Saturday, August 22, 2009

A tragic farewell - Nirvana's In Utero

I gather it is fairly widely felt that Nirvana's final album In Utero was also Kurt Cobain's suicide note, and it's pretty difficult to hear it in any way other than this. Its words are bleak, and full of an angry despair and its music is uncompromisingly dark. There is nothing in this album that is designed for the pop charts - but there is certainly a lot in it for anyone who feels ready to glimpse into the tortured soul of a man who has lost all hope and happiness.

I doubt that anyone has ever drawn parallels between Kurt Cobain and Pyotr Tchaikovsky before, but I couldn't help but see the similarity between this album and Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony. That, too, was written just before its composer died - quite probably through suicide - and that, too, pours out all its anguish, despair and anger in a truly heart-breaking eloquence, to the point where you almost feel voyeuristic, eavesdropping into someone's else's innermost demons.

That's how I felt, listening to In Utero. It's surely amongst the most powerful, most shattering music that I have heard. The music is unrelenting - it never lets you feel comforted or complacent; it grabs by the throat and shakes you and makes you look into its face. And then, of course, there is Kurt Cobain's voice - almost intentionally off-key, rough and alienated. Listen, for example, to the way he draws out the word "sad", skirting, unsettled, around the note, in the line "I miss the comfort in being sad" in "Frances Farmer will have her revenge on Seattle".

Sadness and anguish are expressed in so many ways in this album - like the way the music cries out and then dies out in "Pennyroyal Tea", or the false promise of happiness in "Dumb", or the screaming guitars at the end of "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter". And then the sad irony of a hint of a tune in "All apologies" as if, in saying farewell, the music, and its composer, at last finds something vaguely like resolution.

It's a superb album - not something you listen to lightly; but certainly something that captures, with incredible power, the darkest depths of human despair.


  1. I feel humiliated..I never really rated Nirvana. Your critique is one of the most eloquent and heartfelt I think I have read.Please don't listen to Morphine what ever you do...did i dangle the carrot??

  2. A dangerous thing telling me not to listen to something. That's what someone once advised about Wagner, and look where that finished!

  3. No I dont believe this was his last album. Try listening to Hole - celebrity Skiin. No way this "lady" could write such great lyrics. In my mind they are Kurts lost songs, after his death who would hvae cleaned up his belongings? who would have had access to his unpublished song lyrics? Those songs Kurt never deemed good enough to record? Who else wanted to save the flagging career? Listen to it, don't buy it(she will get the money) though get it from a freind or listen online somewhere.

    Biased opinion? no just listen and compare to her ealier and later music!