Re-mastered albums usually make me angry. At best, as so perfectly demonstrated by the recent career-spanning collection of re-mastered Beatles brilliance, I feel compelled to buy records I already own and cherish again – such obsession gets costly real quick, especially if you’re a fan of bands whose careers span entire decades.

At worst, re-masters amount to nothing more than a blatant cash grab, a record company’s desperate attempt to milk an anemic and teat-bleeding cow of her dwindling supply of watered-down cream. All of this comes much to the delight of self-ascribed “audiophiles” who exalt at any given re-master’s “newfound nuances” and commence bullshitting endlessly over about quantifiable technicalities of something so numinous and so… other, that they effectively manage to altogether subvert, if not nullify, the music therein.

Fortunately, the re-mastered edition of Nirvana’s 1993 landmark release, In Utero, manages to steer clear of both of these maddening realities. Nirvana’s is obviously a catalogue cut tragically short – while their other albums have recently been updated and expanded, one can purchase the band’s entire discography, re-mastered or original, for under $100. It’s impossible to conceive of a better way to burn a “Borden” (in Canada) or a “Benjamin” (in the States).

In Utero’s reissue is as warranted as it is rewarding. The re-mastered take on the album is essential listening, not only for “completionists” or avid Nirvana fans, but for anyone who enjoys listening to music. It sounds even better now than it did when it first came out 20 years ago, which is to say a lot as it was undeniably excellent way back then. The re-release at once offers us old folk a chance for rediscovery, while hopefully offering a starting point for the youngsters – in either case, In Utero is and was nothing short of a transformative amalgamation of music.

Such transformations are best represented by the album’s instrumental outtakes. Vocally nude takes, such as “Very Ape” and “Pennyroyal Tea,” featured on disc two, sound eerie (especially so, in retrospect) without Cobain’s voice. We also get to listen in on Cobain working out the words for newborn songs as he spits a torrent of gibberish on tracks such as “All Apologies” — the hairs on our collective heads rise immediately as we get to listen in on the later stages of Nirvana’s gestational period, a period befitting of a haunting, raw album that was to be eventually entitled In Utero.

By Nick Lyons

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