Reviews

Nirvana / “In Utero”: Super Deluxe and Vinyl Edition reviewed

Nirvana / In Utero 20th Anniversary reissue photo gallery

Guest reviewer James Eldred, gives his views on the recent reissue.


Let’s not beat around the bush here: the 20th Anniversary Edition of Nevermind was a gigantic piece of shit.

It was overpriced, it lacked key outtakes and included useless filler. But most importantly, it sounded like complete garbage. In the hands of Bob Ludwig, the album was “remastered” into a compressed, noisy mess. All the dynamic range of the original recordings was stripped out and replaced with loud, distorted noise.

It was a goddamn tragedy.

So as you can probably imagine, I was more than a bit trepidatious when details started to leak out about the In Utero 20th Anniversary Edition. From the second I heard about it, I thought they were going to fuck it up. I thought they were going to overcompress it, fill it with needless bullshit, and charge way too much for it. I thought they were going to go half-assed once more, and just create another needless cash-in at the sake of one of the most important and greatest albums of my generations.

I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.

The 20th Anniversary Edition of In Utero is as great as the Nevermind Anniversary Edition was bad. It sounds incredible. It looks incredible. And it includes a set of bonus cuts and added features that should make every Nirvana fanatic as happy as a flannel-clad grunge rocker in a Doc Martens store. They got it right. They really, really got it right.

To celebrate/cash-in on the 20th anniversary of In Utero, Universal made four different versions of the album available. For the purposes of this review, I will only be focusing on the Super Deluxe 3CD + DVD box set and the 3LP Special Edition versions.

Quick note: This pair of reviews will strictly be covering the audio quality, extra tracks and overall presentation of both box sets. I don’t need to review the music on In Utero. Nothing I could say about the album will do it justice. In Utero is a classic record, a masterpiece. An absolute must-own. Period. It’s probably aged better than 90% of the albums from its era, and it remains Nirvana’s crowning achievement as a band. It’s a masterpiece. But I really hope you all already knew that.


sde

The front cover has a magnet you can move around.

Super Deluxe Edition

As I already mentioned, the Super Deluxe Edition of In Utero is a four-disc set made up of three CDs and a DVD. The first CD includes the original album in its entirety, as well as eight bonus cuts. Most of these are B-sides that have already been released, such as Moist Vagina or I Hate Myself And Want To Die, but it’s nice to have them included on an album proper. The two never-before-released bonus cuts from the first disc are the original 1993 Steve Albini mixes of Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies which were removed from the original album at the last minute and replaced with more “radio-friendly” mixes. Both sound pretty shockingly different in places. For example, the guitar solo on Heart Shaped Box has an added flange-effect that wasn’t on the original, while the distortion and background effects on All Apologies are really cranked up and put to the front of the mix. I actually like them more than the final versions that made the album, but I can see why they were replaced, they’re pretty abrasive and intense.

The real treat here is the second disc, which features an entirely new mix of the album, also done by original album producer Steve Albini. It’s awesome, and in some places it’s really different. Very Ape is even more aggressive and menacing, while the noise-rock intensity of of Radio Friendly Unit Shifter is even more in effect. It’s still the same album, nothing sounds unrecognisable, but it is fascinating, and an absolute must-listen for die-hard Nirvana fans. For me it was like hearing my favourite album for the first time. Very cool stuff.

If you recall, the Nevermind box set had alternate mixes of the album as well, the Devonshire mixes – Butch Vig’s original mix of the album. However, it was mastered for shit (just like everything else on the Nevermind box set) so picking out the differences between the new mix and the old were nigh-impossible. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. This time around, both the original mix and the new 2013 mix have been mastered with extreme care by audio engineer Steve Rooke. There is no clipping. No distortion. Nothing is lost in the mix, nothing is cut out. The original album’s dynamic range isn’t only kept intact, but it’s actually improved on a few tracks. I would have never expected that.

Serve-The-Servants-Original

Serve The Servants Original 1993 Release (click to enlarge)

Serve-The-Servants-Remaster

Serve The Servants (Remaster)

Serve-The-Servants-2013

Serve The Servants (2013 Mix)

Some studio outtakes, demos and instrumentals round out the second disc. All are worthwhile, but there’s nothing really spectacular among them. Two of the tracks are being touted as “never before released songs” but they’re literally just instrumental jams. Interesting curiosities for sure, but that’s about it.

The last two discs are dedicated to Live & Loud, the amazing 1993 live concert that originally aired on MTV on New Year’s Eve. Both the CD and the DVD have the show in its entirety, each with eight tracks that never made it to air. The DVD also has a few bonus cuts, including rehearsal footage and some clips from other TV appearances. It’s one of the better Nirvana live sets to be commercially released, definitely better than the Paramount concert that came with the Nevermind box set, but I still like the Reading Festival one more (although that’s generally considered to be one of the best live shows of all time, so that may not be a fair comparison). Both the DVD and CD sound a bit “hot” (they were mastered by Bob Ludwig), but not to a level that anyone would consider detrimental.

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The CDs form the front cover image. Also neat.

All of it comes this a wonderfully-designed box that houses a great book full of interesting notes, essays and pictures. The discs are even enclosed in such a way that the chances of them spilling out and getting all scratched up are minimal.  It really feels like they thought of everything with this one, about the only thing this box set is missing is vinyl.

Although, if you want to go that route they have you covered too…


Nirvana / In Utero 20th Anniversary reissue photo gallery

Vinyl Edition

The vinyl re-issue of In Utero is a 3LP affair, made more with an emphasis on audio quality, than on bonus cuts or rare tracks, and it shows along every step of the way. All three LPs were mastered using Direct Metal Mastering, a technique that can allow for louder (the good kind of loud), sharper audio quality, and the 2LPs that make up the album proper were cut to spin at 45 RPM as opposed to the standard 33 1/3, another technique that can allow for higher audio fidelity. It all sounds incredible, light years beyond the horrible, scratchy Nevermind re-release. Seriously, these are some of the best-sounding records that I’ve heard all year. I was stunned.

Nirvana / In Utero 20th Anniversary reissue photo gallery

The set comes with a download code (again, something the Nevermind 4LP set did not have), but it’s not your standard download code. Instead of just offering the same audio files that you’d get from iTunes or Amazon, the download code gives you a high quality vinyl rip of the tracks from the box set. Now, if you want to get technical, a vinyl rip probably doesn’t sound as good as a high-quality MP3 taken directly from a digital source. However, it will sound more like a vinyl record, which is kind of the point. It’s a nice touch, and something that vinyl fanatics like myself will probably appreciate.

Serve-The-Servants-Vinyl

Serve The Servants (Vinyl download)

The three LPs come housed in a nice jacket that features a selection of photos and pictures from the Super Deluxe version, and all the LPs are encased in generic anti-static sleeves. It’s not a super-fancy package, but it gets the job done and it looks great.

This blew my mind. After the embarrassing debacle that was the Nevermind re-release, I expected nothing but the worst from this. I certainly didn’t expect them to go above and beyond the call of duty and give us not one, but two amazing editions of this legendary album. Both are a bit pricey (especially the Super Deluxe edition), but if a high cost is what it takes for a quality product that treats the source material with respect, then so be it.

shades

Rad shades Kurt

Now I can only hope that Universal will re-visit the Nevermind boxset in a few years and come out with a discounted “We’re sorry about that last one, here’s a new version by the guys who did the In Utero box set” edition, and then we’ll all be set.


Review by James Eldred. Check out James’ blog Mostly Retro


Nirvana / In Utero Super Deluxe Edition reissue

Super Deluxe Edition

Nirvana / In Utero triple vinyl reissue
Click to enlarge

3LP Vinyl Edition


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21 responses to Nirvana / “In Utero”: Super Deluxe and Vinyl Edition reviewed

  1. Josh says:

    I wasn’t going to get this after being burned by the Nevermind reissue but you really sold me on it. Any idea if they’re going to release a cheaper 2-disc version for regular people?

  2. There is a two-disc version.

  3. Mani says:

    What really sets this apart is the moveable magnet on the front.

    • Geert De Wilde says:

      Magnets ruin your cassettes! Hahaha … ah, those days … I still have a strong aversion to magnets though!

  4. Jim says:

    My copy of the vinyl did not come with a download code.

    My copy of the Nevermind vinyl set did though!!

  5. Aw says:

    Wheres the download code with the vinyl release?
    I can’t see one

  6. Hans says:

    I bought the vinyl edition and can’t find a download code too.

    But what’s really great that all 3 CDs of the Super Deluxe Edition are now available for download in my Amazon account. Bought it at Amazon.de.

  7. Aw says:

    yeh i got a free download of all 3 CDs (suprisingly) in amazon but if theres a free better kbps or FLAC download with vinyl that would also be cool but i can’t see any download code with the vinyl.
    Should quickly say that the vinyl remaster sounds great.

  8. The download code is on a card that should be in one of the sleeves. Check everywhere, sometimes they can stick to the side. If not, contact Universal, they’re supposed to be there.

  9. Aevion says:

    Did they ever do a boxset like this for Bleach? I know there’s a 2-disc remaster out there but was there anything ‘super’ done for that album?

    • Minty Fresh says:

      No there isn’t. Sub Pop have scruples.

    • Chris Elliott says:

      Nope, there wasn’t a 2 disc release. However, there was a 20th anniversary single disc release that added a couple of b-sides from the singles as well as a complete live performance from 1990 in Portland. Nice little re-issue and makes that release almost a full 80 minute disc.

  10. Aw says:

    I don’t seem to have card with any download card in mine.
    Vinyl does sound great though and is a geuinely good sounding remaster done with some care.

  11. michael1984 says:

    I was kicking myself for not getting the Nevermind Super Deluxe edition…after reading this I’m so glad I didn’t! I did get this release (Super Deluxe, not LP) though. The packaging is nice, but I must say that I was bummed that most of the demos had no vocals. So it was a little weak on extra studio stuff, but I did like the new remix. Glad to see they got Albini to do it too.

  12. LedMan says:

    Thanks for reviewing these.

    I have the 2 cd deluxe edition and agree it sounds fantastic. Since the super deluxe set is numbered, I wonder how many copies will be available?
    I guess the 2nd edition will not be numbered.
    I also have the Live and Loud DVD so still haven’t decided if I want to pay $125 USD or more for the box set. I haven’t seen any reviews concerning the book so curious what super deluxe owners opinion is of quality and content?

    I’m also considering purchasing the 3LP set and glad to hear it’s a quality release.

    • I’m the guy who wrote this review.

      The book is nice! It’s really interesting. It has some original notes by Albini, and a ton of great photos from the era.

      If you already have the Live & Loud DVD though I don’t know if it’s worth the extra dough. Remember you get a CD of the concert too though.

  13. william m says:

    stumbled across this exclusive version on sale through target stores in the USA http://www.target.com/p/nirvana-in-utero-20th-anniversary-only-at-target/-/A-14815328#prodSlot=medium_2_41

  14. Steve P says:

    Although the various 20th anniversary incarnations of In Utero were produced with more care than the latest incarnation of Nevermind to be released, they are still plagued by too much compression and hard limiting that significantly damages the dynamic range of the recording and the subleties that could’ve made this album equally as pleasant from a sonic perspective as it is from a performance and songwriting perspective.
    It’s safe to say that the studio material is mastered better than the live and loud disc, which is noisy, distorted and abrasive sounding due to extreme use of compression and hard limiting. Ultimately however, all of the material could’ve sounded better had Universal not been so concerned about the loudness war of modern, meritless recordings that have plagued FM radio and new cd releases for some time now.
    The critical praise and fanfare this set has received is only justified in the fact that the bulk of listeners who think these recordings sound excellent either have no idea of what a competently mastered recording sounds like or have lost their sense of hearing due to becoming acclimated to piss poor sound quality due to brickwall mastering techniques.
    Beyond the poor mastering, the mixes are actually fairly amateurish and lack the balance and clarity that would deem them significant improvements upon the original CD release. Perhaps it was a bad idea to have Dave Grohl sit in and have a say in the mixing process. Yes he was the drummer of Nirvana and he deserves to have input as well as anybody but he is NOT a professional sound engineer and yet apparently convinced the mixing engineer(s) to push his drums way up in the mix and bury everything else. There are 4 main elements in the mix of most of these tracks: Kurt’s vocals, Kurt’s guitar, Krist’s bass and Dave’s drums. Instead of each element having their own competent place in the mix, the drums make up about 50-60% of the mix leaving about 45% for everything else.
    It’s pretty sad to say but out of the 3 Nirvana studio albums that have been released as deluxe editions, Bleach, the cheapest and most basic recording, actually sounds the best. On top of that, the live portion of that disc from a 1990 gig also sounds much better than the Live & Loud disc included here. There is simply no excuse for this. As long as they had the original master recording from the Live & Loud performance, there should’ve been absolutely no need to cause irrepairable damage to the dynamic range of that recording. If the goal in mastering this recording was to attempt to recreate, as closely as possible the sound that was produced at that live performance than Bob Ludwig & Universal have failed miserably.
    As far as I know, all three Nirvana studio albums were originally recorded to analog reels in order to retain a warmer, more natural sounding recording. Why they would negate and/or ignore that concept by turning a competent reel to reel recording into poorly mastered digital trash is beyond me.
    Sanctuary/Universal did the same thing with The Kinks 60’s catalogue deluxe editions which I actually shelled out cash for only to find both the mono and stereo versions that were included in the deluxe edition of both Face To Face & Something Else were heavily compressed and fairly dead sounding. The only saving grace is some of the bonus tracks are decent and actually seem to have been mostly mastered better than the original LP material! I have both original mono LPs of Face to Face & Something Else (promo version) and they easily blow away the sound quality on the comparable deluxe edition cd versions.

    • Steve Burke says:

      @Steve P “As far as I know, all three Nirvana studio albums were originally recorded to analog reels in order to retain a warmer, more natural sounding recording. Why they would negate and/or ignore that concept by turning a competent reel to reel recording into poorly mastered digital trash is beyond me.”

      ORG Music pressed Incesticide, Nevermind and In Utero all from the original analogue stereo master, cut all analogue by Bernie Grundman and pressed initally at RTI and then at Pallas (Germany). I expect UMe to make a royal cock up of most things, thankfully ORG did not and these for me are the definitive versions of the albums.

  15. Chris Elliott says:

    I don’t agree with the reviewers enthusiastic praise of this super deluxe release. I bought it, just as I did the Nevermind Super Deluxe, and I own every other album in the Nirvana canon. However, the fact that of the 3 audio discs, one is a “remix” disc, manufactured for no other reason than to pad up a super deluxe set, and which offers very little value, is disconcerting. A full third of the content here was slapped together right before this release in attempt to merit the high price tag, and with zero involvement from Kurt.

    Obvious cash grab.

    I wrote a 2 out of 5 star review on Amazon about this release and was much more detailed in the other deficiencies.

    Chris Elliott

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