If you're like me, you have one friend who just has a different way of looking at the world.
So my friend tells me the other day that Nirvana's In Utero and Weezer's Pinkerton were both "fuck you" albums meant to do one thing: destroy the runway pop juggernaut into which both bands had been sucked like dust bunnies with fuzz boxes.
For those of us who had dug both albums long before MTV fed them to the mainstream, we saw Nevermind and The Blue Album each as a set-up album for "The Big One", the pay-off, the punchline.
Back in '83, Bryan Adams gave us Cuts Like A Knife, an album that literally jumped out of the speakers and demanded your attention. It introduced him to a mainstream audience via radio airplay of hits like "Straight From The Heart" and the title cut. Then, a year later, he delivered Reckless and blew the roof off the dump with "Run To You", "Summer of '69", "It's Only Love" with Tina fucking Turner, and "One Night Love Affair".
Nevermind was Nirvana's Cuts Like A Knife.
Thing is, if we'd have all gone coo coo for cocoa puffs over Cuts Like A Knife, Adams would have watched as a whole batch of copycats beat him to the punchline.
Sadly, such "lightning strikes" as Nevermind and The Blue Album are only special once and by signing all these copycat bands in their wake, the band's own record company was perhaps guiltiest of all in diluting the waters to such an extent that it was now impossible for Nirvana to be themselves. heck, even Weird Al Yankovic was parodying them,
So, by the time Nirvana hit the studio to make their "follow-up", expectations were high, to say the least.. Imagine an entire publicly-traded company pinning their quarterly hopes on your album being AT LEAST as successful as the last one.
While Kurt and Rivers strike this writer as more sensitive than your average blokes, I think they reacted very much like most of us would if put in the same situation, As a musician, you can dream about having such a problem, but when it does happen to you, it can turn what was once fun and edgy into a job and make an otherwise normal guy who can no longer step out in public without bodyguards come to resent the whole star-making machine.
And what better way to throw a wrench into said machine than to do so from within and with the whole world watching?
Recording one defiant middle finger of an album would serve multiple purposes:
1. It would be fun.
2. It would bring them back down from the top strata of "pop groups" and into a more respectable cult audience, which is all either band had ever aspired to in the first place.
If you ask this writer, both Pinkerton and In Utero are rightfully beloved, but for all the wrong reasons, And, yes, it is possible to love an album, song, or band for the wrong reason,
Just ask a-ha how much they liked having to play "Take On Me" twice a night anytime they performed in the States.
Nirvana, of course, had famously telegraphed their next move by announcing to the world that Steve Albini was going to record the follow-up to Nevermind. I had a few friends who worked at the band's label and in their management office and the feeling at the executive level was one of great concern.
The label folks were incapable of sowing any restraint in rolling out the full hype machine for In Utero because they'd already pinned the company's financial hopes on the album's success.
I remember both albums arriving with a bit of a thud, too. That was the sound of millions of fair-weather fans moving on to Hootie & The Blowfish.