I keep trying to judge if I’m getting away from my initial decisions about this blog; essentially I don’t have any desire to share myself and my world with the universe — though I’ve enjoyed very much sharing more back-and-forth with a cluster of fellow fans who have taken the time to wave my way and share their own enthusiasms. When I started this blog I decided (a) no personal stuff (b) focus on Nirvana, simple as that (c) no petty personal ‘reviews’ of releases that are simply a personal aesthetic commentary and could as easily be rendered on Amazon or someplace (d) stick to analysis, stick to segmenting and sorting information. So that’s what goes through my head and influences how I end up writing about topics. Today’s post drips over the line into personal, circles around (b), tries to avoid being (c) and barely touches (d.)
Anyways, yes, back home but not finished writing up the excursion to the Pacific North-West yet — I’ll get on with the next piece tomorrow. Today I wanted to take a moment for the In Utero Twentieth Anniversary release; I mean, heck, it genuinely is a Christmas reminder for me; that cassette at the front? That’s my 1993 Christmas present from mum and dad. And the CD alongside it? That’s the 1995 gift from my aunt and the first CD anyone else ever bought me (my first ever CD purchase was a month or so earlier when I bought the Nirvana singles box-set.) The In Utero album, on a personal level, has a significantly festive vibe to it.
I admit, of course, that overall what makes Nirvana special for me is that it’s a remnant of my childhood and that direct-plug-in back to my thirteen/fourteen year old self. This allows me to easily fall back into the kind of tensely excited ‘waiting for miracles’ that used to accompany birthdays, Christmas, trips to the chip shop on a Saturday or down town with pocket-money (I like to think I was an enthusiastic kid and readily entertained and amused.) This proviso is offered to explain why I worked from home the other day so I could more or less hang out of the window and await the delivery truck. Gods it was a long day. Thank God the plumbers arrived so I could tell myself I wasn’t just running downstairs to check the front door mat. It made me hyper-aware of noise in the neighbourhood today; every time I recognised the purr of a van heading down the street I was there peering out, each motorbike murmuring by had me straining to see if it was heading this way. And then! Suddenly! A van pulled up, a delivery guy got out, he opened the back doors of the van…
…And he was getting out a vacuum cleaner for some bloke down the street. Darn.
Anyways, after a very long day exhibiting my comprehensive gift for patience (re: I have no patience whatsoever, I’m no good at delayed gratification whatsoever), finally it got here just before 7pm. Heck, I even washed my hands before opening the package so now I feel bad about my fetishisation of the product too.
Any comment on the booklet/brochure? It’s a nice item like all these artistically done box-sets tend to be and in terms of its content there are a few points that stuck out for me. Firstly, the inclusion of the studio bill and, more so, of the scribbled sheet explaining the PR plans for the release acknowledge the way in which an album is one expression of an overall master-plan of activities and separate deliverables designed to deliver a business plan and ultimately sales. Wedging these items into a commemorative package celebrating In Utero breaks the focus on it as purely an artistic or personal statement and starkly declares the corporate, commercial reality of the album — this isn’t just a work of art, it’s simultaneously just another product. While that might seem a sad or a grim decision to take I’d argue it has a Cobainesque quality to it; it’s a posthumous echo of his plans for an album called Sheep; it’s as blunt as his Radio Friendly Unit Shifter title — the man at the centre of all this was decisively aware of these currents to what he was doing and whoever designed the Super-Deluxe box-set was sharp enough to integrate that disquieting element here.
The other comment on the brochure is the acknowledgement of Pat Smear’s elevation to full band member. I don’t remember his presence as tour guitarist being so thoroughly open and declared as it is these days at twenty years distance. Again, at first, I wondered whether including him in the line-up of band member photos in the brochure made sense given this album is a pre-Smear product. But, then again, this isn’t In Utero — this is an expanded package at twenty years distance and he’s a presence on the entire DVD element and the accompanying CD version of Live and Loud. He’s a legitimate presence on something that is fundamentally a 2013 item not to be confused or considered synonymous with the 1993 album that ‘inspired’ it and led to this thorough re-rendering.
Anyways, no comment on the songs, everyone will make up their own mind on the remixes and remasterings and demo-worthiness and so on and so forth. I admit I find the 2013 mix a fascinating concept; I’m usually suspicious of remixes because they reek of posthumous tinkering and artificiality. The exercise of inserting material recorded at the time but excluded, switching valid takes for others, that somehow seems to have more legitimacy and a value because what’s being delivered is more original music by the original band — not producer mix effects and not post-hoc material. In a small declaration, while Jack Endino was chatting at breakfast the other week he did say that Michael Meisel who was working on this for Universal, was really pleased to hear that some scrap of vocals was available on the January 1991 take of All Apologies – that made a decisive difference to whether it was included or not apparently, they wanted Kurt’s voice included where possible. In terms of the recording unfortunately, the original masters are lost and so what’s being worked with is a version the band asked for so that they could hear the songs as close to instrumentally as possible so they could examine the music – hence why Cobain’s vocals are pushed down so low. Just a little detail which I think it’s cool to mention at this point.
My big decision was whether to do what I did in 2004 and just listen to two songs a night or just to give up the ghost on that idea and swallow it whole…I’ll let people go find all the reviews online, there are tonnes – Pitchfork says great, another one says the package is just silly, others say the original album is great but they’re not sure about this or that element, what the heck, can’t please anyone. I’m still sitting here thinking its Christmas and that’s good enough for me. Thank you to whomsoever made it happen.