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Best Bootleg Ever? Nirvana’s In Utero Demos

Best Bootlegs? Around the time Dylan’s Bootleg series vol 1 – 3 was released I picked up something dubbed The Real Bootleg Series and it was pretty hot stuff. Like the version of “Hurricane” the record label banned because they were scared of being sued for libel… lotsa tracks off the original Blood on the Tracks before he brought in the unknown Minneapolis session players and rerecorded the album (there’s only one song on the official bootleg -gets confusing right?).

What else? I have two really obscure Brian Wilson boots. Blessed Insanity which is outtakes from Wilson’s first solo album and The Wilson Project which is from his never released follow up. All of this (along with the excellent extended Brian Wilson CD) is better than anything he has released in over a decade except for Smile.

But In Utero Demos is better than either and the reason is the album is a true alternative history of Nirvana. Nirvana brought in Steve Albini to produce because Cobain felt Nevermind was too compromised, too poppy,  but the record label were unhappy with the results and Scott Litt of R.E.M. production fame remixed the album. Then the word went out that Litt didn’t do much to the tracks. But the word was a lie. He seriously changed the productions, turning down the electric guitars, listening to the original “Pennyroyal Tea” and Litt’s production of the song, the differences are alarming. It’s not that the one is better than the other –In Utero is a flat out masterpiece, it is that they are substantially different. In Utero is a mid tempo rock album, with three beautiful ballads “Penny Royal Tea,” “Dumb” and “All Apologies” and the perfect Nirvana squeeze-release song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” surrounded by hard rock sideways glances “Scentless Apprentice”, “Tourettes Syndrome” “Friendly Radio Unit Shifter”.  A look at the track list will find a fast fast slow fast slow formula at work.

It is a perfect pop artifact and a smash hit helped in its shifting units by Cobain’s suicide. More consistent than Nevermind, simply better than Bleach, it is the best album of the 90s.

In Utero Demos is something else. It’s as if Albini leap frogged over Nevermind and all the success and produced a follow up to the band Nirvana MIGHT HAVE BEEN right after Bleach. The joker in the deck is despite Albini’s serious efforst to make the album an antagonistic listen, Cobain couldn’t help himself: the songs could withstand anything. You could make “Moist Vagina” a howling mess and it is still an addictive pop song, you could tone up every guitar till the feedback makes your ears bleed and the officially released “Scentless Apprentice” sound like “Heart Shape Box” and “Apprentice” hooks you every time. Since way  back in his “mommy take me home” days Cobain knew how to make make a scream a hook. The official version ends with “All Apologies”, the demo with “I Hate Myself And I Want To Die” -pick your poison.

The demos boot is an alternative to the official release. It isn’t better though it certainly isn’t worse. I’ve heard every song on it somewhere else but not these versions. It isn’t like finding an undiscovered Nirvana album but it’s the next best thing.

Here is the demo tracklist:
Rape me
Scentless Apprentice
Heartshaped Box
Milk it
Radio friendly Unit Shifter
Very Ape
Penny Royal Tea
Frances farmer Will have Her revenge On Seattle
All Apologies
Moist Vagina
I Hate Myself And I want To Die

Here is the official tracklist:
Serve The Servants
Scentless Apprentice
Heartshaped Box
Rape Me
Frances farmer Will have Her revenge On Seattle
Very Ape
Milk It
Pennyroyal Tea
Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
All Apologies

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