If you haven’t heard, Nirvana’s In Utero is a good album. Like, really good. The 20th anniversary re-release of the record is giving music critics across the web a chance to reiterate this self-evident truth, with Pitchfork today bestowing upon it a coveted 10 and the Seattle Times noting that the reissue is simply marvelous.
Well, duh. But what did critics think about the album when it first came out, before history could come to a consensus?
In our hallowed pages, the review was mixed.
“The album’s good, but not that good,” wrote our reviewer, Ted Fry, shortly after its September 1993 release. “True, it’s undeniably stimulating to both intellect and viscera, but it’s not the kind of experience that’s necessarily enhanced by repeated listenings.”
On Pitchfork, this kind of review would probably be enumerated with an 8.3.
Just like critics today, Fry was struck by the opening lines of the album (“teenage angst has paid off well/now I’m bored and old.”)
“In that first moment (Cobain) encapsulates Nirvana’s simultaneously snide and self-effacing mission. These are pop’s new saviors, but they couldn’t care less.”
And while Fry initially writes In Utero isn’t that good, he goes on to gush: “The punked-out hooks of “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Rape Me” clench into your brain with delicious ferocity that echoes the fever Nirvana unleashed with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
The review goes on to address another grunge release of fall 1993: Vs., Pearl Jam’s follow-up to Ten. Fry isn’t so kind to the release, predicting that “smart money will slant the odds toward Nirvana once again.” And, indeed, Vs. is not being treated to any 20th anniversary celebrations.
Interestingly, Fry in his review notes a third release of that fall: a re-mastered box set of Led Zeppelin’s 10 studio albums. That year, Houses of the Holy had turned 20, but Fry doesn’t bother putting the band through another round of criticism. It’s greatness was well understood.