Domicile On Cobain St.
New Musical Express, July 24, 1993
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TWENTY-FIVE minutes later, after a short pit-stop to pick up some cigarettes, we arrive at the home of Kurt, Courtney and Frances Bean. Their home is a modern, two-storey house with a view overlooking Lake Washington, perched in an affluent neighbourhood that mainly houses executives from Boeing and Microsoft. The kind of neighbours, in fact, who call the cops when they hear loud music.
We stop the car at the mailbox, where Courtney's psychic usually parks, and head inside. The first thing that strikes you is the amount of space. High ceilings stretch upward, over split-level and sparsely furnished rooms. In the main room there's an antique couch with its back against one wall, facing a big television set. From the corner of the room I can glimpse a table full of naked baby dolls looking back at me with big sad eyes.
Kurt hasn't arrived yet so we go into the kitchen, leaving the front room where a big playpen rests, surrounded by Frances Bean's toys. I relax - a little. The kitchen's becoming a hub of activity, as the girls from Adickdid wander in and out, and Courtney asks if we'd like a drink. She puts the kettle on, warms the teapot and drops - four Tetley's teabags in. I'm beginning to feel almost a part of the family.
Then she grabs a stack of baby photos from the kitchen counter and thrusts them into my hands. While she pours hot water into the teapot and I flick through the family snapshots, she's cottoned on to my Irish roots and is talking about the time she spent a term at Trinity College, Dublin, when she lived near St Stephen's Green and often visited Bewley's Coffee Shop.
Kurt arrives and goes upstairs while she's busy putting some English muffins into the toaster. Happy as a lark, she's decided she wants to play the new Nirvana album, so we go upstairs in search of Kurt, past the room where Frances Bean lies sleeping. Kurt claims the album's in the CD player, but Courtney can't find it. He lends a hand and, after a few moments, says, "Oh, it's in the cassette player."
It is. While Courtney changes, Kurt talks about the Leonard Cohen show he'd been to before the Hole gig, mentioning that Cohen's name is in one of the songs on the new album. He looks well and relaxed, comfortable in blue jeans, shirt and barefoot, his glasses gone. I'm standing in their bedroom, where there's another TV, more antique furniture in the shape of a massive wooden dresser, and a walk-in closet that holds more shoes than Imelda Marcos ever dreamed she'd own. A pile of ornate jewellery looks lonely in the middle of the bathroom floor. Kurt seems at ease, and I'm wondering if anyone is going to believe a word of this.
Courtney returns, so we head back downstairs and, after a little difficulty trying to get the tape deck to work, myself and Courtney sit cross-legged on the floor. An avalanche of records surrounds us; Sub Pop singles of the month, Kleenex, Opal, Mudhoney, even Suede is here. PJ Harvey's 'Rid Of Me' is on the turntable, and a few books are scattered on the carpet; John Steinbeck, jean Paul Sartre, William Burroughs' Queer. Kurt grabs a book by Leonard Cohen, looks at us bemusedly and retreats upstairs. Courtney lights a cigarette. And, with cups of tea in hand and a big plate of muffins and marmalade in front of us, we wait for someone to press the 'Play' button on the tape deck...
THE ALBUM is called 'In Utero', meaning within the womb - not yet born. For Kurt, it represents a trip back to the womb and, listening to it, it's obvious he's done some deep soul-searching, with cathartic and at times manic results. The lyrics are personal, often ambiguous, and even playful. If 'Nevermind' was a record with a mood dictated by external events during recording - by the horror and tension of the Gulf War - then 'in Utero' is much more inward-looking, the product of emotional turmoil and enormous pressure. Perhaps, in that way, it's the classic follow-up to an unexpected success.
A number of the songs, to that end, deal with a lot of issues and reflect some of the experiences Kurt has had over the last two years: drugs, marriage, his wife, his child, love, success, stardom, fame and everything in-between that influenced his life. If Freud could hear it, he'd wet his pants in anticipation. In spite of the title, 'In Utero' showcases a significantly older and more experienced Cobain, who's taken the time to delve into the dark recesses of his soul, dug around a bit and lived to tell the tale. Everything, his own raw material, has been used to create an album pregnant with irony and insight. 'In Utero' is Kurt's revenge.
"Teenage angst has paid off well/ Now I'm old and bored. " The first words of the first track, 'Serve The Servants', are a fair indication of what's to come. Kurt refused to have it remixed, refused to tamper with its jab at 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', the song that propelled the band to fame, fortune and, perhaps, misfortune too. Next, 'HeartShaped Box', set to be the first single, which is a ballad that goes out to the ones he loves. "She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak," he sings. "I've been stuck inside your heart-shaped box/ I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black/ Meal eating orchids forgive no-one just yet/ Wrap myself in angel hair and baby breath. " Personal? Sure. Maybe it's the work of a happily married father, the introvert to Courtney's extrovert. Right now, it seems like the perfect balance.
But what about the sound? Well, it still has the trademark Nirvana sound of 'Nevermind'. The opening slow bass, the drums that build upward until it all comes crashing down are still there on a couple of tracks, almost in an attempt at selfparody. It lacks the raw production qualities of 'Bleach', but still has a noise level that can move from quiet to the blare of an impending storm warning.
Steve Albini's left his mark, too - even if the overall sound is a smoother job than 'Rid Of Me'. And given his past life on Rapeman, perhaps the track 'Rape Me' is a touch ironic. Anyway, it's a blistering rant, with an intro uncannily similar to 'Teen Spirit, that's probably the most immediate song on 'In Utero' and a possible later single, during which Kurt fights to be heard over the guitars, and ends up screaming "RAPE ME! RAPE ME! RAPE ME!" An instant classic.
Courtney leans towards me and whispers, "There's a song on the album about Frances Farmer getting her revenge on Seattle (Titled, aptly, 'Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle'). Kurt believes that when Mount St Helens erupts again it will be Frances getting her own back on the city. The song is so feminine. Men don't often write poetry equating women with nature." Farmer was from Seattle, and the tormented actress was placed in a mental institution by a Seattle judge for so-called anti-social behaviour. Mount St Helens is a volcano about 100 miles south Of Seattle who last blew her top in the early '80s. Little Frances Bean is named after the actress.
'Tourette's' again sees the singer spectacularly unhinged, in a song named after the French doctor who first diagnosed the syndrome of losing control over what you say and end up swearing nonsensically (The same doctor and syndrome, incidentally, that inspired 'Symphony Of Tourette' on the recent Manics album). The track's a real wall of noise, hammered home by three simple lyrics; "Shit, piss, f--". 'Penny Royal Tea', meanwhile, was co-written with Courtney and was played on last autumn's European tour. "It's about a method of inducing abortions," she explains. "It's been around for years. I'm going to record a version of it for my album, too."
My ears buzz and my head aches. It's powerful stuff, the sort that makes you feel embarrassed, prying, as if you're tapping into someone else's confession. But the tape keeps rolling, and I keep listening intently. Kurt's voice blasts out of the speaker: "What is wrong with me?/ Blanket acne'd cigarette burns/ Take it once and taking tums/ If you need anything don't ask me. " The song's punky, provisionally titled 'What Is Wrong With Me' and is about drug addiction. The last track's called 'All Apologies' (previewed at the Reading Festival last year), a relatively pretty little thing where Kurt warbles - yes, warbles - "What else can I say?/ Everyone is gay!" There are a couple of B-side tracks, one of them titled 'Moist Vagina'... Enough said.
After all the rumours, both record company and fans will breathe a collective sigh of relief when they hear 'In Utero'. This is emphatically not an unmarketable album; Albini's production is nowhere near as murky as usual and, while there's nothing quite as outstanding as 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', there are 'Lithium's in abundance. Ultimately, imagine the schizophrenic light and shade of 'Nevermind' with the full-tilt grunge-outs of 'Bleach'... That's 'In Utero'.
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