Steve Albini: 17 Essential Albums

In February 1993, Albini was tasked with producing Nirvana’s new album — the follow-up to the massive, genre-defining Nevermind. No pressure. But for a band whose very ethos was to remain as anti-corporate and punk as possible, there was no one better suited for the job than Albini. Kurt Cobain, ever the Pixies superfan, wanted to make his very own Surfer Rosa and escape the mainstream “candy-ass” rock he’d created on Nevermind. The band hunkered down in the woods of rural Minnesota for 14 days, crafting the beautifully unfiltered and uncompromising In Utero.

Albini worked for a flat rate of $100,000 and famously refused royalties, describing the idea of taking points on a guaranteed bestseller as “ethically indefensible.” “I would like to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what it’s worth,” he wrote. Albini had the band record live, advising them to avoid any interference with “front office bulletheads.” But ultimately their label, DGC, felt the record was too raw and enlisted R.E.M. producer Scott Litt to remix the singles. Had Cobain had it his way, he would have released two separate records — the complete Albini album as I Hate Myself and Want to Die, followed by the softened Litt remix as Verse Chorus Verse. That didn’t happen, but the Albini tracks on In Utero — “Scentless Apprentice,” “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” “Milk It” — remain some of Nirvana’s greatest, as gut-wrenchingly pure as Cobain intended. —A.M.

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