It seems, looking back, that when Nirvana released their third album In Utero in 1993 that the band could do no wrong. If you weren’t there and have only had the pleasure of reading about the swell of grunge that emanated from Seattle in the form of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, then by all accounts, in 1993, the world was utterly smitten with Nirvana. Judging by this vintage clip, that’s not quite the case.
Taken from the early-90s, this classic piece of MTV footage sees the members of the band sit down and watch some students from St. John University deliver some harsh critiques of the album as part of Kurt Loder’s MTV News programme. The basic set up was to make the rock trio, a band growing in prestige at every turn, feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable, possibly hoping to catch a few soundbites. At the time, Nirvana were as famed for their unwillingness to play the showbiz game as they were their music, so the network quickly got their wish as the band respond to each review.
The reviews come from some students attending St John’s University in NYC and provided the band with a seriously tough audience. A series of students from all walks of life were approached and asked if they liked or, in some cases, had even heard of Nirvana. If they knew the band they got a CD and was asked to return the next day with their review. It’s clear that nearly every reviewer took their role very seriously, returning with quaffed hair, single recommendations and an MTV audition tape in mind.
One reviewer, Billy, picks out a couple of songs for radio executives to pick up on: “It’s quite similar to the first album. But I got a couple of songs that I think will be playing on the radio, that are gone be hits. Third track, ‘Heart Shaped Box’ will probably be on MTV or something. And I liked the ninth track ‘Pennyroyal Tea’.” It’s a concise review and the kind you might expect from a student. The next critique, however, is a little more cutting.
“A lot of the lyrics, i thought were just thrown in,” says one reviewer as the band watch on and gasp, Novoselic clearly turning to Cobain in horror. “They could have a deeper meaning, and I tried to really analyse some, but some of these lyrics… I think if I was stoned or something and listen to it, I could get it. But I don’t do that anymore.” To which Grohl effortlessly replies: “It’s target marketing!”
The rest of the clip sees Cobain defending the band’s controversial song ‘Rape Me’. Diane, a librarian at the university, wasn’t “too happy with that song. I found it kinda offensive.” The singer is very clear in his response: “It’s an anti, let me repeat that, anti-rape song. I got tired of people thinking, trying to put too much meaning into my lyrics, y’know? That made no sense. So I decided to be really blunt and bold.”
During the conversation, Cobain also reflects on Steve Albini’s influence on the record. “We had an idea of a sound we’ve been wanting for a long time. Cos of Steve Albini’s production on bands like Breeders and the Pixies, it’s just that sound that we really liked. It sounded so natural.”
If you’re looking for some keen insight into one of the biggest bands on the planet back in 1993 then below you will find some vital footage of Nirvana facing some staunch critics of their album In Utero.