistake about it – there is only one reason for re-releasing an album like In Utero again – money. Pure and simple. The original recording was nigh on perfect – producer Steve Albini distilled their sound to its core elements and created something explosive, incendiary, alive. Nevermind was a classic album, but listened to side by side with In Utero, its compressed, radio friendly production makes it sound puny in comparison.

The slight tweaks introduced for this anniversary edition may pique the interest of dedicated fans, but there is nothing here that significantly enhances what was already a truly great record. To hear the jagged guitar attack of ‘Serve the Servants’, the primal howl of ‘Scentless Apprentice’ and the bludgeoning power of ‘Rape Me’ is to rediscover what rock and roll was meant to sound like.

As re-issues go, this conforms to what we have come to expect – different formats, multiple versions and deluxe editions but on an album where Cobain railed so strongly against the corporate side of rock music, it is something of a minor tragedy that all involved have managed to turn even this into an exercise in profiteering.

Nirvana secured their status as one of rock music’s greatest ever bands after just three studio albums but their legacy could have been so much more. They transformed the music scene for a brief instant, but instead of inspiring a host of new and exciting bands with the power to shake things up even further, we got a parade of identikit acts in plaid shirts mimicking their heroes. Typically, the record companies found a way to homogenise and package this in a safe, commercialised way – so we got a succession of bands that sounded like Nirvana with none of the excitement, danger or attitude.

Now, twenty years on from the release of their finest album, their most potent attack on the greed and cynicism of the industry that slowly consumed Cobain is turned into yet another unit shifting money maker. One suspects that as long as there are doe eyed teenagers wearing Kurt Cobain t-shirts, the industry will always find a way to extract maximum return.

A classic, five star album, a cynical, lone star conceit.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)