Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Revisit: Nirvana - In Utero (Steve Albini mix)

go check out spectrumculture.com.

Revisit is a series of reviews highlighting past releases that now deserve a second look.

In February of 1993, Nirvana and Steve Albini finished recording the follow-up to the band's (insert hyperbolic adjectives here) 1991 release Nevermind. Already starting to distance themselves from that record - and in particular, its mostly sanitized and commercial-friendly sound that made it palatable to a broad audience - the trio consistently maintained that their next studio album would be far less accessible and polished than its predecessor. In the months leading up to the recording sessions Kurt Cobain's opinion of that album increasingly soured, at least in print, where the vocalist frequently voiced his displeasure at its smooth production and inoffensive sheen. Enlisting Albini - someone who seemed to never gave a damn about whether an album would be met with commercial acceptance - seemed to confirm the band's intention to craft something less FM-ready than Nevermind.

Though the exact order of events for what happened after the tapes were submitted to the suits at Geffen remains unclear, one thing is certain: whether due to label pressures, the band's dissatisfaction or a combination of the two, the Albini mix was rejected and hot shot producer Scott Litt was called in to give the songs an overhaul. "All Apologies" and "Heart-Shaped Box" were remixed, the bass and drums were given more separation throughout the album and Cobain's vocals were increased by a few decibels. Judging by most contemporary reviews these modifications were for the better; the revamped record that would be released as In Utero received almost universal critical praise as a radical departure from the style of Nevermind.

In retrospect, this shift wasn't nearly as dramatic as most critics claimed and it's debatable whether these changes really improved the album. Though Albini has as recently as 2007 stated that any version that passes as the Albini mix is generations removed from his recording, what is claimed as the Albini mix reveals significant differences from the revised In Utero. Although the face lift that was applied to the record appears slight and superficial at first glance, the effect it had on the record's overall composition is impossible to miss. The original mix didn't feature The Albini Sound at its most confrontational, but his version is still far more punishing, aggressive and industrial than the official release and emphasizes the influence that noise rock had on the band. This is most noticeable on harder-edged songs like "Serve the Servants," "Scentless Apprentice," "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" and "Milk It." Albini puts the vocals and instrumentation about even in the mix, making these songs far more abrasive than their officially-released counterparts, which still today sometimes sound too refined and safe.

Any chances of Cobain's lyrics not being the focus of attention were lost when the songs were reworked. Though Albini didn't bury the vocals as severely as he had on other albums, they sometimes threatened to be swallowed up by the songs' arrangements, creating a far more primal sound that often felt like Cobain was howling from the depths of his own private hell. In contrast, the Geffen-approved release increased the vocals' prominence just enough to kill off at least a fraction of the conflicted emotions he conveyed. Indeed, this seemingly innocuous decibel boost makes the singer's various mumbles, screams and wails on "Very Ape," "Pennyroyal Tea," "All Apologies" and the perfect-for-radio "Heart-Shaped Box" sound less desperate and urgent. Any potential walls Albini's mix might have allowed Cobain to construct as he railed against being typecast as some sort of disaffected slacker voice of a generation crumbled once the vocals were thrown front and center. Though these lyrics probably would have been dissected and overanalyzed regardless, at least Albini made the listener work to understand what had Cobain so pissed off and distraught.

Prior to his suicide Cobain remarked how he'd like to move in an entirely different musical direction, even suggesting an acoustic record along the lines of Automatic For the People wasn't out of the question. For observant fans it wasn't the first time they'd heard this, but it would be among the last. Though the official release remains Nirvana's most consistent effort, it's hard not to conclude that the band fell just short of a true masterpiece when the Albini mix was overhauled. It may take careful attention to fully appreciate the differences between these two pieces - and such an examination is clearly a sign of geeky fanboy behavior- but ultimately the Albini version comes across as more challenging, satisfying and worthy of the band's legacy. Although it's overly simplistic to assume the band conceded to these revisions to ensure mainstream attention and radio play - it's hard to imagine "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" and "Tourette's" expanding Nirvana's fan base - it is nevertheless undeniable that the Geffen version, while not exactly duplicating the slickness of Nevermind, didn't exactly disavow that record's accessibility either. As it stands today, In Utero sounds more like a partial deconstruction of the Nevermind sound that a complete break from it. That full deconstruction - Albini's mix - was essentially gutted in favor of something that, while representing the group's most adventurous studio release, smoothed over the band's sound just enough to make it less disagreeable to the mainstream audience that Nevermind initially reeled in.


Anonymous said...

[b]adobe 7.0 software, [url=http://vioperdosas.net/]government discount software[/url]
[url=http://vioperdosas.net/]adobe acrobat 9 pro student pricing[/url] microsoft office 2003 student free full adobe acrobat 9 downloads
free adobe acrobat 9 [url=http://vioperdosas.net/]buy kaspersky[/url] coreldraw x
[url=http://vioperdosas.net/]buy photoshop cd[/url] compare educational software
[url=http://sapresodas.net/]how to install windows vista[/url] buy software programs
crackz adobe creative suite 4 design premium [url=http://vioperdosas.net/]1 Mac Box[/url][/b]

Generic Cialis said...

In Utero is one of my favorites records of all time, then is the bleach.