Tag Archives: Bleach

Rocks In The Attic #642: Nirvana – ‘In Utero’ (1993)

RITA#642Last weekend I found a pair of perfectly good speakers on the side of the road. A handwritten sign – ‘FREE’ – was standing next to them. I did a quick u-turn and threw them in my car. New Zealand’s attitude to freecycling occasionally delivers gems like this. You could probably drive around all weekend and furnish your entire house with kerbside treasures that people are throwing away. The speakers are a lovely pair of Technics, standing 18” tall and my vinyl-collecting friend at work, who’s far more knowledgeable about hi-fi equipment, assures me they’re a very, very good find.

That’s if they still work, of course, because who in their right minds would throw away a perfectly good set of speakers? A quick trip to the local electronics store to get some speaker cable, and I can rest assured that not only do they work perfectly, but they also sound fucking awesome. It makes a world of difference to the set of (perfectly good for purpose) surround speakers I was running my turntable through previously.

Whenever I’m testing a new set-up – be it a new turntable, or a new amp, or a new set of speakers – the album I always turn to is Nirvana’s In Utero. My clear favourite of their three studio albums, it towers over their unripe debut, and their too-slick crossover follow-up. Steve Albini’s production sounds more like what I imagine the band’s natural sound to be, and it was the record I turned to when Kurt died as it was their final studio album.

The reason it’s so good to test hi-fi equipment is that it’s so dynamic, and so well recorded that it doesn’t sound like the product of pro-tools. After Albini’s initial production (foreshadowed by a great letter to the band), Geffen Records attempted to fix what they saw as an uncommercial record by employing Robert Ludwig to master it. Still unhappy, the master tapes were then given to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed the singles alongside Andy Wallace (who had mixed Nevermind). With so many cooks in the kitchen, the album should sound conflicted, but to my ears it sounds perfect.

RITA#642aThe hi-fi recommendations in the inside cover of the CD booklet, something that you just don’t usually see in liner notes, have always made me chuckle. I suspect that rather than being a genuine instruction to listeners (unlikely), it’s an irreverent poke at the casual music fans the band were attracting (a more obscure jab than the lyrics to In Bloom).

RITA#642dAlthough I own a late ‘90s reissue of In Utero, I jumped at the chance to get the Steve Albini mix of the record, released to mark the album’s 20th anniversary. Running at 45rpm, and split across two discs, it’s a wonderful package. But while it’s very interesting to hear, I think I’ll always prefer the original version. Albini’s mix of the singles sound so much more in line with the rest of the album, and if anything the contrast shows how much the Scott Litt mix of those songs sounds like the range of dynamics you would hear on an REM single.

One thing I really liked around the 20th anniversary re-release was a memo that did the rounds on the internet, mocked up to look like a letter to record store owners, pleading with them to get behind the album’s reissue. I seem to remember some discussion at the time around whether it was genuine or not, but it’s clearly a joke – it’s dripping in cynicism, and reads like something that Kurt Cobain might have composed from beyond the grave.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the ‘thank you’ lists in liner notes, but there is one particular name on the In Utero sleeve that is deserving of a mention. The band listed Quentin Tarantino in this section – in 1993 a relatively cult director with only one film, Reservoir Dogs, to his name (and Pulp Fiction yet to be released). When the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction eventually saw the light of day in September 1994, Quentin repaid the favour and thanked the now-departed Cobain.

Hit: Heart Shaped Box

Hidden Gem: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

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Rocks In The Attic #480: Tin Machine – ‘Tin Machine’ (1989)

RITA#480jpgThat blonde guy in this band sure looks a lot like David Bowie…

I really hope that there isn’t going to be a reappraisal of Bowie’s sub-par efforts in the wake of the great man’s demise. I think we can all agree that Bowie’s post-Let’s Dance albums in the 1980s (Tonight and Never Let Me Down) were lame ducks. I don’t need a string of shiny reissues to try and convince me otherwise.

The same goes for Tin Machine. It was a nice idea, to revert back to a rock and roll band in response to those terrible pop albums. But Bowie could at least have written some decent tunes. 1989 was the same year that Nirvana offered a similar noisy record in Bleach, but Tin Machine sounds like fake plastic punk in comparison. The record was influenced by Sonic Youth, but ended up sounding like Sonic Middle-Age.

Another reason behind the ill-fated project was to distance Bowie from his record label, EMI. Their relationship had reached breaking point by this time. As a result this was the last Bowie release to appear on EMI; the second Tin Machine album and all future original projects would appear on other labels. It could have backfired hugely though, if the record had been a hit; hence the lack of decent material. Bowie surely wasn’t going to let this succeed.

It’s a shame really. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels is a monster of a guitarist, and the Sales brothers on bass and drums are obviously a decent rhythm section. And of course that blonde chap on vocals can definitely sing. I take the record out for a spin once a year or so, but it doesn’t get any better sadly.

Hit: Heaven’s In Here

Hidden Gem: Working Class Hero

Rocks In The Attic #203: Nirvana – ‘Bleach’ (1989)

RITA#202I remember wanting this album so much to be better than it actually is. That’s the curse when you start listening to music – your ability to critique isn’t fully established, so instead of just accepting that an album isn’t all that great, you just dig your heels in and listen to it more, as though you can potentially make it better just by the act of repetition.

Bleach is far from being as good as Nevermind, and it’s not even in the same league as In Utero, which I’ve always regarded as their best and most consistent album. Listening to Bleach now though, it seems to have aged very well. I remember listening to the album throughout the ‘90s was always a bit of a chore, something I had to do every once in a while to fulfil my duties as a Nirvana fan.

One aspect I could never get over at the time was how laid-back the drums were, by Dave Grohl’s predecessor Chad Channing. Again, in hindsight the drum parts don’t seem too bad. The technique and power of Dave Grohl from Nevermind is noticeably absent, but I feel pretty guilty that Chad Channing had been unfairly maligned simply for not being Dave Grohl.

Dave Grohl eh, I wonder what ever happened to him?

Hit: About A Girl

Hidden Gem: School