Album Reviews | Nirvana – In Utero [Super Deluxe] (2013)

In UteroI have been meaning to do an In Rotation post for In Utero for some time now [edit: you can read it right here], but I wanted to wait until I had gotten a chance to listen to the inevitable 20th anniversary super deluxe edition before officially/publicly inducting it into my rotation of all-time favorites. Well, I set aside my entire Saturday afternoon to feast on the 60-track, 223-minute monstrosity that is this super deluxe reissue. I opted for the iTunes version — I plan on buying the DVD that comes with the physical release later (it’s sold separately as Live and Loud) — because, honestly, I have little use for CDs now. (They take up space.) Plus, the iTunes version is, yes, “Mastered for iTunes,” which I thought was just a marketing gimmick until I read this article, so I wanted to grab that. (And what’s with the price for the physical release? Are you kidding me? It’s only $34.99 on iTunes.)

Nirvana - Nevermind [Super Deluxe] (Reduced)When the 20th anniversary editions of Nevermind were released in the fall of 2011, the remaster was panned pretty much across the board. Seriously, it’s so squashed it’s unlistenable, and as a result, I never really got into the reissue, despite having bought the damn thing, yes, on iTunes, though apparently before the “Mastered for iTunes” campaign kicked off. (If you read the article I linked to above though, the resulting volume isn’t much different with iTunes masters, it’s more about reducing distortion, if that makes sense. The article explains it pretty well in the section about the “null test.”) Anyway, I didn’t have high hopes for the remaster they had in store for us with the In Utero reissue, but boy, was I ever glad to be completely shocked.

I did a quick volume check for each track on iTunes — you can do that any time you like by right-clicking on a song, selecting “Get Info” and looking under the “Summary” tab — and was stunned to find just one track, “Scentless Apprentice,” that was louder than on the original CD. (This page confirms this.) The rest of the songs are either the same volume or quieter than the original, which, well, is shocking, given how the “loudness war” has progressed over the past couple of decades. It’s just mind-boggling to me that they could have completely botched the Nevermind remaster only to deliver a remaster for In Utero that’s everything we really could have hoped for.

Heart-Shaped BoxI’ll refrain from discussing the merits of In Utero here — hey, I have another section of my site for that — but I would like to run through the specifics of the Super Deluxe edition while I’ve still got you here. For one, we finally get the original mixes by Steve Albini for “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies,” which were left off the album after Scott Litt (best known for producing several major R.E.M. albums) was supposedly called in to make them more radio-ready. After listening to the Albini mixes, I think they made the right call to bring Litt in, but I’m glad after all this time that we can finally get our hands on the originals. Litt has been brought back once again to remix the entire album specifically for the 20th anniversary reissue, and, well, while it’s always interesting to hear different sounds emphasized in new mixes, it’s hard to escape the feeling that it’s kind of more of a novelty rather than something substantial.

There are, of course, lots of demos and B-sides, and whether those are worth your time depends on how deep your interest level is to begin with. I am always continually fascinated by Nirvana, since they’re pretty much the most storied band since the Beatles, so I eat this stuff up, especially since their reissued material heavily outweighs the recorded output released during the band’s active years at this point. And then there’s the live show that comprises the entire third disc (and fourth, too, when counting the DVD), which is pretty stunning. Seriously, whoa. I was feeling pretty tapped out after listening through two entire CDs of the same album twice plus other odds and ends, but then the concert they unearthed from the vault (how many of these do they have left, anyway?) absolutely exploded out of the gate and didn’t let up at all.

So all in all, I couldn’t be happier with this reissue. Most reissues are shameless cash grabs, but this one is actually worth your time. There’s a lot here, sure, but is that really something to complain about? And what’s more, this isn’t a victim of the hyper-compression that plagued the Nevermind reissue, so while In Utero may be a good deal noisier in terms of content, it’s still easier on the ears.

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