Various Artists - Newermind: A Tribute Album (Cover Artwork)

Various Artists

Newermind: A Tribute Album (2011)


The Meat Puppets and the Vaselines covering Nirvana? What is this, opposite land? But, that's the major selling point (or rather free downloading point) of Newermind, a covers compilation that emerged in 2011 to mark the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's seminal second album. With the recent release of the Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck documentary, and the polarising prospect of a Kurt solo album in the offing, it seems a good time to give the Spin magazine compilation another, er, spin.

The Meat Puppets version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that kicks off proceedings sounds strangely passionless and phoned in. It's not horrible but it doesn't take the song anywhere new, and even feels a bit overlong despite being a few seconds shorter than the original. The Vaselines are a little more imaginative, Frances McKee taking lead vocals on a downbeat rendition of "Lithium". It lacks the energy and catharsis of the original, but there's some nice vocal interplay between McKee and Eugene Kelly on the bridge, and it's an interesting take on a familiar song.

In between times (the album follows the original's tracklisting), Butch Walker brings a pleasantly funky TV On The Radio vibe to "In Bloom", but Australian electronica band Midnight Juggernauts make a real mess of "Come As You Are". With awful high pitched Auto-Tuned vocals over a lethargic beat, it's the sort of song you have to immediately listen to again to check that it was as bad as you first thought. It is.

Titus Andronicus and Surfer Blood turn in faithful but energetic covers of "Breed" and "Territorial Pissings" respectively, but Amanda Palmer's "Polly" is far more inventive. If you ever thought the song needed more glockenspiel and banjo, this is the version for you. Her voice suits the material, and the new instrumentation is surprisingly effective.

Foxy Shazam glam up "Drain You" with some brass and theatricality, before Jessica Lea Mayfield provides one of the real highlights with a haunting, stripped down take on "Lounge Act". Note to self: check out her and Seth Avett's new album of Elliott Smith covers.

Of the remainder, "On A Plain" by Telekinesis is competent but forgettable, and JEFF The Brotherhood add another layer of gloom to the already miserable "Something In The Way." But the real standout is sexagenarian soul singer Charles Bradley's laidback, slowed down version of "Stay Away." Although he loses points for omitting the "god is gay" line and for changing "fashion shits" to "fashion shirt", it’s a refreshingly original take.

Tribute albums are always hit and miss, and this one is no different. Like many such albums, it primarily serves as a reminder of just how good the source material really was. But among the faithful re-treads and the few duds, Charles Bradley, Jessica Lea Mayfield and Amanda Palmer display enough imagination to make this a mostly worthwhile addition to the glut of Nirvana covers records.