By Little Roy
Cover albums can be really, really good or really, really bad. This collection of ten of Nirvana's best songs recorded in a reggae style are superb. Not only can you make out the lyrics (a first for many Nirvana fans I believe!) as Kurt Cobain's tortured vocals disguised the original versions, the steady pace is perfect for these grunge 'pop' classics.
The album came about when Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) and Mutant Hi-Fi (Nick Coplowe), old school Nirvana fans, enlisted the vocal talents of one of Jamaican music's great singers of the sixties and seventies, Little Roy. They focused on the solid melodies that Nirvana were renowned for and aimed to bring out Kurt's hidden lyrics. As Little Roy says "People could enjoy the words of these great songs through me singing them in my reggae style - reggae fans like me who didn't know about Nirvana would love the songs, and Nirvana fans could enjoy the music all over again". This is certainly true.
Many of the bands old associates are in on this album too, original agent Russell Warby has released this on his own label Ark Recordings, and Bleach's iconic black and white cover shot photographer Charles Peterson has provided a similar style shot for this release. It features a couple of long haired, beer and sweat soaked grunge fans on a stage barrier in primary reggae colours, perfectly complimenting this album and what it stands for.
The reggae tempo is steady amongst all tracks, with the Nirvana melodies (perfectly skanked) providing the backbone, and Little Roy's vocals really pronouncing the lyrics, and for many, this is the first time I have understood them (without cheating and reading a lyrics sheet)! The covers are that good that if Nirvana had not been so successful these could have been mistaken for the original version, especially tracks like 'Sliver' with its female backing vocals. Some songs, like 'Polly', have such a solid structure of a melody that it could be covered in any genre of music and still be amazing, and the version here is no exception.
'Dive' starts the album with a classic reggae pace, and sounds like it was always meant to be this way. Next up, 'Heart-Shaped Box' has a more skippy beat with backing vocal spurts that remind me of the 'Shaft' theme tune! The swirling organ melodies at the start of 'Very Ape' and harmonic chorus make this one of my favourite tracks on the album. You can't hide the riff from 'Come As You Are' however hard you try, not that you would want to, and this is another favourite of mine, and a perfect example of the way this album has reworked classic songs, begging the question, why has this not been done before? We are exactly twenty years from when this song was originally released, as good a time as any...
'On A Plain' shows great musician skills as it features only percussion from a bongo and cymbals, and Little Roy's vocals can be heard even more... a great stripped back version of the song. You would not know from the start of the song 'About A Girl' what cover was coming. 'Son of A Gun' (which really should have been a Vaselines cover, as there is not much difference in the original and Nirvana's version, but still a good tune to include) features the odd delay sample, and is a perfect tune for a lazy sunny summer (what's one of those?!) afternoon. The album finishes on 'Lithium' with a brass intro that you instantly recognise, lovely vocal harmonies and a slightly quicker pace.
I highly recommend this album to Nirvana and reggae fans alike; it is a superb tribute to a great band and reminder of how legendary Little Roy is. Fatty and Mutant have done good.