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Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ Turns 25: Reflecting on the Challenging and Deeply Rewarding Follow-Up to ‘Nevermind’

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“Teenage angst has paid off well … now I’m bored and old,” Kurt Cobain screams in the opening seconds of “Serve the Servants,” the opening track to Nirvana‘s 1993 album In Utero.

It was an effective and poignant way to kick off the band’s hugely anticipated third album, which celebrates its 25th anniversary today. Of course, Cobain would end up dead by way of suicide a year later, putting an end to Nirvana’s monumentally important but tragically brief time atop the music scene.

For Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic, In Utero was in large part a direct reaction to the impossibly lofty heights they reached with 1991’s Nevermind. To say the album was a “cultural phenomenon” would be putting it mildly, which in turn put immense pressure on the trio for a follow-up.

That’s what makes the music on In Utero so jarringly effective. Cobain didn’t necessarily appreciate the spotlight he had, nor the pressure that went along with it.

As a result, much of In Utero is jagged, jarring, sonically dissonant exercises in pushing things as far as they could (“Milk It,” “Scentless Apprentice,” “Very Ape”) — while at the same time retaining some semblance of “mainstream acceptability” (“Heart-Shaped Box,” “Dumb,” “All Apologies” and “Pennyroyal Tea”), with “Rape Me” accomplishing both at the same time due to its aggressive structure and challenging subject matter.

“Frances Farmer Will Get Her Revenge on Seattle” also straddles the line between both, Cobain’s ear-splitting guitar squealing through the first verse in a song that otherwise captures the band’s quiet/loud dynamic perfectly.

Looking back on the album, In Utero is a hugely important moment in rock history, especially in context with the rest of Nirvana’s career and Cobain’s visceral reaction to his assigned status as “spokesman of a generation.”

Click here to pick up a copy of the 20th anniversary reissue from 2013, and stream it below via Spotify:

And here’s a pretty amusing MTV News segment from 1993 in which college students listened to the album and shared their thoughts:

H/t Stereogum for finding that video on YouTube and sharing it with the masses accordingly.

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