Nirvana’s “In Utero” —Twenty Years of Grunge

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Last fall, Nirvana released a twentieth-anniversary edition of their album “In Utero,” reminding the world of their contributions to the genre of alternative rock. The album contains all the original songs, as well as remastered remixes, instrumental versions and demo tracks. However, the album is best appreciated in context, with a brief bio.

Nirvana was a 90s grunge band comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl. The band is most often credited as the first real alt-rock band to make it big, and is considered the pioneer and popularizer of grunge music.

Grunge, a product of the early-1990s Seattle area, is best described as a blend of heavy metal and punk. Nirvana was at the forefront of the grunge scene, and began gaining popularity on college radio in the late 80s. In 1989, the group signed with a minor label and released their first album, “Bleach.” But by the time they were ready to release another album, they had begun to look for bigger labels, and eventually signed with DGC Records.

In 1991, Nirvana released their immortal album, “Nevermind,” which contained such hits as “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are” and “Lithium.” Despite the band’s dark tones and angst-ridden lyrics, the world quickly fell in love with this little known grunge band and nobody was more surprised by the group’s instant fame than the band themselves.

Two years later, in 1993, Nirvana released “In Utero,” and toured the U.S. and Europe. But all good things must come to and end. In 1994, the combination of a heroin addiction, an inability to cope with success and personal problems led to the demise of the band’s brilliant-but-troubled frontman, Cobain. Less than two months after beginning their tour of Europe, Cobain was found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. The band broke up immediately thereafter, but has maintained a larger-than-life legacy.

This leads back to the album “In Utero.” It can be said that the spirit of this album is more punk than “Bleach” or “Nevermind.” Resisting the temptation to water down their image after the success of “Nevermind,” the band decided this next project would be darker, and (they hoped) less commercially successful. And it worked . . . to a point. “In Utero” is probably Nirvana’s least popular album, despite the brilliance of their lesser-known hits “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies.” Twenty years later, this album has stood the test of time, as its significance is still a hot-topic of conversation.

The album is true grunge. Purposefully discordant, it is definitive of its genre, exploring often ignored themes that are visible in much of their lyrics. Cobain’s vocal range is at its peak, transitioning between darkly melodic in “Heart-Shaped Box,” to sadly mellow in “Dumb,” to Jim Morrison-esque mumbling, screaming madness in “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip” and finishing up with the beautifully raw tones (and truly punk intro of swearing at the manager) in the demo version of “Marigold.”

Nirvana’s impact on music and music culture is simply indisputable. Their success as the first real alt-rock group is absolutely central to music today, as alt-rock is now one of the most popular genres. The grunge image is even experiencing a resurgence, as grunge-chic has once again resurfaced into the mainstream (mainly the flannels, ripped jeans and Converse worn by Cobain and other grunge-punks).

“In Utero—20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition,” truly refines Nirvana’s image as one of the forerunners of modern alt-rock and cements their reputation as the kings of grunge. It is available on iTunes and Spotify.


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