Kurt Cobain described the back cover of 1993’s In Utero, which he designed, as “sex and woman and in utero and vaginas and birth and death”. It was a semi-ironic summary of what would be the third and final Nirvana album, and it neatly addressed the reason one song didn’t make the cut on an already controversial album.
The record was bluntly physical, undercut with an almost obsessive curiosity about the body and what could overpower it. There were umbilical nooses, cancer, anaemia, and the entirety of ‘Rape Me’, which in itself barely made the cut. ‘Moist Vagina’, unsurprisingly, didn’t.
It wasn’t just based on its name. As ‘Rape Me’ proved, Nirvana could pull off an offensive title if they laced the song with social commentary that justified the shock value. While Cobain confessed to going back and forth between regretting it and trying to defend it, he intended to “write a song that supported women and dealt with the issue of rape”. The writing was necessarily visceral, whereas ‘Moist Vagina’ seemed more like a boyish exercise in writing crass lyrics: “I’ve been sucking walls of her anus / Anilingus.”
While it was ostensibly written about smoking a joint, you wouldn’t sense that from its original title: ‘Moist Vagina And Then She Blew Him Like He’s Never Been Blown, Brains Stuck All Over The Wall’. With ‘Rape Me’ filling the controversial quota already, it was left off the album. The tone of In Utero, likely because of its association with Cobain’s suicide, is often interpreted as one of Nirvana’s most dark and confessional albums. The inner turmoil that clouded most tracks is taken as a foreshadowing of Cobain’s death.
While that’s obvious revisionism, ‘Moist Vagina‘ would seem like a massive outlier in the face of songs that seemed to preempt Cobain’s most desperate moments. It seemed like lashing out at the pressure to reproduce the more radio-friendly Nevermind hits, which ultimately shaped the final version of the album anyway.
When a demo was shown to DGC executive, the label made it clear they were disappointed by the notable lack of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’-esque tracks. Cobain was disheartened, and what ensued was a compromise that meant he could keep his provocative ‘Rape Me’ if producer Scott Litt could slightly reshuffle things, which naturally appalled Steve Albini, whose entire production ethos was to be unpolished and open.
Almost despite itself, In Utero went on to be a major commercial success. That came with its own set of complications, particularly for Cobain before his death. The album – with the notable exclusion of ‘Moist Vagina’ was praised for its piercing lyricism and emotive honesty, which forced Cobain to explain the writing was impersonal and not informed by his experiences. The interpretation of his lyrics was completely varied, but if ‘Moist Vagina’ went on to become anything more than an offcut, the conversation might have shifted in favour of In Utero being an effort to stir controversy.