Nirvana's In Utero vs. Nevermind: Which is better?

It's been 20 years since Nirvana released their final studio album, In Utero. Recorded at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, the release is getting the deluxe treatment with a 70-song reissue, including a remastering of the original album tracks, B-sides, demos, and remixes of "Heart-Shaped Box," among others, on September 24.

Two years ago, Nevermind received a similar second look. But clearly one of these albums has stood the test of time better, when the 12 tracks of each are pitted against each other. Oh, I know, I know. "But what about Bleach?" "What about Unplugged?" No. These are the iconic recordings. It's Butch Vig vs. Steve Albini. A swimming baby against a winged study in female anatomy.

The overall outcome is surprising, especially given my vocalizations of both favor and displeasure at parts of both of these albums over the years since their respective releases. There are no two albums I have thought about or picked apart more -- although Licensed to Ill is a very close third -- in my lifetime. Picking them apart methodically was cathartic in a way I have trouble putting into words. Let the territorial pissings begin.

See Also:
Nirvana's In Utero studio site in Cannon Falls overhauled
Matt Mueller, former Pachyderm Studio owner, dies in car accident

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" vs. "Serve the Servants"
Is there any question which song comes out on top here? "Smells Like Teen Spirit," a song I have heard literally thousands of times, still sounds like the musical version of Napoleon firing cannons at the Sphinx. There is not one recap of, special about, re-examination, or other such look back at the '90s in which the first few seconds of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" are not utilized at some point during the opening credits. Not one single thing that took place between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 1999, defines the decade more concisely or as easily. "Serve the Servants" could have cured cancer or ended world hunger and this still would have only ended in a draw.
Advantage: Nevermind

"In Bloom" vs. "Scentless Apprentice"
One of the tougher matchups between the two albums, but the throbbing, bleeding, raw nerve Cobain strikes on "Scentless Apprentice" (with much of the lyrical content based on Patrick Süskind's ultra-bizarre 1985 novel, Perfume) has to win over "In Bloom"'s feisty and, in retrospect, fairly calculated pseudo-anger. I might enjoy singing along to "In Bloom" more when it gets played at a show or some '90s dance party, but corporate grunge songs still suck. Advantage: In Utero

"Come As You Are" vs. "Heart-Shaped Box"
"Come As You Are" has an opening nearly as recognizable as "Teen Spirit" and "Heart-Shaped Box" has some of Cobain's most overwrought, nonsensical lyrics. For this one, it comes down to the guitar solos to decide a winner and, despite their similarities (honestly, listen to those songs back-to-back and prepare to be a little freaked out), the fact that "Come As You Are" came first and had far superior drum work by Dave Grohl is why it's the better track. Hey, wait, I also have a new complaint: "I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black," regardless of context or claims of artistic metaphor, is a fucking terrible lyric in any capacity.
Advantage: Nevermind

"Breed" vs. "Rape Me"
This is the weirdest matchup of the bunch, because each song sounds like it should have been on the other album. So, "Breed" forecasted In Utero's blistering, relentless rage while "Rape Me," despite its title and lyrical content, sounds like it could fit nicely in the middle of side two on Nevermind and also sounds a lot -- too much, really -- like "Teen Spirit." (Cobain really liked that chord progression quite a bit.) Hearing "Breed" again was really a treat, as it doesn't get played on the radio or anywhere else much these days, and as I sat listening to it, I was reminded that it was while listening to that very song when I decided Nirvana was my new favorite band.
Advantage: Nevermind

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