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Monday, July 25, 2016

Nirvana -- In Utero


In Utero is, in some people's opinion, a masterpiece, and in other's "Not as good as Nevermind." Opinions are also divided on exactly when Generation X gave way to the birth of the Millennials, and that segue was terrible.
After giving this generational topic plenty of thought, and noticing key differences in myself, and those several years younger than me, I think I can define this great line. Yes, I am still making fun of Underoath. I will never stop. Sorry.
If you grew up with Internet in at least your high-school classrooms, or had not yet begun college by 9/11, I think it is safe to say you are a Millennial. Everyone is different, and everyone can't just be lumped into a group, but as the generations go, I think those are the two determining events.
My school not only had no Internet during my entire stay there, but when I started college, classes were scheduled by phone. Yes, phone. Not cell phone. Just phone. If you had a rotary, this process was a living hell. While my family did acquire Internet during my final years of high school, it was more an oddity that allowed me to read video game reviews, and look at pornographic photos that took a good five minutes just to load down to the boobs. Only a truly patient man could sit and wait for the full package. You were better off taking a gander at the Playboy the kid with irresponsible parents brought to school every month (just make sure you didn't touch the pages!), or putting the TV on a lower station and hoping the Spice Channel would bleed through. Now, inquisitive latchkey kids can watch HD porn on their cellphones on the walk home from school.
I am sorry to use such a crass example, but methods of satisfying teenage curiosity is really the best way to describe this generation gap. If you wanted to know something between the mid 70's to mid-90's, you hoped you could either find a book about it, luck into a TV show talking about it, or ask someone in your class you hoped just wasn't making things up about it. There was no instant access of information. While older Millennials might recall having to do this in their early childhoods, a Gen X'er generally had to do this their entire adolescence to college and beyond. Speaking of which...if you had a Facebook account before graduating college...there is a good chance you are a Millennial.
It turns out, growing up with an easy access to information makes your mindset and thinking patterns a lot different from those of us who didn't...maybe it's why the Millennials are so damned positive all the time. I hate you guys.
This leads us to 9/11. Those of us who came of age before this happened grew up thinking that such a thing could not happen. It was nuclear destruction at the hand of The Soviets, or bust. Not so with Millennials--by the time they were in college, 9/11 had already happened, and they were subsequently more able to accept such things as a part of life.
The thing is, Gen X'ers, while we think about the late 70's-90's in a lovely golden Spielbergian haze, grew up under constant threat of nuclear annihilation. My elementary school routinely had us run desk drills, whereupon we would practice diving beneath them in case of a Ruski attack. Our schools were built with fallout shelters. And then that attack never came. We grew up under an unrealized attack, then when that bomb defused, thought life would be rosy forever-after (look at the stuff we did in the 90's, and particularly right at the change of the's like we expected to be in for an endless summer!). The end of the Cold War promised us a lifetime of peace, and when those damn planes hit the towers, we, as adults realized that dream was a lie. The Millennials never had that dream. Their childhoods were interrupted by a horrific day of unimaginable terror, and they grew up learning how to make the best of things, knowing the worst could always happen, because when they were kids, it literally did (though I guess it beat total nuclear destruction).
These are the key differences between Generation X'ers and Millennials: Our American Dream, painted Thomas Kinkade style for us by our Baby Boomer parents, and reinforced by the falling of the Iron Curtain and the disassembly of the USSR, is a lie we struggle to move past, while attempting to also navigate the strange minefield of modern digital technology. Millennials (in general) have no or a different expectation of this dream, and feel like they can make instead whatever life they want out of what they are given, utilizing the seemingly limitless technological tools at their fingertips...did I mention that I hate you guys?
There's a review somewhere in here...
There are two factors that could cause someone to say they like In Utero more than Nevermind:
1. They genuinely prefer In Utero, enjoying abrasive noise over stronger songwriting.
2. They are trying to look cool.
Yes, in the 23 years since In Utero was released, people have been trying to look cool by saying that they like it more than Nevermind. The members of Nirvana are included in this group. including Kurt Cobain, who did the very Gen X thing of making something inadvertently popular, then immediately attempting to make something that would be less popular as a reaction.
Cobain and co. interpreted Nevermind's overwhelming success as a sign that they had aimed too broadly and not focused on their more intrinsic qualities. Selling more than 10 million copies of an album is not very punk.
Thankfully, Cobain was such a once-in-a-generation artist, he couldn't release a bad album, even when he was being purposefully alienating. On the other hand, on an (impurely, as music opinions are subjective) objective level, In Utero is not as good as Nevermind.
How can I say such a thing?
Can anyone honestly say that "Frances Farmer.,.", "Very Ape," "Milk It," and "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" are as good as anything on Nevermind? I can't.
In Utero features, but not exclusively, a lot of harsh guitar distortion, and Cobain wailing like a banshee. The album was produced by Steve Albini, who, despite a reputation that is essentially based entirely on producing this one pretty good album, has produced some of my least favorite records by my favorite bands (Zao, for instance). Steve wanted the album to have as few commercial prospects as possible, to the degree that the band later had the album's obvious singles, "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies" re-worked by someone else. I'm sorry, it is really Steve Albini of me to slag Steve Albini (And Steve, I loved the Steve Taylor EP that you recorded late last year...maybe even more than their full length. Forget all that other stuff I said...except about Zao, that really was a letdown).
In Utero is still a solid album, though, anchored by the two previously-mentioned singles, which send out lines to the albums three other single-esque tracks, "Rape Me,"  "Dumb." and "Pennyroyal Tea." Plenty of the more aggressive, noisier songs are quite good, as well, especially "Scentless Apprentice," which features one of Dave Grohl's most enjoyably primal beats.

But of course, the two major standouts here are "Heart-Shaped Box" and "All Apologies." The video for the latter is one of Nirvana's most famous, and for me it is most memorable, behind only "Nevermind." With that said, anyone who pretends that they know what it's about, with its esoteric religious imagery and meat ladies, is a dirty, dirty liar. I have to admit to being hit with a huge nostalgia wave here. My conservative Christian mother didn't mind Nirvana in the car, but she was no fan of MTV. My go to for "stuff my mom doesn't like me watching," was the Sanders' house next door. This was the home of three of my older cousins, all males. With the Sanders', I watched Baywatch, Rambo, Beavis and Butthead, and music videos. This was also where I, a Nintendo kid, played Sega video games (the Sanders' had a Master System, Genesis, and Sega CD), and having all these old neurons firing in my head these last few weeks has awakened cravings for the sounds and atmosphere of that particular period so badly, I just bought a Sega CD on E-Bay. I am serious. I am also almost finished with this review. Sorry...

I feel like I'll go further into "All Apologies" in the next and final Nirvana review, but this mantra-like song is what, along with his early death, placed Cobain among the hall of music sages. "All and all is all we are" floats him into some Bob Marley territory. And it's time for this review to float away. Up next, Unplugged.

1993 DGC
1. Serve the Servants 3:36
2. Scentless Apprentice 3:48
3. Heart-Shaped Box 4:41
4. Rape Me 2:50
5. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle 4:09
6. Dumb 2:32
7. Very Ape 1:56
8. Milk It 3:55
9. Pennyroyal Tea 3:37
10. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter 4:51
11. tourette's 1:35
12. All Apologies 3:51

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