Ladies and gentlemen, we are a few months away from the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind. That is a big deal, not only because it makes a lot of us feel old and nostalgic but it also reminds us that there was a time that bands that were really good became really famous.
This month, Spin is paying tribute to Nevermind and giving away a free downloadable tribute album. Go get it from Spin; it's worth listening to, and some tracks are worth skipping. I just heard it a couple of times, except for the songs skipped because they were bad or boring.
Opening up the tribute is one of Nirvana's heroes, the Meat Puppets, doing a rhythmically dizzying version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Man, even the vocals are loopy and kind of nauseating. Kurt would've loved it. The rest of us? Not so much at first, but once you get used to the jangly guitars and spacy drumming, it's pretty clear that no one else, save maybe Mudhoney or Guided by Voices, could've done this song right.
On "In Bloom," Butch Walker & the Black Widows sound like Supergrass doing Nirvana. It's a fun, bouncy take on the classic; the gospel-like breakdown near the end of the song is pretty cool. Good job.
Midnight Juggernauts' version of "Come as You Are" is really gross and creepy. It sounds like ambient-trance-house with some chipmunks harmonizing with Big Pun.
Thank God Titus Andronicus' cover of "Breed" is next. It's a powerful, sloppy, and focused version of the original. They didn't mess with the formula, save only playing the root notes in the song's signature 2-2-0-2-5-0 riff.
"Lithium" by the Vaselines is beautiful, sad, and childlike. Nirvana covered the Vaselines so well on "Molly's Lips," "Son of a Gun," and "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam" -- it makes perfect sense that the Vaselines would return the posthumous favor with respect and class. Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee's dueling vocals layered over choir-like harmonies and church organ really make the song into a eulogy for Kurt. It's incredibly sad and deceptively simple.
Amanda Palmer's "Polly" is nice; it's got banjo and bells.
Local champions Surfer Blood manage to keep all the intensity of "Territorial Pissings" and highlight the melody that Cobain's angst hid so well. This was one of the songs that made me really love Nirvana, and after hearing this cover, I think I'm falling for Surfer Blood.
Foxy Shazam's "Drain You" is a bit of schizophrenic trip through soul, T-Rex rock, and jazzy scatting.
"Lounge Act" by Jessica Lea Mayfield is a beautifully bare-boned version of the original.
Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band just kind of ignored everything about "Stay Away" and turned it into a new soul classic and really made it work.
Telekinesis -- neé Michael Benjamin Lerner -- does "On a Plain" perfectly. The one-man band has a sweet little voice and perfectly fuzzy guitars. Kind of makes us wonder if Jay Reatard would've contributed to this if he'd been asked.
JEFF the Brotherhood's cover of "Something in the Way" may be the only song on this compilation to capture Nirvana's signature quiet/loud dynamic effectively. They keep the verse nice and whispery and explode into a grunge-worthy, head-banging, weed-smoking version of the chorus. It's beautifully brutal and worth waiting the whole comp for.