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Reissue review: The 20th anniversary ‘In Utero’ is bigger, but not better

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Michael J. Mishak

Three stars

Nirvana In Utero: 20th anniversary edition

When Nirvana finished recording In Utero in 1993, the suits at Geffen Records weren’t the only ones with doubts. Kurt Cobain also questioned whether the production was too raw on what would be the band’s swan song. Ultimately, a hired hand was brought in to sand off some rough edges, giving rise to fanboy conspiracies in Nirvana Nation: What happened to the real In Utero?

A new two-disc anniversary set attempts to answer, squeezing what little is left from the band’s thoroughly raided archives. There are a few real gems, including producer Steve Albini’s original mixes of the album’s notoriously polished singles (“Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies”), but mostly it feels as if Nirvana and Universal Music are milking what they can out of a too-short career already documented by two better box sets. The B-sides, outtakes and compilation tracks are old news, and while diehards will relish Dave Grohl’s joke about a porno before “I Hate Myself and Want to Die,” there’s little here to rival With the Lights Out, which was replete with home recordings and band rehearsals from the In Utero era.

For good measure, Albini remasters and remixes In Utero using bits from the cutting-room floor—an alternate guitar solo, an unused backing vocal—but it’s hardly the Holy Grail. As he said recently, “The real version is the one you’ve been listening to all this time.” Fans would be better served spending their money on Live and Loud, a new DVD filmed before a hometown crowd just four months before Cobain’s death, capturing Nirvana at its noisy best.

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