Last week marked 22 years since the death of Kurt Cobain. As usual fans and critics paid their respects from posting pictures on Twitter or writing lengthy pieces on the late singer. But instead of thought pieces on who Cobain was or why his death isn’t as straight forward as we want to believe, the best way to remember him is through the music. This month’s playlist is dedicated to covers of Nirvana songs. There are a lot of them out there and I couldn’t possibly cover every one, so here are some of my favorites.
“In Bloom” – Sturgill Simpson
I honestly don’t know much about Sturgill Simpson, but his version of “In Bloom” has been spreading around the internet last week. While it’s not the best Nirvana cover I’ve ever heard, it is the most interesting and musically diverse. When the song starts you’re looking for that familiar growl of the guitar riff. You can’t even tell what song it is until Simpson starts singing. His Southern twang in his vocals oddly works with the lyrics along with the light music and Western feel. The track comes alive at the end when an unexpected brass section joins in. I’m actually surprised by how much I like his mellow, soulful version.
“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” – Jay Retard
I remember listening to the In Utero tribute album released by Robotic Empire a few years ago. And it was fucking awful. The only redeeming quality was this cover by Jay Retard. Sounding like he’s submerged underwater, his version is more rock and a bit psychedelic than harsh and heavy. It’s not too drastically different from the original, but Jay Retard’s touch makes this cover interesting and at least not a carbon copy of the original.
“Lithium” – The Vaselines
It’s pretty cool that The Vaselines did a cover of this Nirvana single since the guys covered one of their songs in their early days. Unlike the original which is instantly catchy, harsh, and melodic, this version is haunting and subdued. There’s very light music recreating the unforgettable riff and Frances McKee’s vocals are fragile and soft. What makes it even more eerie is the background singing that sounds like moaning and the swelling organ that becomes more apparent as the song reaches its end. It’s actually really beautiful and something Kurt might’ve appreciated.
“All Apologies” – Sinead O’Connor
For some reason, this Nirvana song is a popular one to cover. It’s been done by many artists, but Sinead O’Connor’s version is among the best. She presents a delicate version of the tune. It’s nothing but her and a soft guitar that sounds like only two notes are being plucked. She brings out even more heartbreak and sadness in the song with her light delivery of the song. Just when you thought the unplugged version of the song was depressing, O’Connor makes things even worse.
“Stay Away” – Charles Bradley
Ever wanted to hear what Nirvana would sound like if they were a soul band? Charles Bradley gives you an idea with this soulful rendition of “Stay Away.” It’s different from most Nirvana covers out there, which either try to recreate what the band did or just play the song louder. I’ll admit it took me a bit to appreciate his version, but I actually like the different take on the song. It slows things down a bit and adds a little funk to the mix. Bradley succeeds in showing how Nirvana’s music can span various genres.
“Lithium” – Muse
Muse aren’t shy about their love of Nirvana. In various interviews, the members have talked about how Nirvana were one of their early influences and part of the reason why they started their band. Though they haven’t officially released a Nirvana cover, they’ve played their songs several times live. When they played Lollapalooza in Brazil, it was the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. They acknowledged it by playing “Lithium” and they did a kick ass job with the song. It’s a very straightforward cover, but Bellamy’s voice surprisingly works well with the song. And watching the clip, which is interrupted by interview footage, it’s clear Muse are enjoying themselves while playing the song.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Tori Amos
Tori Amos version of the famous Nirvana song often pops up when looking for the best Nirvana covers and for good reason: it’s beautiful. Apparently, she was the first artist to cover the song and she made it her own. She takes this angst ridden song filled with aggression and anger and turns it into something heartbreaking. It’s nothing but Amos and the piano, which gives it a classical air. Her version changes the entire mood and vibe of the song turning it into something completely different. It’s so haunting you’ll have chills as her voice hits those soaring notes. Cobain even commented on the cover, calling it “a great cereal version.”
“Heart Shaped Box” – Dead Sara
If there’s any band fit for a Nirvana cover, it’s Dead Sara. Emily Armstrong’s vocals are rough and raspy, which perfectly fit with the grunge genre. Their cover the In Utero track is pretty straightforward. They keep same mood and vibe as the original. Still, Armstrong and crew sound amazing when performing the song. The guitars are harsh and dirty while Armstrong’s vocals hit all the right notes. It doesn’t do anything new with the song, but it’s still a respectable cover.
“Breed” – Titus Andronicus
Recorded for Spin’s tribute album to Nevermind, Titus Andronicus takes on Nirvana’s “Breed.” It doesn’t stray far from the original keeping the same general vibe and feel. Where their version does differ is it’s a more raw, sloppy, punk rock version of the Nirvana track. The music is generally the same, but Patrick Stickles’ vocals are edgy and on the harsh side. It’s simple, but it’s very satisfying to listen to.
“Come as You Are” – Yuna
Yuna is a Malaysian singer/songwriter who does a lot of covers of popular artists, like Drake. Her version of “Come as You Are” is something you wouldn’t expect to like. She slows things down considerably, turning the grunge song into something mellow. Her vocals are relaxing and flowing as she sings the familiar chorus. Her voice is actually beautiful and works really well with the R&B/indie pop vibe of the song she’s set up. The whole thing is really dreamy and soft, something you wouldn’t expect from a Nirvana song.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Patti Smith
For her 2007 covers album Twelve, Smith did a folk rendition of the Nirvana classic. With her wavering vocals and plucks of a banjo, the track sounds fragile and haunting. If it wasn’t for the well known lyrics, it’d be difficult to tell it was a Nirvana song at all just because the mood is so different. Smith takes liberty with the bridge where she starts speaking about injustices and problems within the world. This part isn’t for everyone and it kind of kills the mood, but it wouldn’t be a Patti Smith song if there wasn’t some sort of commentary on society.
“All Apologies” – Cage the Elephant
For a live iHeartRadio broadcast Cage the Elephant, who have always had some similarities to Nirvana, covered “All Apologies.” Unlike Sinead O’Connor’s version, this one doesn’t stray far from the original. It’s very bare bones featuring only Matt Shutlz on vocals and Brad Shultz on an acoustic guitar. Though Matt’s vocals are raspy and raw like Cobain’s, it never sounds like he’s trying to copy the late singer. Instead he does things naturally. His voice works so well, I would love to hear more covers featuring the entire band.
Which Nirvana cover is your favorite? There are a ton out there, so which one did I miss? Let me know in the comments.