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Verse Chorus Verse: Nirvana – “Milk It”

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Nirvana's difficult, brilliant, and final studio album was released on this day in 1993.  The internet hadn't gone full bloom by then.  Even though we had cable and MTV, I had no idea Nirvana even had a new record coming out.  I happened to have made the trip from Decatur to Huntsville because Huntsville's mall at that time had three music stores.  While walking the new release wall and rolling my eyes at the pop crack splashed all over, I saw Nirvana's In Utero.

I didn't even have a CD player in my car then, so I grabbed a sandwich in the food court and raced 35 minutes home to listen to the CD before I had to go to work.  I liked the album from day one, but some songs took longer to gain my approval.  I don't know why, but "Milk It" was one of them.

"Milk It" uses nearly every element of the Nirvana playbook. The soft/loud dynamic is used. Sonically, producer Steve Albini's fingerprints are all over it. Detuned, acid-washed guitars and huge, booming, buoyant bass set against Kurt Cobain's much imitated but never duplicated raging howl.

Anyone paying attention had to suspect things wouldn't end well for Kurt Cobain.  Nirvana broke through with  their history-making Nevermind album in 1991.  By April 1994, Cobain was dead.  Fans and observers were shocked but no one was surprised.  In Utero's intended title was, after all, I Hate Myself And Want To Die.  Despite the foreshadowing, there's a certain subversive brilliance to Cobain's ability to toss out a line like "Look on the bright side of suicide" with a mix of fury, menace, and humor. 

Like many Nirvana songs, the verses don't make a hell of a lot of sense.  They're not cohesively constructed rhyming couplets nor is this a folk narrative.  These are nonsensical throwaways mixed in with some biting and sometimes funny one-liners. We'll never know if Nirvana would have had the courage to change their formula, but we know the one they had worked often and worked well.

It isn't the reason In Utero is a great album, but In Utero wouldn't be great without it.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • That song always had a feel to it like it belonged or was a lost Insecticide track.
    It is pure angst. Like total schizophrenic, losing your sh**, can’t take it, feel better moment that everyone has, especially I felt when I 18-20.

    Funny you mention Albini’s fingerprint too, because it is noticeable in its own way the same as Butch Vig who also worked with Nirvana. I really started thinking about the effect Nirvana had not just on music as a whole, but how producers even used them to springboard or was it the other way around?

    The new Green Day album got me thinking on all that.

    The thing I really dig you saying is the soft loud dynamic that Albini IS a master having worked with king of soft LOW and loud Helmet. I think this album is a lot like his work with PJ Harvey on Rid of Me, which might be one of the best female rock albums ever.

    One more thing…you went from Decatur, GA to Huntsville, AL for music stores? I know I got my copy in Athens, GA and I remember getting in trouble in my dorm room and being made to pick up trash for screaming along to this song. My super Christian dorm mate was convinced I was Satan at this pt (well before this point, but it didn’t help).

  • Josh Hathaway

    Decatur, AL to Huntsville, AL.

    Helmet played with soft/loud but their hallmark is the stop/start guitar riffs.

  • first Nirvana i bought. weirdly (or maybe not for me) i read an article about Cobain and some of the tunes on this record. it ended up that the song “Scentless Apprentice” was just as creepy (in a violent way) as its subject matter.

  • This was a better album than Nevermind, although I thought the line was “Look on the bright side, suicide.” Slightly different, but not much. Anyone who listened to the lyrics wasn’t surprised he killed himself.

  • I always thought I heard the word “of” in there. Now I’m going to have to put that part on repeat and try to make sense of the lyric book in the liner notes, which were often sometimes less than reliable. It is a slight difference without that preposition.

  • Nate

    He actually says “look on the bright side is suicide” I don’t know if thats what Cobain actually meant or if he was just saying it to confuse people.

  • Nate’s right

  • Josh Hathaway

    “is” and not “of.” Interesting. I always knew I heard something there but obviously misheard it. Honor is due, boys. Thanks.