Smells like teen spirit

Playlist: For Kurt

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.

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Nevermind 20th Anniversary (2-disc Edition) – Nirvana

220px-NirvanaNevermindalbumcoverRelease Year: 2011

Rating: 7/10

When Nevermind, Nirvana’s groundbreaking album, turned 20 in 2011, the world could not stop talking about it. Fans and music lovers reminisced on their first time hearing the record and how it got them into the band. Even the members of the band talked about that magical time before fame took them and shook things up. To celebrate the landmark album, it was reissued in several different formats boasting b-sides and unreleased material. Unlike the excellent In Utero re-release, there isn’t much here for fans that hasn’t been heard before.

The first disc contains the full album and b-sides. The record itself is amazing, why wouldn’t it be, but the b-sides are nothing new. Tracks like “Curmudgeon” and “D-7” are gems, but they were previously released on the With the Lights Out box set. This doesn’t change the fact that the songs are good, it just means this is stuff we’ve heard before. The live tracks of “Been a Son,” “School,” and “Drain You” all come from their 1991 show in Seattle at the Paramount. These versions aren’t drastically different from the studio takes, but the band sounds passionate, on fire, aggressive, and full of energy. They’re nice inclusions, but don’t make the first disc anymore exciting.

Things don’t get better on the second disc, which is filled with several different demos. What fans will be most interested in are the Smart Studio Sessions, which includes Chad Channing on drums. The best track from these outtakes is “In Bloom,” which is the same version found in their first music video for Sub-Pop. It’s pretty much the same song we know and love now, but the drums aren’t as heavy hitting as the version Grohl plays on. Still, it gives you an idea of what the album might sound like if Channing stuck around.

The Boombox Rehearsals are really rough takes on tracks like “Lounge Act,” “Come As You Are,” “Verse Chorus Verse,” and “On a Plain.” These versions are good to hear at least once to see how the band had all the songs prepared before they started recording. All the tracks sound very similar to the final versions with the exception of some lyrical changes. The most satisfying demo is “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which has the familiar music, but completely different lyrics. It’s just interesting to hear how the famous song came to be.

There’s nothing really special about the BBC Session tracks aside from the band sounds great, but the one that stands out is “Something in the Way.” There was a demo version of this song, which included some light banter from the guys during the beginning, but it was still the song we all know now. The BBC live version takes it from something soft and quiet to heavy, hard, and aggressive. This version is intense and gives it a darker feel. It’s great to hear how they change things up and has to be the best track on the entire collection. Even better, it has not been previously released on their other collections. It’s one of the few things that will catch your attention on this collection.

Overall, the album gets 7/10. This would be great for any new Nirvana fans, but if you’re an avid collector of theirs chances are you’ve heard a lot of this material before. The demos are interesting to hear, but after a while you grow bored with them. Maybe things are better on the super deluxe version, but since it includes a lot of the same material it doesn’t seem like it. Still, it’s a nice addition to any Nirvana collection.

Happy Birthday Kurt Cobain!

Though he will always be 27 in our minds, today Kurt Cobain would’ve been 47. This is most likely a painful day for those that were close to him. And while fans are sitting wondering how Cobain would be and what he would look like if he were alive today, let’s take this moment to remember what a wonderful, talented if not trouble human he was. Instead of remembering what happen 20 years ago, let’s take a look at what made Kurt so great and lovable.

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Happy Birthday Kurt. We should all have some mac and cheese in his honor. Just a thought.

Remembering Cobain: Nirvana and Me

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Most people don’t believe me when I say I’ve been a Nirvana fan since I was 5. They think I’m trying to be hip or cool, but it’s true. Granted, I wasn’t listening to their albums at that age, but they are responsible for my first memory. Like most 90’s kids I was raised by TV. Some of my best memories involve me sitting down to watch my favorite cartoons. But there is one memory that sticks out in my mind the most.

For some reason the TV was on MTV (yes, they were still playing music at this time) and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on. I don’t think my young mind paid attention to the lyrics or even the music very much. But I distinctly remember wiggling around, trying to dance with everyone else in the video. I also remember seeing nothing but a mass of blond hair shaking around in a cloud of smoke. I don’t know why, but I liked the video a lot. Even my mom said so; I had to watch it every time it came on. Of course with the advent of boy bands and pop music I forgot about the song later on when I got a little older. But a part of it and the memory stayed with me during all that time. It wasn’t until around 8th grade where I re-discovered Nirvana. And I was hooked.

I wanted to get every CD, every video, every book about them. I wanted to know everything about the band and the inspirational front man Kurt Cobain. Of course this got me labeled as one of the followers; the people who only like Nirvana because it’s cool. But I didn’t see it that way. There was something about the band that felt special to me as I’m sure it felt special to every teenager in 1991. There’s something about the music that makes you feel connected to the band, whether you relate to the lyrics or the music just inspires you to pick up a guitar of your own. There’s just something special that the band has that makes them so legendary and influential and I felt it.

The music was amazing and so catchy at times I couldn’t help but get sucked in, but the guys were also likeable as people and that really spoke to me. Everyone knows now that Dave Grohl is one of the nicest guys in rock and roll and Krist Novoselic is pretty political, but a really smart guy who just wants equal rights for everyone. Again, another nice guy. It was the same story for Kurt. I loved that this band made this heavy, hard hitting rock music, yet they stood up for gay and women’s rights. I’ve heard countless stories where Cobain would say if you’re homophobic, sexist, or racist don’t even bother becoming a Nirvana fan. It seemed like a lot of mainstream bands at the time, especially ones from Aberdeen, weren’t expressing the same opinions. Sure, all of that makes sense today and we have musicians everyday saying how equality is important, but that didn’t seem to be the case in the early 90’s. The whole thing made me like the band more, not just as talented musicians, but as people.

We all know how Kurt and Nirvana’s story ends; I don’t need to recap it for you here. It’s been almost 20 years since he’s been gone. I’m sure Cobain’s demise hurts everyone from his family, friends, to his fans to this day. We shouldn’t argue about murder vs suicide, giving up, or arguing about how he left his daughter behind. Because when you get right down to it, he’s gone; the arguing doesn’t bring him back. But we can still remember him and band by listening to the amazing music they have given us. Also, the spirit of the band is still alive in music today. Just look at groups like Cage the Elephant, Dead Sara, and Muse. The influence may not be outright, but there are elements that made Nirvana so great in each and every one of them, whether it’s their dynamic energy on stage or the classic loud/quiet/loud technique. So fans shouldn’t weep. Let’s just put on our favorite Nirvana album and remember what a great band they were.

And thanks Kurt, Kris, and Dave for giving me one of my first and favorite memories.

 

Nirvana Videos Ranked

Nirvana doesn’t have a whole lot of videos under their belt, but there are some great videos and some not so ones in their library. They don’t really have videos that are outright terrible, but there are some that just don’t live up to the others. Nevertheless, they are all here for your enjoyment to honor the memory of Kurt Cobain. Here are all of their videos ranked from best to meh.

“Heart-shaped Box”

This has got to be the weirdest and trippiest video in the Nirvana library. It’s even a bit creepy what with the huge woman covered in paint moving towards fetuses hanging from trees. Not to mention the doe eyed KKK girl dancing around. The wild, vivd colors, obscure imagery, and extreme close ups of Cobain really makes this a memorable video. There are two versions of this video with slight alterations: one with Cobain lying in flowers and another of Cobain singing in the starry room, but they’re both just as great.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

This is a classic video and for good reason too. Just looking at all the smoke and sweating going on here gets you sweating and reaching to take off your shirt. The energy and aggression that’s found in the song is perfectly captured in this video. While it may be one of Nirvana’s best videos, it was their most difficult to shoot mainly due to the tension between Cobain and the director Samuel Bayer. They disagreed on what was supposed to be in the clip. One prime example is the guys wanted heftier women to be the cheerleaders, but Bayer insisted on the skinny women seen in the video, which the band referred to as porn stars. Cobain at least got his way in the end: Bayer didn’t want the ending to be Cobain’s face moving closer and closer to camera.

“Come as You Are”

The water themed video features distorted images of the band and a red headed Cobain swinging from a chandelier. It also has footage of several organisms twitching and swimming around. It’s pretty creepy to see how fast they move, especially since you don’t exactly know what they are. This video seems to do a pretty good job at capturing the atmosphere and mood of the song. It’s charming and memorable to say the least.

“In Bloom” (Nevermind Version)

This video shows the humorous side to band. Here they are posing as a fifties pop group complete with cheesy outfits and moves. (Check out Dave’s cheap blond wig!) The video then switches back and forth between the clean cut footage and the members destroying the set in dresses. This video actually has three different versions: the one mentioned above, one of Nirvana performing in just suits and one with Nirvana performing in dresses only. The one with only the dresses is probably the funniest one.

“You Know You’re Right”

This video released in 2002 is nothing but several images and footage of Kurt Cobain live. It’s actually a pretty entertaining video, especially considering there are some clips that make it look as if Kurt is singing along to the song. The footage ranges from Kurt thrashing around on stage, Kurt hanging out with the band, Kurt crawling around on stage and Kurt smiling (gasp!). It’s definitely not their best video, but it’s pretty cool to watch and a great homage to his memory.

“In Bloom” (Sub-Pop Version)

I hate that this is so low here because it’s actually a pretty funny video. Before signing on to a major label, Nirvana (with drummer Chad Channing) did an early version of “In Bloom” for their first label Sub-Pop. The video is compiled footage of the band fooling around in weird masks and x-ray glasses, smoking, eating greasy hot dogs and performing live. It’s not the most riveting thing but it’s interesting to see a young, silly Cobain.

“Sliver”

This video didn’t seem to be all that popular, but what’s interesting about it is that it features Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean. Otherwise, this is basically Nirvana playing in a room filled with old magazines and weird figurines. What’s shocking to see is Kurt with jet black messy hair. He actually looks really frazzled and distraught here. Not the most exciting thing to watch.

“Lithium”

For some reason every band has to have the standard live music video and I personally have never been a big fan of them. They just get boring after about a minute and same applies for this clip. What makes the video even worse is that the footage is slowed down to a halting speed, which doesn’t fit the band at all. There are also images intersecting with other images to the point where it’ll give you a headache. Apparently, Kurt wanted to do an animated video for this song, but the idea was too ambitious and scraped at the last minute. The original idea for the video sounds more promising than what we got.

As a bonus here’s the dresses version of “In Bloom”