Various Artists - SPIN's Newermind

We're getting to the point, now in 2011, where many of the bands we grew up with (by "we" here I mean me and my late-20's early 30's contemporaries) are going to become "classic rock," at least in the traditional definition. Once a car is 20 years old it can be registered with classic plates. Music is much the same. Only people, probably because we always assume each of us is an instant classic, avoid this time-linkage. Still, here we are, living in a world where an album like Modest Mouse's triumphant The Moon & Antarctica is already 11 years old. That wonderful album is five years from getting behind the wheel of some hybridized new Beetle with 48" wheels and a Coca-Cola dispenser. (Yes, the future WILL BE that strange.) What is showing itself to be inevitable now though, is the rapid and undaunted onslaught of tributes, mash-ups and reworkings. And those are the ones that require some additional creative input. There will also be endless remasterings and re-releases. And I'm not really complaining about this. I think it's a wonderful, monster-hugging, lovable sort of thing. I embraced the Smiths tribute cover album Covered that was released in full-form earlier this year, despite some of its holes and miscues. So, when SPIN, the venerable music rag, released Newermind, a tribute to Nirvana's 1991 (on my birthday no less, I turned 10) album Nevermind with loads of covers by great artists, well, I got a little excited.

I'll admit, I was 10 when Nevermind came out. I didn't listen to it at length, really, for another couple years. Largely, this was due to my parent's divorce, and the fact that I had MTV at my mom's for the first time. Also, there's the middle school factor. I can remember at least that I liked it. It was different from the other pop and rock around. I won't dare state here or anywhere else that I "knew they'd be HUGE" or some shit like that, but I will say that it was intriguing to me, and a little dangerous, what with the baby swimming for cash. The bottom line though, is that this album ended up altering a lot of lives. And it is one of the first albums I remember having that was LOADED from start to finish. And most of the bands that caught on after couldn't create this prolifically. Nevermind is just insanely good. Newermind, the tribute, is close, but it has its failings. It also has versions of these songs that refresh the original. There's a lot of artistic bulk around these digital songs, so it's hard to imagine a full failure. There are just some very minor ones. And that's okay.

Meat Puppets open with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and do a fairly conventional, true-to-the-original version of the song. It is solid. Butch Walker & The Black Widows cover "In Bloom" very well too. But things get weird with "Come As Are You Are" as performed by Midnight Juggernauts as a dreamy, wistful, pixie-land acid trip. Titus Andronicus comes in and blasts "Breed" straight out the stadium. It's brilliant. As are the next two tracks, wherein the album gains real steam and inspiration. The Vaselines version of "Lithium" is pristine, perfect and impeccable. (Don't even try to pecc it!) And Amanda Palmer comes in to do a sweet, haunting and wonderful version of "Polly." You cannot miss those two tracks, even if you don't care for Nirvana. Surfer Blood does great with "Territorial Pissings." But Foxy Shazam's version of "Drain You" has the energy and force of classic Queen, slightly watered down, slightly loaded with horns. Then Jessica Lea Mayfield brings some sweet, silky vocals to "Lounge Act." It may be the best track of the last handful, for it's spare qualities. Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band just murder "Stay Away" by infusing it will soul and funk and the tricky wobbles of classic Motown... plus, Bradley is 62. Telekinesis does a serviceable and poppy version of "On A Plain" that's also really fucking fun and straightforward. Jeff the Brotherhood covers "Something in the Way" nicely, really dragging the slow sad pace of the track out into the open and covering it in fuzz. But EMA's version of "Endless Nameless" closes the album on a grungy, overdrive-heavy, raucous and screaming note. It's a brilliant finish.

The album is free through SPIN at their website linked here. You'll have to give SPIN your email to download it, but it's a valuable addition for Nirvana fans, sonic archivists, and those who wish to see old dogs (songs) perform new tricks.

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