Track listing: Serve the Servants/ Scentless Apprentice / Heart-Shaped Box / Rape Me / Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle / Dumb / Very Ape / Milk It / Pennyroyal Tea / Radio Friendly Unit Shifter / Tourette’s /All Apologies
October 9, 1993
Following the incredible rise of Nevermind, the members of Nirvana found themselves under the microscope of celebrity. They never wanted to be rock stars, or so they said. Yet singer Kurt Cobain had fallen for some rock star trappings: He became addicted to heroin, although he would say that he used the drug to treat a chronic and painful stomach ailment. There were even reports that his wife, Hole singer Courtney Love, had taken heroin pregnant with the couple’s first child, a charge she vehemently denied. In the midst of the media circus, In Utero was conceived.
The media frenzy surrounding Nirvana wasn’t limited to Cobain’s personal life. Months before the release of In Utero, Newsweek reported that Geffen/DGC felt that the album, recorded by noted underground producer Steve Albini, was too harsh. Scott Litt, known for his work with R.E.M., was called in to remix “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies.” DGC/Geffen took out a full-page ad in Billboard slamming the Newsweek piece.
In hindsight, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic (who changed the spelling of his first name from Chris to reflect his Croatian heritage) and Albini say the whole thing was blown out of proportion. Novoselic says he, Cobain, and drummer Dave Groh frequently jammed before settling on material for In Utero. With the majority of songs in a more aggressive vein, Cobain suggested bringing Albini (who frequently eschews the “Producer” credit, preferring “Recorded by”) onto the project. “After I heard the way the songs turned out, it was like, ‘Yeah, Albini would be cool. He would be the man for the job,'” says Novoselic. “We didn’t trust anyone else.”
In Utero was recorded and mixed in about 12 days in a studio in the woods 40 miles from Minneapolis. “The band and I both were trying to make a record that was very straightforward, very accurate, a powerful hi-fi recording without doing the contemporary studio tricks,” Albini says. “The band recorded essentially live in the studio.”
After the sessions, Nirvana weren’t completely satisfied with the album. “I was really happy with the record, but ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ irked me. It just wasn’t right. There was a horrible effect on the guitar,” Novoselic says. “Then Kurt wanted to add some background vocals.” Albini and another candidate, Andy Wallace, were booked up, says Novoselic. “We wanted to do it right away, so I called up Scott Litt,” he says. “I really like the way that [R.E.M.’s] Automatic for the People and Document sound.” Litt then handled the additional recording sessions.
Controversy erupted again following the release of In Utero, as Wal-Mart and Kmart declined to carry the album, citing its back-cover artwork (by Cobain) depicting human fetuses scattered in a bed of flowers. A song titled “Rape Me” obviously didn’t help matters. (Subsequent pressings of the album featured toned-down artwork and the newly retitled “Waif Me.”) Perhaps proving the notion that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, In Utero, entered the album chart at Number One, temporarily displacing country superstar Garth Brooks.
THE TOP FIVE
Week of October 9, 1993
1. In Utero, Nirvana
2. In Pieces, Garth Brooks
3. Music Box, Mariah Carey
4. Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, Meat Loaf
5. River of Dreams, Billy Joel