NIRVANA In Utero (Simply Vinyl)

More heavyweight audiophile wonderment from Simply Vinyl, again presented exactly like a copy bought on day of release, with the original labels and the lyric insert. I could be picky and point out that the Geffen issue of "In Utero" had a glossy sleeve rather than the matt finish presented here, but for once I'm not going to.

"In Utero" is the album that finally and belatedly got me into Nirvana, as it were. After years of being baffled by the continual championing of "Nevermind", my mate Vic lent me this and I was completely converted. Maybe it's Steve Albini's blunderbuss production (he has a habit of bringing out the 'best' in bands, performing a similar streamlining operation on Theweddingpresent circa "Seamonsters"), perhaps it's the total rejection of their pop past (as you all know by now, the way the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" riff gets hammered into the carcass of "Rape Me"), possibly it's all 230 seconds of "All Apologies" (not as good as Sinead O'Connor's astonishing, naked cover version but darn fine nevertheless). Whatever, "In Utero" is a classic of pre-Radiohead angst rock, so on-edge at times that it's scary, even without the tragic benefit of hindsight. Simply Vinyl's reissue certainly sounds good enough, without the (possibly age-related) problems that have cursed some of their other productions, without improving on a clean original pressing (something other reissue specialists, such as DCC, are quite good at). Now, how about a chunky reissue of "Bleach"?

NIRVANA Nevermind (DGC)

I’ve never really been bowled over by “Nevermind”, even around the time of its release (when I was too busy listening to the likes of Ride’s “Going Blank Again” and Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”.). I’ll concede, though, that for many people the dozen songs here are as indispensable a generational talisman as, say, the dozen songs on “Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols”. Here the songs are Nirvana’s prettiest (something the band readily acknowledge, of course, whilst satirising the audience the album would attract on “In Bloom”), the brutality of the sentiments coated with something sugary and sticky. But that’s what makes it the anomaly in Nirvana’s catalogue: compared with the nascent sludge of “Bleach” and the brutal, despairing “In Utero” it’s like stating a preference for “Imagine” over “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”.

“Come As You Are” sounds reptilian at this remove, like The Doors at their scaliest; the thrashing dissent of “Territorial Pissings” is probably the closest the album passes to its predecessor. Yet as one bass and drums intro tumbles after another, it becomes readily apparent why side one was mined for singles and side two wasn’t: the album is, shall we say, frontloaded, which is not to underestimate its slow, slouching coda, “Something In The Way”, soaked in weeping cello under the bridge of rock junkie myth.

On the other hand, I’ve never heard “Nevermind” (ha ha!) sound as good as it does right now on the current utterly standard issue vinyl pressing. Butch Vig’s famed production has actually grown some dynamic range – not much, but some, at least – and Dave Grohl’s opening salvo on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sounds like a declaration of war…which maybe it was.

NIRVANA Live At Reading (DGC)

After years, decades almost, spent in the murky bootleg netherworld, Nirvana’s valedictory performance at the 1992 Reading Festival has finally been officially released, and, as one of its tracks observes wryly, the money will roll right in. Also available on DVD, the audio document necessarily lacks some contextual clues both important – a wheelchair-bound Kurt Cobain being wheeled onstage by journalist Everett True – and less so – the interpretative choreographic contributions from Bivouac drummer Dancing Tony.

The ugly squalls of feedback that punctuate these songs only make their alchemical melding of pop gloss and punk power all the more powerful. The setlist mixes all of “Nevermind” excepting its slow-motion closer “Something In The Way” with a generous dose of early singles and “Bleach” material. There are also a couple of covers and a few songs from the band’s as-yet-unrecorded final album “In Utero”, including the foreboding, foreshadowing “All Apologies”.

The bratty indignation of “School” already sounds like a relic against the streamlined likes of ”Breed” and “Drain You”. Cobain’s sloppy, offhand delivery can’t quite spoil the glorious bubblegum of “Sliver”; equally his self-sabotage of the opening guitar sonar blips on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is soon usurped by a performance of the song that’s as brutally blank as could be hoped for. “Negative Creep” barely stays on the rails, propelled by a throat-stripping rage of an order far greater than that apparent on all their pretty songs, and closer “Territorial Pissings” degenerates into a ham-fisted approximation of Hendrix’s feedback-strafed cover of “The Star Spangled Banner”.

The sound of a huge crowd going loudly bonkers is also to the fore on this recording: “Lithium” prompts a mass singalong, and shouts, screams and whistles predominate during the relative musical, if not psychological, calm of “Polly”.

Perhaps some kind of documentation would have been useful, if only for the benefit of future generations almost guaranteed to be poring over this artefact in decades to come. As it is, there are no sleeve notes of any kind, although the Festival’s poster has been reprinted inside the sleeve itself, repaying further study for listeners happy to take the packaging to bits. On vinyl it sounds as good as it needs to, which is just about enough. No doubt grunge snobs will rail against the album, claiming that the band’s performance at Reading in 1991 to be far worthier of such deluxification. For the less specialist listener, though, this “Live At Reading” is as great as you’d hope it would be.

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