The first album I ever cared about was Nirvana’s In Utero. Before I ever heard the first taps of the drumsticks on “Serve the Servants,” my entire music collection could have been hit by a meteorite and it wouldn’t have mattered that much. I
liked that it was refined in all of its rawness. Just a couple of years ago, I went through a phase where I rediscovered the album and listened to it so obsessively that I began having horrible dreams; all of which inspired a collection of short stories and vignettes, ranging from birds with crushed in skulls having conversations with each other, to a male cosmetologist dancing around his room with a dolled up severed head. Things got pretty weird.
Growing up, I was never really the type to read music reviews. You may have guessed that already, given the poor job I’m doing here. I’m just saying, I never picked up Rolling Stone, mostly because it wasn’t carried at my local Wal-Mart, and I never had the time or patience to search out reviews online since my family had a dial-up connection until I was nineteen years old. However, I did try to read reviews for In Utero. Unfortunately, most of them just talked about Kurt Cobain’s ethos or speculation as to whether the record hinted at his suicide, since the album was released about seven months prior to his death in 1994. For a preteen in 2002, it was pretty disappointing. All I wanted to do was find someone who felt the exact same way I did when I listened to this album. I understood that Kurt Cobain meant a lot of different things to a lot of people, but to me, he was just a guy who was really good at making music that captured emotion. It was something that I respected—and still do—but I just couldn’t understand why everyone would blow off talking about the thing he had worked so hard to create.
Not only that, I always sort of found it insulting to every single person’s intelligence when a writer would make a case for Cobain’s songs reflecting on his life in some way. Obviously, they did. Anyone who has ever written anything could tell you that he or she was clearly influenced by what was going on in his or her life, even in the most minute of ways. But this album wasn’t about Cobain or his life; those are minor details. It isn’t even about the characters or real people he references in a few of his songs either, like Frances Farmer in “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” or the protagonist of Peter Suskind’s novel Purfume in “Scentless Apprentice.” This is an album for all of us, because everyone has experienced the darkest of emotions. Everyone has felt as though they are on the cusp of insanity. Everyone has felt dumb, or worthless or pissed off. In the age of psychoanalyzing and prescription pills, it can be scary or intimidating to have those feelings, and the only thing that is worse than being in a dark place is feeling guilty for being in such a place. In Utero welcomes those emotions better than any other album I’ve ever listened to.
My favorite song is “Milk It.” Every time I listen to it, I can feel this tingling in the center of my core. The dissonant chords, the intelligible screaming, it all works for me. It makes every cell in my body feel aggressive, yet aggressive isn’t even the right emotion. I suppose it’s a mix of fear and exhilaration, both pressed against each other so combatively. Three minutes and 15 seconds in, Cobain stutters when he screams out “Test Meat,” and my heart skips a beat.
I don’t have much to tell you about this album that you don’t already know, but if you’ve never laid in your bed in complete darkness and listened to this album from start to finish, now is a good time to do it.