Inevitable but not essential.
Bottom lining it for those of you that don’t want to read a lot: I want to write a rock opera about Steve Albini remaster/remixing this album.
Here are my thoughts on the actual record itself: It’s ok. The main thing that jumped out at me is that you can hear Kurt talking before most songs. He says a little something and then the song starts, where on the original version you’d just hear the song start. This is an audiophile remix (Let me just stop here, this is referred to a remix frequently but it’s more of what I think of a remaster. When you say remix I think like “Scentless Apprentice A$AP Ferg Trap Lord Mix.”) so the better your hardware is, the more you will get out of this version.
The more you spend, the more you save. There are multiple versions of this release;1 CD, 2 CDs, 3 LPs, or 3CDs and a DVD. The $150 package with the most music includes original flavor In Utero, the new version, all of the tracks from the CD singles, live versions of In Utero and some other random stuff like vocaless acoustic versions of the songs and a prolonged jam. There is a mix of mixes here, a few original Scott Litt versions the label ordered in the day and all of the rarities/CD single stuff are new, 2013 mixes.
The value of this reissue will be solely determined by how you feel about all of this stuff at a core level divided by how big of a Nirvana fan you are multiplied by X, where X is how big of a Nirvana fan you were in the day and how many of the Outcestiside bootlegs you still own.
How I feel about is indifferent at best, hostile at worst. To me, In Utero is an artifact of its era. It was a record I listened to in my high school days, when I was at Peak Idealism. While I didn’t have any issue with Nevermind, which I heard described as a piece of glass encased in lucite, the whole point of In Utero was not be that record. It wasn’t meant to be nice. Redoing the mix for audiophiles almost feels sad give how hostile a record it is. Whatever was lacking in the recording contributes to that. Steve even says in his podcast, the record that was released in 94 was the one the band wanted you to hear. I am fairly confident it was never meant to be issued in as a $150 release for affluent 30-40 somethings. A thing to display on a shelf.
Which leads me to the letter. As a thing, the letter that Steve wrote to Kurt and the band about why he should be the guy to record In Utero has been making the rounds, it’s even included on one of these versions in the bonus material. In that letter Steve Albini says
Remixing is for talentless pussies who don’t know how to tune a drum or point a microphone.
So now, while Steve is talking about how this new master has full dynamic range and all this effort has been toward put toward sound quality with a hifi copper record and so on. He never address how, when and why he became a talentless pussy that created this 20th Anniversary Edition.
Which the leads me to my rock opera. It’s a tale of Steve Albini as a tragic hero. 20 years ago, in the era that was both the last and golden age of record sales Steve could be comfortably moral in not taking points on In Utero and talking about his distain remixing while remaining secure in the knowledge that he was maybe 1 of 2 recording engineers and producers that anyone had ever heard of and work was pletniful.
Moving ahead 20 years to a decaying America that makes the 90s seem like an era of endless prosperity, a time where the concept of record sales is mainly a thing of olds and collectors. The only people left to buy them are aging Gen Xers, the last Americans for whom a degree of success and wealth is possibe (isn’t it ironic), who despite this long for their youth as their lives now consist of nothing but the drugery of obligation. I’m not saying Steve was motivated by money here, or he needs money or anything. What I’m saying is this record exists purely to make a buck. It’s In Utero totally and completely divorced from it’s artistic intent. Alternative is now classic rock.
Picture our hero Steve Albini, a highly intelligent man, older now, perhaps wiser and acutely aware of his presence with in the collapsar – the fulcrum of invetibility where it’s no longer possible to change the outcome. Gen X still has some cash, it misses it’s youth. There is no way that the 20th anniversary of In Utero will pass without someone profiting. The record will come out again. If he is asked to work on it, he must. The man who wrote that letter does not exist, time as eradicated him. He will remix In Utero. He will talk about spectrum width on his podcast.
It’s a gnostic story.
Available on nirvana.com