The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Wednesday, May 9, 2001

A Story Of Rock

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Three studio albums. That's what Nirvana, one of the greatest rock bands ever, left us. In a sense, those three albums, Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero, tell a version of the rise-and-fall rock story. It begins with Bleach, an album recorded at a cost of $600 (at least that's what it says on the back cover), at a time when no one had heard of Nirvana. They were just another Northwest punk band then. You could say that Bleach captures Nirvana at their purest, and I would say to you, so what? It's always sounded like an album that captures a band before they quite nailed their sound. It's an album that's a lot more interesting when you go to it after Nevermind than it was back in '89 when it was released. Later, after "Smells Like Teen Spirit" almost instantly turned Nirvana into the world's most popular punk band, Kurt Cobain and the others distanced themselves from Nevermind. "I don't listen to records like [Nevermind]," Cobain told Jon Savage during at 1993 interview. "I can't listen to that record. I like a lot of the songs. ... But for my listening pleasure, you know, it's too slick." Perhaps he felt that way when the album was finished, perhaps not. For me, Nevermind is nirvana. It is a fully realized, epic work of art — as perfect as an album can be. Its cover, a picture of a baby floating, naked, mouth open, before a dollar bill on a fishhook, is America. That picture, and what you see when you look at it, is as much a statement as the music. And what of that small photo of a monkey, with dynamite strapped to its back, taken by Cobain himself? Again, it's all there. Or Cobain, out of focus, giving the finger. "Here we are now, entertain us." Yeah, right. Co-producer Butch Vig, in collaboration with the band, created something beyond what any of them were capable of on their own. I imagine what Cobain came to hate was what Nevermind came to symbolize: the stardom, the pressure, the hands out, everywhere he went. Nevermind came to represent the sell-out, even though it was nothing of the kind, and all you have to do is listen to it to know that. Nevermind is the part of the story where the band goes from obscurity to world renown. And then comes In Utero. This is where the story takes a left turn, attempts to take the high road. In Utero was to be the group's bid for credibility among the punk underground whence they came. The current issue of Mojo's cover story is titled "The Agonizing Birth of In Utero." With comments from Krist Novoselic, "producer" Steve Albini, as well as others who were at Pachyderm Recording Studio outside of Minneapolis during the In Utero sessions, the story is worth your time. Novoselic tells writer Keith Cameron that Cobain actually liked Nevermind. "I know Kurt liked the way Nevermind sounded," said Novoselic. "That was just a reaction, a reaction to a lot of things. It was kind of a reaction to get Albini. We didn't wanna be sell-outs and Albini is known for having integrity...." The album was recorded and mixed fast — in 12 days. The band apparently loved the album at first. But then-Geffen Records A&R man Gary Gersh hated it, according to Albini, who says Cobain called him a few weeks after the sessions to say that Gersh told him "It sounds like crap...." Albini distances himself from the version of In Utero that was released. He was unhappy that there were any changes — two songs, "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies," were remixed by Scott Litt, and Albini found the mastering "overbearing." "I'm really proud of the job that I did on the record — with the reservation that the band and I are probably the only people who have genuinely heard the work I did!" he says. And so this part of the story makes the band look a little dodgy, like they let the record company twist their arm. But maybe not. Perhaps, on second thought, Cobain felt the album could be improved. Unless the Albini version is eventually released, we'll never know. Certainly the version of In Utero that we have heard is a great album. Is it up there with Nevermind? Maybe. Certainly there are songs — "Rape Me," "Heart-Shaped Box" "Pennyroyal Tea" and "Serve the Servant" — that are as great as rock gets. Hearing it in the shadow of Nevermind, I still don't know. And, actually, that doesn't even matter.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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