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Music Review | ‘Newermind: A Tribute Album’

Whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch has obviously never supped at the Internet’s free MP3 dinner table. You see, the same MP3 revolution that dried up the music industry’s revenue stream – toppling corporate Goliaths, leveling the playing field, and making it possible for independent artists to become slingshot-swinging Davids – has made it possible for free albums to grow on the Internet’s branches like low-hanging fruit.

Free lunch.

Today’s Internet apple has a worm in it, however, and I’m sure Kurt Cobain wouldn’t have had it any other way.

SPIN magazine released Newermind: A Tribute Album on Tuesday for free via Facebook. This, then, is one of those rare instances where you can mentally download a record review and immediately import the reviewed record into iTunes without having to explain to your spouse that you’ve broken the metaphorical piggybank to satisfy your selfish desires. I know we all need a little danger and excitement from time to time, so let this be your opportunity to be Evil Knievel, and from a perilous sitting position.

In case it is not readily apparent, Newermind is a track-for-track tribute to Nirvana’s 1991 Generation X-defining record, Nevermind. My obsession with Nirvana goes back to 8th grade. It has deep roots, like the tree growing in our yard that insists on interfering with our pipes and causing dirt to back up in our basement bathroom sink and shower. The roots and branches of the Nirvana tree in my brain prompted me to write at length about the band in the book my agent is shopping to publishers. But that apparently was not enough: I later felt the need to write a supplemental piece (available here) about the legacy Kurt Cobain left behind after he camped out in my hippocampus. It should be understandable, then, that a person like me – a person with OCD – would be compelled to write about an obsession of this magnitude.

“Yeah, yeah,” you say. “So you like Nirvana and you’re weird, and I’m Evil Knievel. Where’s the beef?” Right. The record. I will say this upfront: Tribute records are almost always a mixed bag, and this one is no exception to that rule. I can practically hear the Pitchfork readers vomiting – trying to get over this trainwreck of a record. At the same time, trainwrecks are exhilarating (at least presumably – passengers who perish en route to their destinations do not often rave about their transportation experiences), and there are moments on this album that are downright rapturous. So the bottom line is, you should download it – it’s free, people.

The Vaselines, whom Kurt Cobain championed enthusiastically in life, cover “Lithium” here. Cobain and Co. covered the band’s “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” for Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set. The Vaselines reciprocate the gesture here with a cover that is darkly inspired in its funereal tone. The pallor of death is upon this piece, as if the Vaselines – much like the rest of us – find it difficult to dissociate the music of Nirvana from the suicide of its frontman.

JEFF the Brotherhood’s cover of the elegiac “Something in the Way” takes a cue from Nirvana’s BBC studio version of the song, infusing it with doom and no small amount of sludge. The chorus grinds along as if the song’s batteries are on the verge of running down. For a moment, grunge is alive again.

EMA furthers affirms that grunge is, in fact, an undead genre when she pillages Nevermind‘s “hidden” track, “Endless, Nameless.” Like an unapologetic pyromaniac, she sets the song aflame and lets it burn.

The cover that stands out the most for me, however, is Foxy Shazam’s “Drain You.” I’m not saying it’s good, but I’m also not saying it’s bad. It’s so over-the-top it would make Freddie Mercury’s corpse blush. For Foxy Shazam’s vocalist, Eric Sean Nally, the song is a chance to engage in Olympic vocal gymnastics. As a result, “Drain You” is gloriously delirious, like a psychiatric ward patient who hides his meds under his mattress instead of swallowing them. The only thing that could make this song even more ridiculous would be if Justin Hawkins of The Darkness lent his larynx to the proceedings.

Then there are less notable covers: Not bad, and maybe even ravaged enough that Kurt Cobain would have enjoyed them. After Nevermind was released, after all, he frequently said the Butch Vig-produced record was too polished to be truly punk. The Meat Puppets, whom Nirvana covered and shared the stage with for MTV Unplugged, rightly cover “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the band’s acoustic rendition of the song (complete with bongos) is not unlike watching a bass fisherman trying to reel in a whale with a standard-issue fishing pole. It doesn’t work, but it’s awkward enough to be interesting.

Titus Andronicus’s “Breed,” Surfer Blood’s “Territorial Pissings,” and Telekinesis’s “On a Plain” are all likewise stripped of Butch Vig’s varnish. They sound like they were recorded in my garage, but they may capture Cobain’s beloved punk ethos in a way Nevermind never did. Had Nevermind sounded like these covers, I might add, it would not have sold millions of copies or revolutionized the musical world ever after. The songs are still platinum, but the recordings are aluminum or tin.

The only song that doesn’t cut the mustard (or even the cheese) for me is the Midnight Juggernauts’ criminal “Come as You Are,” which sounds like the Chipmunks singing over a trite trip-hop bed. While it is a decidedly different take on the song, it makes me want to jettison the Juggernauts into deep space with only a few paltry packs of astronaut ice cream for food. Of course, you may love it. (Weirdo.)

Like I said, then, you should download this record. It’s free. It’s also always entertaining to watch bands attempt to reach for the stars their forebears have set in the sky. So if you’re into people-watching or B-movies or music that’s so bad it’s good, this record will sustain you and entertain you. The highlights and lowlights alike make Newermind an experience worth having. (And it’s free. Did I already say that?)

Download it at SPIN’s Facebook page.

Also, I recorded and released my own Nirvana tribute song, and it’s available at the stub on my site for this music review.


 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.primeparentsclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/author2.jpg

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[author_info]About the Author

Chad Thomas Johnston writes music reviews on Prime Parents’ Club under his column, Somewhere Over the Audio Rainbow. He is an aspiring author, sonuva’ preacha’ man, PhD-dropout, singer/songwriter, daydreaming doodler, cinemaddict, & pop-culture obsessive.Visit Chad at his subterranean, subcutaneous Interweb lair: http://chadthomasjohnston.com/, or on Twitter as @Saint_Upid.[/author_info]

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Chad Thomas Johnston is an aspiring author, sonuva’ preacha’ man, PhD-dropout, singer/songwriter, daydreaming doodler, cinemaddict, & pop-culture obsessive. He is represented by Seattle, WA-based literary agent Jenée Arthur, who is currently shopping his manuscript, The Stained Glass Kaleidoscope: Essays at Play in the Churchyard of the Mind, to major publishing houses. Chad is happily married to Rebekah Christine, and lives in Lawrence, KS with his wife and five cats. Chad and Rebekah look forward to welcoming Baby Evie into the fracas of their frantic fold in October 2011. Visit Chad at his subterranean, subcutaneous Interweb lair: http://chadthomasjohnston.com/

3 Comments

  1. Chad Thomas Johnston

    July 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Ha! :) Thanks for commenting, Rockle! I can’t believe no one else has said a thing. I feel so neglected. Like an Internet orphan. I mean c’mon, right? I write a review of a FREE album and it’s colorful and fun, and then *crickets.* Ha! :) I kill me.

    • Prime Parents' Club

      July 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      Facebook and Twitter “steal” blog comments now. Lots of others have been chattering about it and it’s seeing traffic, so don’t base popularity on comments. We love you. So does everyone else. :)

  2. rockle

    July 26, 2011 at 9:01 am

    i am not so much a “nirvana” fan as a “general grunge” fan – let’s just say i had “artistic differences” with kurt – but i totally jumped up and down when i heard about this project. (definitely, decidedly un-punk and un-cool, but i admit that i am not much of either, these days). one of the upsides of listening to this: i dug out some vaselines and meat puppets CD’s that haven’t seen sunlight in literally decades.