Archive for January, 2013

All Apologies – Nirvana – Scott Litt – 1993


      play song

The differences with the so-called Steve Albini mix are remarkable. From the very beginning there is less hiss (although the track ends with the sound of the tape being stopped more obviously) and a lot more presence in the intro guitar line and cello part – probably as a result of compression and EQ. The cello is panned off to the left and the guitar line to the right – keeping the drums, bass and vocal centered. When the drums enter it becomes apparent that there IS high hat – presumably played with the foot – lightly keeping the beat. So, a clear advantage of the sharper, clearer mix is that we can hear the hats now (but at the expense of the kick perhaps?). There is a slap delay on the snare and toms (panned hard left) – particularly noticeable on the snare in the fills at the end of the choruses. Notice the wide panning on the toms and cymbals too.

The vocal is a lot more present and up front – again probably as a result of compression and EQ but also simply raised in volume. The vocal room sound on the first syllables of the second and fourth lines of the verse are even more noticeable here – perhaps it has been reinforced with added reverb.

The eruption of the chorus is less violent in this mix – because the whole song has been compressed – but also because the stereo separation of guitar and cello helps spread the instrumentation across a wider field.

The coda has different distortion and feedback sounds than the Albini mix, so perhaps they had a few takes to choose from? The higher vocal part is panned off to the right slightly making the separation between it and the lead vocal more obvious.

Overall a much cleaner and tighter mix. EQed to bring out the highs, panned to spread it out and compressed to even out the changes from verse to chorus to coda. It has less of the bottom end of the Albini mix, so the low drone of the cello and the thud of the kick are lost, but more focus is given to the vocal and the higher frequencies of the cello part and distorted guitar(s).

It is easy to see why it was done. Not that I don’t like the muddier, dirtier, roomier mix but the Litt mix is much more radio friendly – which makes sense for a single release, being one of the more melodic and sweeter songs on the In Utero album.

Comparison of Steve Albini production with Scott Litt’s remixes

All Apologies – Nirvana – Steve Albini – 1993


      play song

Noticeable hiss at the beginning (and end) suggests it was recorded using tape.

Begins with an intro of muted guitar line and bass for 4 bars, and then drums and cello enter. Drums is mostly kick, toms and snare – opening hats and cymbals only used sparingly. Cello is droning a very low note giving the bass a heavier, lower feeling. Vocal enters. The main vocal sings most of the song alone – backing vocals join only in the coda.

Room sound on the drums and vocal. Particularly noticeable on the first syllable of the second and fourth lines of each verse.

What else should I be?
All apologies.
What else could I say?
Everyone was gay.

(eg, ‘All‘ and ‘Ev…’). These are the highest notes of the verses and they are sung with a raspy sound. It sounds like Cobain backs off the mic to hit these notes, allowing for more room sound. Vocal sits back in the mix.

Chorus is overwhelmed with distorted guitar, possibly two guitars (overdubs?). Hats and cymbals used as normal here. Chorus ends with sustained guitar and bass while drums do various tom fills over high hat on the beat, with the vocal ‘Married! Married! Buried!’ over top.

Coda features guitar line from intro but with distorted guitar backing, full drums and cymbals, and a loose backing vocal part that overlaps with the lead vocal by the end. The coda breaks down bit by bit as instruments drop out and feedback and distortion plays out underneath the vocal parts which come more to the front of the mix as the song concludes.

Overall a slightly muddy and roomy sound, with the vocal sitting back in the mix with room sound noticeable on the high verse notes, giving the feel of a live band in a room. The guitar overdubs or doubles do not interfere with this picture but the overlapping vocal parts, all recognisably Cobain, unsettle the live illusion as it becomes obvious he would have had to overdub these vocals.

Notes: this is a somewhat unfair example of Albini’s work. Firstly, we don’t know for sure if this is how Albini intended it to sound before the decision was made to get it remixed by Litt. Albini has refused to confirm or deny if this mix, released around 2005, is his. He certainly would be pissed off with the crappy mp3 that i’ve posted here (best version i could find i’m afraid) as he is notoriously anti digital. (Note the nasty brittle mp3 artefacting particularly in the chorus when the full cymbals and distorted guitars come in.)

The REAL reason why this is a good recording to study is because it makes the changes in Litt’s mix more obvious… so read the Litt post!

Comparison of Steve Albini production with Scott Litt’s remixes

More musings on how different the world would be if Albini’s mix was released…

Return top