Most of the hatred directed at Nirvana’s In Utero came before it was released. When the band entered the studio to record its third album in February 1993, expectations were beyond high. The band hadn’t just established itself as a massive band with its second album and major label debut, 1991’s Nevermind; it had upended the record industry itself, supposedly clearing away the excesses of hard rock hair bands and ushering in a new era of “alternative” music.
Fully aware of the absurdity of the situation it found itself in, Nirvana set out to record an uncompromising and perhaps even alienating set of songs (Kurt Cobain began the album by announcing, “Teenage angst has paid off well; now I’m bored and old”). The band paid for the sessions with producer Steve Albini itself and refused to allow its management and record company to affect the process in any way.
When these stakeholders finally did get to hear the album, they were not happy, calling the songwriting poor and the overall sound unlistenable. The band returned to Albini to ask that the album be remixed; he refused, and commented on the situation in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. This escalated when Newsweek covered the story in an article Nirvana refuted in a letter to the editor, which was reprinted as a full-page ad in Billboard, asserting that it wasn’t being forced to change the album despite what was being reported in the press.
Behind closed doors, however, Nirvana was changing the album. Either because of external pressure or its own doubts, it had producer Scott Litt remix two songs, “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies,” which later became the album’s biggest hits. When it was released, of course, all of this debate became trivial. In Utero debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, took over MTV and modern rock radio, and received near universal critical acclaim.
Not that it mattered. Over the next seven months, Cobain descended deeper into drug addiction and depression before killing himself with a shotgun blast to the head.