Thursday, July 21, 2011

Part 1: Newermind and Zuppa Bastard (the Music)

20 years ago Nirvana released their magnum opus, Nevermind. I don't really need to say much about the album except it is the only one that myself, my brother and my cousin agreed was worthy of screaming from my bedroom window at 2:00 in the morning (you know the term sleepy town, that was certainly my town the next morning). To celebrate the anniversary Spin released, for free, a tribute called Newermind (get it here). It features the likes of the Meat Puppets, Surfer Blood, Foxy Shazam, Amanda Palmer and Titus Andronicus.

Cover songs/albums fall into two categories. There are the ones that do very little to change the original (think AFI's cover of "Last Caress") which leave the listener wondering why. Why even put out the cover if you are not going to add your own interpretation? Then there are those that really change things around ("Hurt" by Johnny Cash or "Faith" by Limp Bizkit) which leave the listener wondering why or how. Why did you do that to my beloved song? How did you take a great song and make it even better (or at least on par). Most of the songs on Newermind fit into the latter category. The album is a lot like if your hipster brother put a flannel shirt or an ugly ass cardigan over his urban outfitter tee while leaving his dark rimmed glasses and fitted jeans on and then went out trick or treating as Nirvana. I mean 20 years is a long time and perhaps my memory fails me but I don't remember Nevermind including crowd sounds, bells, rounds, banjos, church hymns, English accents, chimes, pianos, click tracks, sunny pop songs or drum machines. Newermind has all of these and more. Here is my take on each track in three sentences or less:

Meat Puppets ("Smells Like Teen Spirit")-An indie folk rendition of the original which showcases Curt Kirkwood's off-key singing. I know it was purposeful but that chorus makes me cringe every time I hear it.

Butch Walker & the Black Widows ("In Bloom")-These guys take In Bloom and apply it literally as the chorus is extremely sunny. The verses remind me of the White Stripes with their emphasis of the bass.

Midnight Juggernauts ("Come As You Are")-Horrid. Awful. Blasphemous. Grotesque.

Titus Andronicus ("Breed")-Sounds like the original if it had been performed in a bar with a group of friends raising their glasses and shouting out the chorus.

The Vaselines ("Lithium")-A slow hymnal that seems best served with strong drugs. Not my cup of tea but maybe yours.

Amanda Palmer ("Polly")-Takes a song that pretty dark in the first place and tries to launch it to that place in space where light doesn't exist. Banjos, chimes and xylophones create the mood but I'm left hoping for a little more.

Surfer Blood ("Territorial Pissings")-My initial thought when I saw this pairing was "No way in hell is that going to work." Despite botching the David Grohl intro, the song stands out as being very true to the original form.

Foxy Shazam ("Drain You")-What if Freddie Mercury or Mika led Nirvana instead of Kurt Cobain? What if their sound worked better in the stadium than at the dingy bar? You'd probably have wound up with something like this. One of the new interpretations that I actually find "fun" (especially with the skiddi-bop episode in the middle).

Jessica Lea Mayfield ("Lounge Act")-One of my loves about the original is that the tempo slows slightly for the verses and then really catches on fire during the chorus. Those tempos are slowed down immensely here which seemed unnatural as my foot twitched the whole way through waiting for the kick in.

Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band ("Stay Away")- I never dreamed of making love to a Nirvana song until hearing this soul inspired version. Probably wouldn't use it for much else.

Telekinesis ("On a Plain)-Of all the tracks on the album this one is the most like the original. Add Kurt's scratchy voice and pump the wall of sound up a little and you'd never know the difference. Is there any surprise that I look at this track as being the best one?

Jeff the Brotherhood ("Something in the Way")-Wasn't a fan of the original, wasn't a fan of the remake. I did like how the lyrics stood out in this version because I think they are outstanding (for example: "its ok to eat fish because they don't have any feelings").

EMA ("Endless Nameless")-One of the keepers as she retains the decibels and feedback of the original but puts her own stamp on the lyrics.

But don't take my word for it, this is something you have to experience for yourself. Remember, if it pains you (like some of it did me) you didn't spend any money for it.

The Original:

I made bastard soup to go with this album. I'll have that posted shortly as Part 2.