We are starting our second run through the grunge hall-of-fame, as many of the bands we featured in 1992 came out with their next release. In most all cases, their follow-up was successful, if not as groundbreaking or impactful as the prior release, and also in many cases, it represented the last real high point for these acts as they lost ground to the evolving trends of music and their own inner demons. On “In Utero”, by Nirvana, you can clearly hear the ongoing pain and inner struggle of Kurt Cobain, and he was focused on relaying that message through this album. In fact, his preferred title for the record was “I Hate My Life and I Want to Die”, sadly way too prophetic, and that was his pat answer for anyone who asked him how he was doing. Ultimately, bassist Krist Novoselic convinced him to go with an alternate title, and they landed on “In Utero”, taken from a Courtney Love poem. You can tell they were going with a much rawer, more intense and abrasive sound on this album, and the songwriting doesn’t contain the catchier hooks or riffs we saw so much of on “Nevermind”. Even so, fans and critics both loved this follow-up, and it is rated as the #6 grunge rock album of all time by loudwire.com.
For me, most of this album is just a little too much of the hard edge and strain we hear so much of on most of the songs. There are two well-known iconic songs that emerged from this record, “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies”, both of which are awesome and hold up to any track from “Nevermind”. Other songs like “Rape Me”, “Dumb”, and “Pennyroyal Tea”, are intense and harsh but melodic enough to bring me back, but songs such as “Scentless Apprentice”, “Milk It” and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” just scrape a bit too roughly across my senses to make me want to return as a listener for any reason other than historical recollection. It is good to see Dave Grohl slowly working his way into some of the backing vocals and he even received a songwriting credit on “Scentless Apprentice”, along with Novoselic. One can’t help but wonder what could have come with more collaboration from these two massive rock icons working within a single unit. It is hard to picture Cobain relinquishing much more creative control in this arena, and that doesn’t even touch on what was really brewing under the surface with Nirvana.
“In Utero” was released in September of 1993, and just seven months later, decimated by the dueling destruction of severe addiction and crippling depression, Kurt Cobain finally succeeded in taking his own life, after multiple attempts and constant references to the possibility. Sadly, most around him tended to sense this inevitability, even as they all fought as hard as they could to keep him safe and healthy. Nirvana will forever represent one of the most explosive, short-term, and intense cycles in rock music history. Their time in the limelight was not much more than two years, but their impact is nearly unmatched, even to this day. One could have hoped Cobain’s tragic death would serve as a wakeup call and cry for help for many of his celebrated peers, but unfortunately it proved to be more of a foreshadowing of further tragedy to follow.