Archive for October, 2013

inutero

It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since the release of Nirvana’s third and final studio album, In Utero.
When the album was originally released in September 1993, I was a freshman at Bloomsburg University. The music scene back then was so much better than it is today, but that makes me come off as a crotchety old man.
But back in 1993, rock bands (I refuse to call them grunge bands because what the hell is grunge really?) like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains ruled the music world and MTV (remember when MTV played music videos?). Today the landscape is dominated by pop schlock generated by talentless hacks like Justin Beiber, Katy Perry and the like. Today, folksy tunesmiths like Mumford and Sons and poppy bands like Fun and Imagine Dragons are what is considered rock (not ripping on these artists, but they don’t overtly rock). At least those bands play instruments, but I find myself longing for times when the pop landscape was much more diverse than it is now.
When Nirvana hit it big with 1991’s Nevermind, Michael Jackson still ruled the charts and rap was in its early stages as a viable music medium (and much fresher than most of the rap churned out today). Hard rocking bands like Guns N Roses and Metallica were at the peak of their powers, but Nirvana was something else to behold.
They rocked hard, but maintained their punk sensibilities. Kurt Cobain was the anti-rock rock star, which ultimately contributed to his demise.
Nevermind, and namely its lead single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” launched the band into the stratosphere. Cobain suddenly became the spokesperson for his generation, a role he never seemed all too comfortable with.
When it came time to record a follow-up to Nevermind, the band set out to shed some of its mainstream audience gained with the shiny Nevermind. The music was darker, louder and certainly not as “radio friendly.” One of the best examples of this came in a track called “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”, a title so intentionally ironic. This wasn’t radio-friendly at all, but still gained a big audience nonetheless.
In Utero has always been my favorite Nirvana album. The way it shifts from noisy screamers like “Scentless Apprentice”, “Milk It” and “Tourette’s” to the more quiet “Dumb” and brilliant closer “All Apologies” shows a band really coming into its own. It’s a shame Cobain committed suicide a mere 7 months after it’s release, as the band certainly had plenty of gems left up its sleeve.
For the 20th anniversary edition, original producer Steve Albini remastered the album, and it sounds wonderful. Included on the first disc are album B-sides “Marigold” and “Moist Vagina.” “Marigold” was the only Nirvana tune written and sung by Dave Grohl, and it’s a lovely little acoustic tune. “Moist Vagina” is awesome, with Cobain mumbling the lyrics “She has a moist vagina, I particularly enjoy the circumference” under heavy guitars. Turns out, the song really isn’t about chicks at all, as Cobain screams the chorus “Marijuana” throughout the song. Also included are the two tracks from the era given to compilation albums, “Sappy” and “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” “Sappy” was given to the excellent No Alternative compilation album, and was formerly known as “Verse Chorus Verse” before another tune, recorded in the Nevermind era, was released under that name on 2004’s With the Lights Out box set. “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” was reportedly Cobain’s original choice for the album title (meant as a joke at the time, but thank God the album didn’t get called that given the events that followed), and here the song opens with a funny snippet of Dave Grohl talking about a porno.
On the second disc, a remixed version (by Albini) is included where you can here subtle differences to the songs. “Serve the Servants” has an entirely different guitar solo. The cello is largely excised from “Dumb” The guitar counter melody to “Very Ape” is much more prominent, and the “all in all is all we are” lyrics are brought up in the mix on “All Apologies.” It creates a fresh take on a classic album.
They simply don’t make albums like In Utero anymore.

Sod rating: *****

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For his first official solo album in six years (2008’s excellent The Fireman album doesn’t quite count), Paul McCartney enlisted the help of four producers with the hopes of finding the right one.

Turns out, the former Beatle enjoyed working with them all. Two of the producers have Beatles connections, or at least their dads do. Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George, and Ethan Johns, son of Glyn (who worked on the ill-fated Let it Be project) lend support, as do Paul Epworth (Adele) and Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars).

Working with younger collaborators seems to have lit a spark under Sir Paul, as his new album (aptly titled New) continues McCartney’s late-period renaissance (which began with 1997’s excellent Flaming Pie)

The album contains a variety ofu musical styles from the straight-ahead Strokes-like rocker Save Us to the almost Penny Lane like title track (complete with harpsichord), there is much here to like.

Queenie Eye contains a throw everything at the kitchen sink psychedelic vibe, complete with a mid-song breakdown which sounds like it was lifted from another song entirely. It’s marvelous, showing McCartney is still adventurous at age 71.

One of the more reflective pieces on the album is Early Days, where McCartney recalls his pre-Beatle days with John Lennon, where they were looking for anyone to listen to their music. He also takes issue for the many Beatle scribes over the years who claim to know everything about the band’s history but “weren’t where it was at.”

On My Way to Work shows off McCartney’s storytelling ability, as he sings about “riding on a big green bus” and watching the people as waits arrive at work. Again, it takes the listener back to a time before McCartney was one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.

There are interesting stylistic detours and modern production flourishes included on tracks like Road, which has an almost trancelike feel to it (it would have fit nicely on the aforementioned Fireman album) and even features a xylophone quite prominently.

Everybody Out There and I Can Bet should fit quite well into Paul’s arena set, with easy to sing along choruses and a huge rock sound.

The bonus tracks on the deluxe edition aren’t mere filler. Turned Out almost sounds like a lost George Harrison track, while Get Me Out of Here shows off Paul as a 1920s bluesman.

New is a refreshing batch of McCartney tunes, growing on the listener with every spin.

Sod rating: *****