Twenty years ago, Nirvana's third and final studio album, In Utero
, was released. When it came out, it represented both progress, in terms of songwriting (a huge leap in lyrical quality as compared to 1991's Nevermind
), and a simultaneous step back into the band's gritty, punk-rock roots. Legendary indie producer Steve Albini's productions were fantastically raw, but contentious. After higher-ups at the record company complained, Nirvana remixed several of the songs to make them more radio friendly ("[We had] obligations as a 'professional rock band' and as 'unit shifters'," said bassist Krist Novoselic in a recent NPR interview).
It seems Albini has forgiven Nirvana for caving in to the record label's suits, because in honor of In Utero's
20th anniversary, he sat down with the two surviving core Nirvana members, Novoselic and Dave Grohl, and remixed the entire work. Nirvana fans, myself included, love this kind of stuff; there is a reason that Nirvana's 2004 box set, With the Lights Out
, sold over 900,000 copies.
To remix the album's 12 songs, Albini and the boys dug out the original tapes, reexamining each track. Some pristine and forgotten tracks were discovered and put to use; for example, the 2013 version of the opening banger "Serve the Servants" features a whole "new" guitar solo. In other songs, like "Heart-Shaped Box," details like Kurt Cobain's background vocal harmonies, are made more audible. The main difference between the 2013 mix and the original, however, is subtle: the new soundscape is more open; it breathes more. "We just pried it open a little bit. That was the mission: Kind of open the windows [and] freshen it up," Novoselic told NPR.
Now, remixes and remasters as such are, to anyone who is not a producer, musician, or audio nerd, useless. Tweaking the mix a little bit, adding a some "air," changes the listening experience only slightly. We could have survived without this remix. But the 20th anniversary edition of In Utero
is a good reason to revisit a classic, truly great, album. And the bonus tracks, which consist of demos, mostly instrumental ones, are very interesting for a Nirvana fan. It is amazing to hear how powerful tracks like "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" were, even as instrumental, three-instrument jams.
There is also two never-before released tracks, called "Forgotten Tune," and "Jam," both of which lack vocals. "Forgotten Tune" could have been a cool song, had it been worked on; it has a nice, fast punk riff, and a slow chorus that sounds like something out of the emo scene that became one of the heirs of Nirvana's generation of punk. As for "Jam," it is nothing special, just a noisy jam, the kind that Nirvana played nightly during their tours.
Basically, if you are a Nirvana fan, you will probably take interest in this reissue almost regardless of what it contains; if you by some bizarre fate have not yet discovered the band, this would be a good place to start.
Order the box set here