Throughout their 7 year long career, they established themselves as a major part of the Grunge scene. They popularised Alternative Rock and even to this day still manage to influence Rock culture.
Nirvana are one of the best-selling bands of all time, having sold 75mil+ copies worldwide as well having multiple awards to their name and 4 No. 1 albums in the US.
In Utero was their final album that was released in September of 1993. Taking in the mainstream success from their 1991 album "Nevermind", the group wanted to seek a more complex & abrasive sound thay was more reminiscent of their first album "Bleach".
Many of the songs on In Utero allude to Kurt Cobain's personal life and struggles, despite he claims the album was "very impersonal".
It was recorded in the space of 2 weeks in Feb. 1993 at Pachyderm Studio in Minnesota. Rumours started circulatimg over time that their label would not release it due to how abrasive & uncommercial it sounded.
Despite that, the album was a major critical & commerical success, reaching No. 1 in both the UK & US. It was Nirvana's final album before Cobain's suicide in 1994.
I first was properly introduced to Nirvana's music back in November with their MTV Unplugged album, which I do consider to be a legendary performance to experience and listen.
That live show felt stripped back and filled with raw emotion in every word, making it one of the best live albums of all time.
Now, onto this album in question:
Upon listening to In Utero, you get struck with some powerful, hard hitting instrumentation that feel like a gut punch to the listener.
The guitar riffs are killer, the drumwork is punch and the overall emotion is dark and filled with pain.
Kurt's vocals are raw and hard-hitting since a lot of this album tends to hint at his personal struggles. Let's try to analyse what is brought up:
*Trigger Warning in advance*
1. Serve the Servants is focused on Kurt's dysfunctional relationship with his father. Highlighted in the lines "I tried hard to have a father but instead, I had a dad", Kurt most likely seen his father not as his dad, but just more as someone was in his life and had nothing but resentment for.
He likely feels like he has some form of grudge from his teens towards his father but can't remember what it; as highlighted in when he says "I just want you to know that I don't hate you anymore".
As well as that, this track could also be focusing on the angst he might've been feeling when he was wanting to create something different musically in contrast to Nevermind, feeling bored with the appeal it had among angst-filled teens.
2. Scentless Apprentice was inspired by the novel "Perfume", which was one of Kurt's favourite books.
The song is equally aggressive and terrifying both in its sound and Kurt's vocal delivery in the chorus, which is particularly freaky.
"Hey, away, Go away" is a reference to Jean, the protagonist of Perfume avoiding humans and towns at all costs on his long quest.
3. Heart-Shaped Box is focused on someone wanting to inherent to a new relationship even when one doesn’t quite feel so strongly about the other.
This song is a really effective mixture between tender in its verses and violent eruptions in the chorus, showcasing a poisonous relationship that's filled with denial and unable to escape from the feeling of dependency.
"I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black" is one of the darkest lyrical ways of portraying love for someone I've heard, coming across as a convoluted way of Kurt saying he'll do anything to make his true love feel better when they're feeling down.
4. Rape Me (despite it's controversial title) comes across as a strong statement in support for women who suffered sexual abuse.
Kurt was frustrated with how many people did not grasp the concept of "Polly" as an anti-rape song so wanted to take a more explicit approach to this which he had to clarify several times in interviews.
Let's be honest, the controversial approach worked as it lyrically focused on poetic justice. But at the same time... look at it from the figurative portrayal that Kurt felt the media was invading his own private life.
5. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle was inspired by the tragic case of Seattle-based actress Frances Farmer, who was persecuted by the media because of her increasingly erratic behavior, which led her to being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Kurt became fascinated with her after reading her 1978 biography Shadowland when in high school.
It's likely he's alluding to the criticism of what the media as well as society would perceive as "normal", something that was referenced earlier in Serve the Servants.
6. Dumb emphasises how Kurt knows he's not like everyone else and just references how despite not being able to do anything that's considered productive, he still feels satisfied, as seen in this line "The day is done, But I'm having fun".
"I think I'm dumb" is repeatedly said throughout towards the end of the track, implying that Kurt doesn't realise what happiness truly means and feels weird when about it when he does feel happy.
7. Very Ape remphasises Kurt's ability to write lyrics that are up for many interpretations. Using the word "contradictionary" implies he's buried in endless opposing opinions.
"I'm too busy acting like I'm not naïve
I've seen it all, I was here first" is his way of mocking the arrogance of thkse who belive they know it all.
8. Milk It focuses heavily on Kurt's frustrations with fame & drug addiction, even going as far into detailing his suicidal thoughts he was experiencing.
9. Pennyroyal Tea focuses on the chronic stomach pain Kurt suffered from which was caused by scoliosis.
This line from the first verse "I'm anemic royalty" could be interpreted as meaning he didn't have anemia, but felt weak; likely from depression too.
"I'm so tired I can't sleep, I'm a liar and a thief" refers to Kurt and his wife Courtney Love being ridiculed by the media, while admitting he regrets some of the things he has done in his life.
This line also has a 2nd likely meaning... Kurt feels like he's cheated his fans because he became famous as a rockstar when in reality he hated the fame and attention.
This was planned to be released as a single in the US, but those plans were abandoned because of Cobain's death.
10. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter is another dive into Kurt's fascination with horror through his lyrical nature.
It features some skin-crawling riffs & piercing sound design that feels like something ripped straight out of a horror flick in general.
Kurt's delivery is equally soft and sinister throughout. His delivery in the chorus as repeats "What is what I need? What is wrong with me?" signals a spiral of depression from the struggle to maintain his success, even if he's been told success brings happiness (it sadly doesn't).
11. Tourette’s is a short but fast 95 second track that's mostly unintelligible, which I believe is intentional...
The opening line is "Moderate Rock", which could imply Kurt is poking fun at labels bands Nirvana and others would be given by the press and the general public (I mean... Moderate Rock is a rather ridiculous term as it sounds like an insult more than anything).
12. All Apologies focuses on Kurt apologising to everyone for how he behaves.
"What else should I be? All apologies" is likely rhetorical.
"Sunburn, freezer burn" is a clever line; likely meaning you can go anywhere warm but will still be frozen by wounds that have scarred you.
In all fairness, there's not another group out there like Nirvana. Their influence in both the Grunge scene has continued to be an inspiration to many artists today. Their music is timeless and has aged gracefully.
Not only that, but I do think the more I search up about Kurt Cobain and his songwriting, he's easily one of tbe strongest I can think of; mainly because of his lyrical content always having multiple meanings to it, not just the one.
It's like a puzzle that's waiting for you to solve it, but there's no one right or wrong answer to it and THAT is something I find very clever and compelling about this album.
Nirvana's legacy has lived on since their split in 1994 and will continue to do so forever.