Nirvana - In Utero
Album Comparisons: In Utero
Of all my favorite bands from back in the day, Nirvana probably qualifies as the one whose style would be most compromised by today's hyper compressed mixing and mastering practices. How would a band known for its sudden dynamic shifts (songs like "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" come particularly to mind here) fare in a day and age where all dynamic expressiveness is squashed in order to make things as loud as possible? After the twin sonic disasters of Bleach and Nevermind, I steeled myself for the worst with the 20th anniversary edition of In Utero.

Serve the Servants

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Serve the Servants

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Serve the Servants

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Serve the Servants

Scentless Apprentice

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Scentless Apprentice

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Scentless Apprentice

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Scentless Apprentice

Heart-Shaped Box

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Heart-Shaped Box

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Heart-Shaped Box

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Heart-Shaped Box

Rape Me

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Rape Me

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Rape Me

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Rape Me

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle

Dumb

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Dumb

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Dumb

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Dumb

Very Ape

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Very Ape

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Very Ape

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Very Ape

Milk It

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Milk It

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Milk It

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Milk It

Pennyroyal Tea

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Pennyroyal Tea

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Pennyroyal Tea

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Pennyroyal Tea

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

Tourette's

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

Tourette's

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

Tourette's

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

Tourette's

All Apologies

1993 original DGC/Sub Pop release

All Apologies

1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release

All Apologies

2013 DGC/Universal remaster

All Apologies
And the winner is: 2013 remaster. To say I was astonished by this remaster would be an understatement. After the absolutely infuriating, unforgiveable train wreck that was the Nevermind remaster, I was prepared for the worst. While - given that In Utero was a fairly loud album for its day - I was hopeful that the added compression would not be as extreme by comparison with the original release as that employed on the disastrous Nevermind re-release two years earlier, so many past disappointments nevertheless steeled me for another sonic raping. Imagine my surprise to find that not only does this remaster sound great, but it's actually an improvement over the original release by featuring a better, clearer, and (shockingly) more dynamic transfer! The remaster even tops the 1997 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab audiophile release. It is my understanding that original producer/mixer Steve Albini worked on this one, and the results are nothing short of fantastic. I wholeheartedly recommend this new release and, although all three versions are good, it is the clear winner in this contest.

Special note: The deluxe edition of the remaster also features a number of bonus tracks as well as a complete remix of the entire album made by Steve Albini and the surviving band members. I understand that the intentions were to take advantage of improved technology and to allow the music to "breathe" in a way that it did not upon its original 1993 release. I'm almost never in favor of remixes as I see them as pointless and crass cash ins, but in this case I have to say the remix sounds excellent and in many ways it gives the listener a fresh new perspective on the music. I didn't review it here, but it's worth checking out.