In Utero: 20th Anniversary Edition- Nirvana

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Release Year: 2013

Rating: 9/10

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s final studio album In Utero. Just like with the 2011 reissue of Nevermind, this album gets the same treatment with various formats ranging from cheap and reasonable to it’s expensive but I want it (I opted for the latter). While each edition has something extra for the fans it’s the super deluxe edition that gives you the most and makes it worth your money. With four discs, a beautiful full color book, a two sided poster, and a wicked display box it’s definitely the best reissue of the year and somehow it outdoes the Nevermind box set.

One thing I really love about this edition is the packaging. Everything is encased in a heavy slip cover to keep the booklet and discs safe and it only took the smallest thing to blow my mind: a magnet. Yes, the slip cover is slightly magnetic and on the front is a magnet of the In Utero angel. It’s a little detail like this that wasn’t mentioned at all that makes the box set even better. Another thing that makes this edition worth it is the book that’s included.

It features previously unseen photos of the guys in the studio and outtakes from photo shoots for the album both in color and black and white. The book opens with a four page letter Steve Albini sent to the band when they asked him to produce the record. You can also find Kurt’s handwritten lyrics for songs like “Milk It” and “Pennyroyal Tea.” On the last pages there’s a closeup shot of the collage Kurt made for the album. This is where all four discs are held. They’re spread out over the collage, which is cool, but it would’ve been better if they put all four discs together because they outline the angel on the cover. Either way it’s a great book that any Nirvana collector would want to get their hands on.

The first disc is where you’ll find the remastered album. I’ve already raved about why this is Nirvana’s best work before, but it’s great to finally have the album with remastered sound. Also found on this disc are the b-sides and unreleased tracks from this era. “Gallons of Alcohol Flowing Through the Strip” was a hidden track on the international release of the record and while “Endless, Nameless” is the more memorable hidden song, this one isn’t bad, it’s just weird. It has a hypnotizing guitar riff as if it’s trying to put you in a trance. The whole thing from the music even to the vocals sounds disjointed and untuned, but not in a bad way. Things get really odd with the lyrics. The first verse seems to be describing a tossed out pregnancy test, but then the whole thing unravels from there: “You’re personally responsible for …/The entire strip … to be washed away …/Cleansed … as if gallons of, um, rubbing alcohol/Flowed through the strip and were set on fire.” It’s not really clear what’s going on here, but by the end you won’t care.

The rest of the songs on this disc are new remixes of b-sides “Sappy” and “Moist Vagina” along with Dave Grohl’s “Marigold.” The two stand out tracks here are the long talked about Steve Albini mixes of “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies.” The differences in the tracks are subtle, but interesting to hear nonetheless. With “Heart Shaped Box” the guitar is front and center with the rest of the instruments buried in the mix. Also, there seem to be no harmonies on this version and the vocal take is more raw and unpolished. The biggest sonic difference comes during the guitar solo. Here it has a more disjointed, jangly sound to it. The differences aren’t that noticeable on “All Apologies.” Again, there appear to be no vocal harmonies and there are additional ambient guitar noises at the end. It may not be much, but it’s great to listen to these versions after hearing about them for so many years.

Unfortunately, the second disc of the set isn’t as strong as the first. Most of it is a 2013 mix of the album and unless you’re a hardcore audiophile, you won’t notice the difference between the two. You’re listening to the same album, but with little details added in like more background vocals or guitar feedback shirking through. What I didn’t like is when little things were taken out of songs. On “Dumb” the strings that play during the chorus are missing until the end and the ending on “Heart Shaped Box” is clean , missing the dwindling feedback. It’s not a major issue, but when people have been listening to these songs for 20 years, they get used to every little sound in the songs. When you take that out it’s like you’re messing with perfection.

But the demos on the second disc make up for the unnecessary 2013 mixes. Most of them are instrumentals of songs like “Very Ape,” “All Apologies,” and “Frances Framer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.” “Scentless Apprentice” actually has vocals and it’s great to hear because during the chorus Kurt howls, which is how he would perform the song live at times. Also, the “Marigold” demo is interesting to hear because Dave calls someone a “bastard” at the beginning and thanks to the calming acoustic guitar it sounds like something he would do later with Foo Fighters. But the song that gets fans excited for this disc is the previously unreleased track “Forgotten Jam.” The title pretty much explains what the song is. It’s nothing but the guys jamming out together. Due to the heaviness of the track, it actually sounds like something from their debut album. Still, it makes you wish there were lyrics to go along with the track because it sounds like it would make a great song. What would’ve made the disc as a whole better is if they would’ve put all the b-sides and demos together.

The third and fourth disc is the audio and live show of the infamous Live and Loud concert. Just as with Unplugged, this is one of Nirvana’s most notable shows mainly because they do a number of tracks from their third album. I wouldn’t call this the greatest live album or DVD you could get, but it’s certainly up there. You can hear and feel all their energy and anguish in every track. This release is also interesting because it showcases Nirvana as a four piece. Unless you have really good hearing, you can’t really tell there are four people on playing instead of three. If anything it just expands their sound a bit. Some of the more notable tracks here are “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” an overlooked song from the record, an electric version of “Man Who Sold the World,” which is almost as good as the acoustic, and the classic “Endless, Nameless.”

This version of the hidden track is great for a few different reasons. First, it starts off with this cool jam that Krist kicks off with Dave and Kurt slowly joining in. It really shows how talented of a bass player he is, which some people seem to forget. The jam is really slow and drudging before they actually launch into the song. When Kurt finally starts to sing instead of his classic yells and screams, he says the lyrics quietly and calmly, but that goes out the window when he lets loose a spine chilling scream at the beginning of the next verse. The middle gets weird because everything is disjointed and slows down tremendously. There’s even one point where there’s nothing but silence. Then everything explodes in sound and violence. There’s even guitar playing where it sounds like someone is screaming for help. It’s a great way to end an energetic performance.

Overall, the boxset gets 9/10. If you have the money then it’s worth spending the money on this version. Not only do you get four discs, but you get cool little extras like the book, the double sided poster, and the angel magnet. Though there isn’t a lot of material that fans haven’t heard before, it’s still a great item for an Nirvana collector. The demos may not be something to listen to on a daily basis and the second disc is more like filler for the release, but with over 70 tracks there’s enough here to keep any fan entertained.

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