NirvanaIn Utero 20th Anniversary Edition    

Reviewed by Eric Shewack – 5/5 stars

Nirvana recorded only three studio albums in their short but illustrious career. In Utero was their third and final. Despite Nevermind being more influential in my life, I consider In Utero to be their masterpiece. It’s hard to believe that September 13, 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of its release. It feels like yesterday when I saw the CD & casette on the new release shelves. While there won’t be any new studio albums from Nirvana, the 20th anniversary release of their final does it much justice.

The super-deluxe edition consists of 3 CDs and a DVD. Disc 1 is the original album mixed by Steve Albini (except for “Heart-Shaped Box and “All Apologies,” which were mixed by Scott Litt). The bonus track “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip” which was not included on U.S. release of the album is also included. The rest of disc are the In Utero single B-sides: “Marigold” (the only Nirvana song completely composed and sung by Dave Grohl), the “All Apologies” single B-side “Moist Vagina,” Nirvana’s lesser-known gem “Sappy” from the No Alternative compilation, “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” from the The Beavis and Butthead Experience, “Pennyroyal Tea” (Scott Litt mix), a previously unreleased Albini mix of “Heart-Shaped Box” and finally the Albini “All Apologies” mix which in my opinion is better than the Litt mix on the original release album.

Disc two is an alternate version of the entire album entitled 2013 Mix. Basically, it’s just another way the album could have sounded and it’s fun to listen to. Some notable changes include an alternate solo on “Serve the Servants,” “Heart-Shaped Box” with a high blend of background vocals, and “Very Ape” with the lead guitar portion of the song running rampant throughout. The rest of disc two includes In Utero demos (some are a bit hard on the ear) and an instrumental Krist Novoselic found while compiling the re-release, simply coined “Forgotten Tune.”

The third audio disc is the complete, professional audio of the December 13, 1993 MTV Live & Loud performed at Pier 48 in Seattle. An incomplete version has been aired on MTV since its original airing on New Year’s Eve 1993 but MTV finally let it out of their vaults for this release. If only MTV would do the same for the July 23, 1993 show at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom, Nirvana fans could finally get some peace……perhaps for the 30th anniversary.

The DVD is the video version of the Live & Loud show. The video quality is superior to all of the video bootlegs of the show being shuffled around for years. While the Live & Loud show does include a much-needed official release of an electric “Man Who Sold The World,” it’s not a complete, typical In Utero tour setlist. The show was shortened a bit to make room for the Breeders, Cypress Hill, and Pearl Jam who cancelled at the last minute due to Eddie Vedder falling ill. Bonus DVD tracks include rehearsals before the gig, the original “Heart-Shaped Box” video & director’s cut, live performances of tracks on French and Italian television, and finally, three tracks from the last show ever in Munich, Germany on March 1, 1994.

The 20th Anniversary Edition is pretty exhaustive and re-celebrates the release of one of rock’s most important albums. Except for some slightly rough demos on Disc 2 that casual fans may not appreciate, the remainder is high quality material that can be enjoyed by any music or Nirvana fan. Now that Nirvana’s three studio albums have been paid homage in anniversary releases, the Nirvana vaults are pretty much bare without much, if any “new” material to be surfaced. In Utero serves as a reminder of what could have been. It was the raw album that Cobain always envisioned and came out at the peak of his artistic ability as well. If the band would have continued perhaps they would have taken a softer acoustic turn, or follow in the direction of their last studio song “You Know You’re Right.”

Kurt Cobain included the line, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” in his suicide note. If that truly was his wish then In Utero served that purpose. The band’s last creative effort was arguably their best effort and they ended on top of their game.