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Ben’s Classic Reviews: Diving into grunge season: a review of “In Utero”
A shot from Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” music video. Photo credits:

Fall is often considered grunge season, and for good reason. At last, this is the time of year when the weather shifts enough to a point where I feel comfortable wearing flannel. Beyond just that, playing grunge out loud by a pool during August is unequivocally a vibe shifter – not many want to listen to straightforward songs about depression and drug abuse on a warm summer day. Something about the weather getting colder and leaves falling down changes that however.

In that respect, I want to review one of my favorite grunge albums, “In Utero” by Nirvana. If you’re okay with heavy subject matter when the leaves turn red and brown, this is a record for you, considering there’s absolutely no shortage of that. After the massive and unexpected commercial success of their previous release, “Nevermind,” the band wanted to return to harsher and less “polished” noise on their subsequent record. Recruiting Steve Albini to produce (of Pixies’ “Surfer Rosa” fame), the band recorded a wild mix of songs. Despite the seeming recklessness of their songwriting, these new songs nevertheless proved to be chart successes, even if the name Steve Albini struck fear in record companies’ hearts for his unorthodox method of producing.

There’s not a clear central concept to this album, so rather than talking endlessly about it as a cohesive unit, I want to dedicate more words to the songs themselves. Standout tracks include:


Serve the Servants: An absolutely essential opener to this record, this immediately distinguishes the record from “Nevermind.” This is not “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in any way; it’s not there to crack the top 20. It’s not about the cultural zeitgeist, it’s an abrasive, distorted, groany “screw you” message to his dad.

Heart-Shaped Box: Obviously, this was gonna be here, but this is personally one of my favorite Nirvana songs ever. This song really amplifies the classic ‘90s alternative quiet-verse-to-loud-chorus motif to a 10. There’s not too much more to say that hasn’t already been heard by this song’s millions of listeners, but the melody is infectious and fantastic.

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle: The revenge still has yet to happen. Despite Frances not seeking vengeance from beyond the grave, this song is still a great tribute to a woman who was institutionalized by both the state of Washington and the media for “erratic behavior.” And “I miss the comfort in being sad” is such an incredible chorus.

Dumb: This song is just dark. The song lacks the raucous guitar noises of previous tracks but replaces it with depressing strings and lyrics about how “ignorance is bliss;” maybe if he stops overthinking and burdening himself, he’ll get happy in his view. With the hindsight of Cobain’s suicide just a year later, these are some of Nirvana’s most haunting lyrics.

Pennyroyal Tea: This is one of my favorite Nirvana melodies. I love how despite the chorus being the typical loud-and-distorted of “In Utero,” you can hear a really pretty melody underneath distortion

All Apologies: Again, a deeply haunting song and send-off. Kurt’s low self-esteem takes the steering wheel, and the lyrics and melody show a strange lack of anger unlike the rest of the album; instead, this song is built on resignation to everything, apologizing to the world for reasons unknown.


This record absolutely holds up today not despite, but because of its willingness to discuss such heavy topics such as alienation, depression, and drugs. These topics are relevant to the modern day and will always be relevant. While Kurt Cobain is often hailed as a Generation X icon, I still see the same appeal to Gen Z and to future generations as an icon. The music is great, the song topics resonate with those struggling with mental health regardless of age, and as a whole, the record is a perfect time capsule that every generation forward seeks to open and reopen continuously.

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