Some anniversary reissues are like tapas. Small, manageable servings of exactly what you want and you wind up leaving utterly satisfied. Others are like going to Country Buffet. More food than you could ever need or want and you end up gorging on shit you never asked for in the first place and when you finish you ask yourself "Why was that necessary?".
In Utero is a great album. Some might even call it an important album. It was an album that answered the question "How do you follow up an album that changed everything?" Some define the album as brilliant, some called it "commercial suicide" - only the second time the term had ever been used (after the release of Faith No More's 1992's Angel Dust).
An important, great album deserves a reissue. But, like the 20th reissue of Nirvana's previous release, Nevermind - there's more Country Buffet than tapas here. Included on the release is the original album, the original album with a 2013 remix that exactly none of us have been waiting for, and a live CD (in some versions also, a DVD) of the band's Live and Loud concert from 12/31/93.
There's assorted flotsam in the form of bonus tracks that have all (with the exception of a couple incomplete, untitled, less-than-memorable tunes) been released in some form or another, either as B-Sides to the singles from the album, or other sources like The Beavis and Butthead Experience.
Really, what it comes down to, is all of this amounts to a set for completists only. And I daresay, if you are a completist that does your homework, you've already patched this together from the myriad of bootlegs available over the years like the Outcesticide series.
The real gem here (aside from the original album) is the live show. Originally shot for MTV Live 'N Loud, the album and DVD are a great companion piece to the previously released (and better known) Live At The Paramount. Paramount was a band on the rise to the top - the controlled chaos that was the time. It was rough, it was sloppy, it was everything Nirvana was known for.
What has been forgotten over the years was the greatness of Nirvana's songs. Looking past the disenfranchised street urchin persona of Cobain to the true talent that wrote the tunes. The live disc here captures that brilliance. All seasoned veterans by this point, the band has never sounded tighter. From "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" right on through, this is top-to-bottom Nirvana at it's finest. The DVD has been released separately so as a piece of friendly neighborhood advice from your old Uncle Kevy, just pick up the DVD. You have the original album and you probably have 99% of all the other stuff too. If you don't have these songs already, or maybe you took your original album to the pawn shop in 2002 and were feeling nostalgic and wanted to pick up this set, go ahead, but that would make you a silly goose, now wouldn't it?
Box Set: 7.0
Live DVD: 9.0
It’s easy to read a posthumous reissue as a mining of a band’s demos and outtakes. Nirvana saw the deluxe treatment of Nevermind a few years back and now, celebrating 20 years since its release, they get the same treatment on In Utero. For a band that only released three proper full-lengths, yet received accolades beyond what I care to get into in a short review, there’s a certain diehard fan base that’s pining for new material. With the deluxe edition of their final record getting its re-release in box set form, it would be an easy marketing angle. Instead, the deluxe anniversary edition of In Utero is a tasteful celebration of the original—even if it’s somewhat unnecessary.
Available in multiple forms, the re-release includes three CDs: a re-master of the original record (plus b-sides and bonus tracks), a new 2013 mix of the original album (plus demos and two previously unreleased “songs”), and a live CD from a 1993 concert that matches a separately available DVD. It’s a hassle just to keep that straight, not to mention the various packages available that feature those pieces in varied combinations. Oh, and there’s a vinyl option too. Let’s just say it’s a lot of material and, really, it’s a lot of versions of the same songs.
Fans of the original In Utero release aren’t going to gain much new everyday play material in this re-issue. The re-master is nice and the new mix is subtly different, but it won’t reinvigorate the record with any new energy or staying power that previously lacked. It’s a collector piece that complements and doesn’t offer a whole lot of depth to the package, instead satisfying the completist. The new demos are mostly instrumental or lazy vocal takes, and the new songs are titled “Forgotten Tune” and “Jam.” Take from those titles what you need to know. As for bonus tracks, there are some strong ones like “Sappy,” “Marigold,” and “I Hate Myself and Want to Die,” but these songs are already available elsewhere—just not in one convenient package. As far as the urge to put in one disc and listen start-to-finish (because, honestly, the occasion to sit down with this 4-hour box set in one sitting won’t be a regular instance), the re-master outweighs the new mix, mostly on the strength of the extras: b-sides over demos. Plus, placing “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip” post-“All Apologies” mimics the noisy close of Nevermind in a nice likeness before the more pop-oriented b-sides kick in. It just has that “bonus track” feel.
Meanwhile, the most interesting part of the material is the Live & Loud: Live at Pier 48, Seattle, WA – 12/31/93 disc. It’s seventeen songs from a single set and the mix of discography, pulling multiple songs from Bleach up through In Utero gives a good feel for the band live. There’s even an electric version of “The Man Who Sold the World.” What the recording is able to do is to capture a powerful live set (the feel that producer Steve Albini tried to capture on In Utero) and it brings the home listening audience a step closer to what will never be on a live stage again. Unfortunately there is no stage banter included on the disc and it’s clear that some material was cut between songs as the cheering start/stops before each jam. Still, it makes me wish I could have been there rather than sitting in a 9th grade classroom. Despite the focus of this release being on their 1993 record, the highlight is a live set that pulls from all their releases.
Listening to four hours of Nirvana daily has proven In Utero’s staying power and hearing original mixes from Albini that were cut from the record by Geffen is exciting and it serves to reinforce the major label/indie divide that challenged the recording then and, ultimately, defined the band’s musical instincts. The liner notes include Albini’s letter pre-recording, and it is eerily accurate concerning some of the items faced.
The package has its moments. None of the new material is dismissible as “cash in” vault material with the exception of “Jam” and “Forgotten Song,” and the other 58 songs (mostly new variations on material Nirvana fans already own) are worthwhile and enjoyable—they just don’t offer that much more of a complete listening experience than the original release did. Coming out of the 3-disc box set, the wish is that I could hear the original album in sequence, replacing the Scott Litt mixes with Albini’s. Thanks to the wonders of mp3s that can be done, but is it worth a whole box set? For a completist, this is worth picking up. For a fan who just likes to enjoy In Utero for forty-five minutes of high-energy, powerful and, er, classic rock, there’s already a version of this available. Just make sure it’s not the “Waif Me” version.
For the completist: 8.5
For the average listener: 7.5