A Comparison Between Nirvana’s Nevermind with Nirvana’s In Utero Introduction Perhaps no band has had more lasting influence upon the rock scene than Nirvana. They were the harbingers of the so-called “grunge” movement of the early 1990s, the included Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden as the standard bearers…
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In contrast, In Utero was intended to have a much more primal sound than Nevermind. This was the intention from the first, and Cobain and producer Steve Albini made this sound come to life. One of the techniques in making the sound of In Utero more primal and natural than the sounds of Nevermind was that the band put microphones in the recording studios, therefore the sounds of the band performing in the studios were picked up in a natural way. The two albums were different, as well, according to Azzerrad (1993) in that Nevermind blended the influences in their songs – punk, pop and rock. However, in In Utero the songs tended to reflect one influence more than another. From the soft, Beatlesque pop song Dumb, to the pure punk sound of Milk It, the influences that inspired Nirvana were less blended in the third album than they were on the second album. This essay will examine the critical differences between the two albums, and will look at three songs in depth – In Bloom from Nevermind; and Dumb and Heart Shaped Box from In Utero. Nevermind verses In Utero In the album Nevermind, which was Nirvana’s second studio album, the sound featured by the band would be characterized, for the most part, as rageful. As noted by Charles Cross (2001), in this biography of Kurt Cobain, titled Heavier than Heaven, many of the songs were written by Kurt Cobain in a period of despondency and rage after his girlfriend, Tobi, dumped him. Cobain wrote songs, such as “Aneurysm,” “Drain You,” “Lounge Act,” and “Lithium” during this period of despair, and these songs were all about Tobi. This rage was evident in the sound of the music from this album – as Rutherford (1991) puts it, songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with its stuttering chord progression to the thundering drums, displayed shades of metal, punk and pop at its heart. The song also featured the vocals which were in line with the guitar. Classic Nirvana, according to Rutherford (1991) features heavy bridges, heavy choruses, and heavy drums and bass lines. Cohen (2009) specifically analyzed the song “In Bloom.” He states that the Nirvana sound was marked by distorted guitars with a thunderous sound, and singing that was more like screaming. This is the sound on the surface. The sound was also simplistic because, according to Cohen (2009), the harmonies were repetitive, the instrumental arrangements dogmatic, the rhythmic patterns were fixed, and the songs utilized basic strophic forms. Because of the seemingly simple level of the music, Cohen (2009) states that rock critics have been loathe to study the band, as they have been unable to find the complexity hidden beneath the simplistic surface of the band’s songs on Nevermind. That said, Cohen (2009) states that Nirvana did have complexity, in that they were unique and innovative, with harmonic idioms that hearkened back to traditional rock patterns with new harmonies. The trademarks of Nirvana, and its closely related cousins – Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam – are marked by use of the Phygian mode (minor mode with a lowered second degree), power chords, basic harmonies that blur the definition between minor and major keys, cross relations between sequential chords, and melodies and harmony that clash chromatically. Cohen (2009) chose In Bloom for special analysis, as it has a wider harmonic palette
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