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Whatever Nevermind – Nirvana Tribute (Various Artists) | Album Review

Robotic Empire’s Nirvana tribute album brings names like La Dispute, Kylesa, Torche and Boris to the table. But is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Source: Album Artwork

Source: Album Artwork

To some music fans, purists especially, there are no two worse words in the English language than ‘tribute album’. It marks the possible desecration of a band and their work. For a band as beloved as grunge progenitors Nirvana, it’s a risky strategy. Everyone’s heard a woeful cover rendition of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ once or twice. But since 2015 marks 21 long years since frontman Kurt Cobain’s ascension to musical sainthood, (and with a documentary movie on the way), maybe now is the time to look back on the band’s legacy through the eyes of other artists.

Young Widows kick us off with a cover of the aforementioned ‘Smells Like…’ that is almost unreconisable from the original. It’s so odd to hear those familiar lyrics interspersed with jagged, 80’s punk rhythms and riffs that it’s like putting your shoes on the wrong feet, then realising they aren’t your shoes (or your feet). It’s definitely good that they’ve mixed up the most well known (i.e. overplayed) of Nirvana’s tracks, however, and it’s a sign of good things to come.

Pop-sludge heroes Torche come in next with an incredibly faithful rendition of ‘In Bloom’. It’s spot on, from the familiar meaty bass riff to Steve Brooks’ weary, smoky vocals. They don’t take any huge risks or deviations, but this works for them, as they breathe new life into the lumbering classic.

Kylesa’s version of ‘Come As You Are’ is creepy, played in what sounds like half-time compared to the original. It puts you in an almost trance like state, with the wrap around drums and almost subsonic bass acting as a shadow behind Laura Pleasants’ ethereal, dreamlike vocals. Cave In ramp up the intensity (obviously) with a savage, immediate ‘Breed’ that features an absolutely colossal bass tone and a chaotic, good time vibe.

Boris do what they always do and absolutely ‘Borisify’ ‘Lithium’, turning into an incredibly unsettling and uncanny sound collage of whispering, urgent voices and massive doomy, droning tones. (For the sake of brevity, we’ll skip a few tracks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with La Dispute, Circa Survive etc but we’re writing a review here. not War & Peace).

Wrong’s ‘Stay Away’ is the most severe in terms of dynamic shifts, colossal and brooding with killer tone one minute, then oddly restrained and introspective the next, before descending into chaos. Nothing cuts right to the beating ,raw heart of ‘Something In The Way’ by stripping things back to reverb drenched vocals, piano and shimmering post-rock guitars. It’s incredibly vulnerable and emotive.

Thou steal the fucking show with an ‘Endless, Nameless’ that is simply breathtaking. Huge, monolithic sludgy chords chug throughout, the savage brutality absolutely relentless. They evoke the spirit of the original through a fucking magnifying glass, and it’s almost as if it was originally made with them in mind.

In short, then, this isn’t an album of bands doing quaint acoustic or lengthy electronic remixes. It’s a collection of artists honouring the work of others in whatever way they deem fit. There are few weak links here, and while not all the offerings are as vital as the others, it’s a very strong collection. Not just for fans and collectors, this will have you looking at the original source through fresh, appreciative eyes. The spirit of Nirvana endures.

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