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Happy Birthday, In Utero

Verse Chorus Verse: Nirvana – “Milk It”

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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