Tag Archives: The Beatles

Nirvana Cover Songs are Stupid and Contagious

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Punk Goes Grunge really doesn’t sound all too inspiring. In a world and music scene in which Punk Goes… is a franchise, hearing breakdowns accompany Katy Perry tracks or ’90s throwbacks is nothing new.  In fact, it’s almost expected since making a solid pop cover track can help make or break a band when it comes to getting signed to a label. That being said, what happens when punk (or what’s in actuality post-hardcore, metalcore, and pop punk) try to cover grunge or metal songs?

Typically you get one of two things: either a sound so similar that you find yourself questioning why anyone covered the track in the first place or a sound so entirely different and jarring that the integrity of the initial song is completely lost.

We got our first real taste of this problem with Punk Goes ’90s Vol. 2The Color Morale made a cringe-worthy, over produced cover of the Foo Fighter‘s staple “Everlong,” Ice Nine Kills showcased an amplified  pop rock version of Green Day‘s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” and Motionless In White rendered an exact copy of Rammstein‘s “Du Hast.”  A good cover is a song that takes the base of a track and holds the nature of that song true but also adds the flair of the band covering it to make it their own.  Industrial metalcore bands like Motionless In White shouldn’t be releasing covers of industrial metal bands like Rammstein simply because there is nothing much they can do to add to that track.  Other bands, like the Foo Fighters and Green Day are such iconic faces in modern music that they simply shouldn’t be altered.  The same is to be said of Nirvana.  Absolutely no one should be covering Nirvana tracks right now, regardless of the current resurgence of Cobain’s popularity.

My anger towards this situation appeared after hearing the latest compilation of Nirvana tribute songs, Robotic Empire‘s Whatever Nevermind, in which the label collected bands such as Torche, La Dispute, Circa Survive and Touché Amoré to render classic and even not-so-classic Nirvana songs as their own.  Along with the release of this album on Record Store Day, the grand April holiday also saw the release of Comeback Kid‘s cover of “Territorial Pissings.”

Nirvana, as with Green Day and the Foo Fighters, are still incredibly relevant.  They haven’t quite fallen into The Beatles iconic fame and legendary status as people are still trying to uncover exactly who Cobain was and what Nirvana actually meant for music.  The tale of Paul McCartney and John Lennon has been uncovered, publicized and revered in a way in which releasing an entire film of cover songs like Across the Universe is both acceptable and lauded. Conversely, we’re still in a state in which we don’t quite understand most of Nirvana.  Hell, there’s still a debate on why or even if Cobain killed himself, and unless you’re Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, Butch Vig, Steve Albini or Courtney Love you probably have  no grasp on how or why he wrote and recorded music the way he did.  Being unable to interpret that significant fact of such an iconic voice and figure should lead people to have enough respect to not actually go and remodel one of Cobain’s tracks.

Grunge is the voice of indie.  Grunge is an informal outlet of punk.  Grunge is the signature rock sound of the early ’90s.  But grunge is also exceptionally dead.  There’s no way an indie/punk/post-hardcore/rock band can come in today and revive grunge.  Alice In Chains couldn’t even find success doing it when Layne Staley died.  And believe me, they tried.   If a forerunner in the grunge movement couldn’t keep it alive, there’s no way any of these more marginal bands are going to be able to.

Whatever Nevermind

Let’s talk about “Polly.”

“Polly” is one hell of a fucked up song.  For those of you who don’t know, “Polly” is about a real life rapist who held a girl captive and whose first-person perspective Cobain felt absolutely compelled to write about.  That’s fucking weird. Bands like La Dispute, who I have nothing but respect for, should not be covering that track. Not only do they do very little to change up how the song initially sounded, but they lose a lot of the eerie concepts placed behind that song because they didn’t write it.  Those twisted thoughts were not in their heads to make that track genuine or forthcoming.  It’s a cover that offers nothing to the music scene and doesn’t challenge the listener in the way that Cobain’s original version did. They probably would have had better luck covering “Rape Me,” but I guess in today’s world you can’t cover a track with that title in the same way that Slayer is no longer permitted to cover Minor Threat‘s “Guilty of Being White.”

Then there are bands who cover truly iconic Nirvana songs.  First off, it should go without saying that if it smells like the only Nirvana song you know, it shouldn’t be covered. But people still do.  “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is so well known and so iconic, that when you hear an alternative version of it, most people are inclined to cringe since they are banking on hearing those blaring soft to loud contradictions within the verse/chorus song structure and the complete inability to determine whether Cobain is saying “hello” or “how low.”  Covers typically force the coverer to pick one phrasing and pursue that translation, thus making it a decided interpretation of song we still don’t fucking understand.

Are all covers bad? No.  Circa Survive’s “Drain You” is listenable, but simply because they added very little to the track.  But with every just vaguely different track comes a track so butchered that it’s upsetting to hear.  Kylesa‘s cover of “Come As You Are,” for example, is another moment in time in which someone believes you can make that song an indie slow jam and get away with it.  You can’t.  It makes a classic song feel tired and drained. In the end you are left with the feeling that people are trying way too hard. Cobain wrote these tracks with definitive thoughts in mind. Over-thinking a track that’s already had an intention placed behind it is unnecessary and loses the effect the track initially held.

So then, are these covers ever acceptable? In my opinion, no.  Do some bands do it better than others? Yes.  In comparison to White Reaper‘s cover of “Territorial Pissings,” Comeback Kid does it much, much better.  When listening to the two side by side, White Reaper gives the illusion that they are trying to cover a Nirvana song in a well-planned, strategic manner.  Comeback Kid, however, just sound like they decided to jam out to a Nirvana track. It’s genuine fandom rather than a fabrication of a song someone bigger and more important wrote. The same can be said of Every Time I Die‘s live cover of “Tourette’s.”  ETID didn’t release the track in recorded form, and therefore hold the same genuine appreciation for Nirvana by showcasing it live and in a fashion that makes a song off of In Utero sound like a track from Bleach while still having that real old school ETID feel. But not one of these tracks are better than the originals.

No Nirvana cover will ever be accepted until Nirvana fades from mainstream relevancy.  Once Cobain becomes Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney and the world is ready for new interpretations on the grunge world, then covers can be acceptable.  But the ’90s are way too close to the now and the vocal strains inside of Nirvana’s haunting tracks are still as eerie and hard hitting now as they were twenty years ago. Let the band ride the legacy they created, and if you have to cover it, do so genuinely. Do so live. Do so in the moment without the over-thinking and strange musical additions and interpretations that help lose the messages Cobain, Novoselic and Grohl created.  And for fuck’s sake, if you absolutely have to do Punk Goes Grunge, someone hit up a Bleach song.  Maybe I’ll shut up if Josh Scogin does a cover of “Negative Creep”; maybe then I’d believe that these covers can actually happen. Until then, leave it to Kurt or keep it to live performance. The world isn’t ready for over-produced interpretations of tracks we still don’t understand.  Lose yourself in the music, don’t think so much, and in time, Nirvana will be appropriate to re-examine through cover songs.

Check out the album stream for Whatever Nevermind via Noisey right here.

Response to Gene Simmons: “Rock Is Dead”

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THIS EDITORIAL WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED THROUGH TAYLOR MARKARIAN’S GRIMM ROCK REVIEW AND IS RE-PUBLISHED HERE VIA THE AUTHOR’S CONSENT.

“Rock ‘n’ roll” is a heavy phrase. It carries with it sex, drugs, death, youthful rebellion, dreams made and dreams broken, all culminating in a unique spirit that has all but become synonymous with America itself. Unfortunately, folks, it’s all over.

Gene Simmons told us the bad news on September 4th in an interview with Esquire— “Rock is finally dead.” So all of you up-and-coming’s out there can pack your bags, clip on a tie, and major in finance, because none of what you’re doing matters. The kids lined up around the block hours before the show can go home. Warped Tour? Mayhem Fest? Shut ‘em down. And all of those band t-shirts in your closet can be sewn into a nice dark quilt for grandma because there’s just no arguing with Gene.

Really, who are we to point out that Warped tour garnered $23.4 million last year and is the longest running musical festival in the country (Billboard Magazine)? Or that numerous acts such as My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182, The Foo Fighters, and The Used have become landmarks of rock and of American pop culture post-1983, the year Simmons demarcated as the last of true “musical anythings that are iconic, that seem to last beyond their time”? How can we dare to worship albums like Senses Fail’s Let It Enfold You or Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends 10 years after their release? And what miscreant keeps plastering the words “sold out” on almost any venue hosting Asking Alexandria, Pierce the Veil, Lamb of God, or Avenged Sevenfold?

The answers to these snarky questions are multi-dimensional and interconnected. In all seriousness, Gene Simmons is partly right. That amorphous, umbrella term—“Rock”—is dead, in that its dozens of subgenres have made it relatively meaningless. No one can be just a rock band anymore, because it’s simply too broad. What are you? Metal? But what kind of metal? Thrash, Nu, Black, Death? Are you hardcore? Meaning, are you post-hardcore, hardcore punk? The lists and divisions go on and on.

Another reason Gene Simmons is right is the same reason that he is laughably, infuriatingly wrong. His definition is limited. He equates rock with acts like (what a shock) Kiss, The Beatles, The Stones, and U2. For him, rock is dead because it is no longer main stage. The arena shows are reserved for Justin Bieber. Radio time is given to endless repeats of the latest Katy Perry club mix.

Well—and let me be as professional and eloquent as possible here—DUH! It’s 2014, not 1980. (And it’s not 2008 either, by the way. The “file-sharing” argument is not news. So if Gene Simmons was going to announce the vicious murder of music, meaning all music, it should have been during the golden age of Limewire, not in 2014 during an LP revival.) The technology has changed, the entertainment market has expanded, and the media is over-saturated. Of course when we develop new electronic gadgets every five minutes the mainstream sounds of our generation are going to be pop, hip-hop, and EDM-centric. The enormous technological shift finds its echo in a shifting cultural paradigm, so it makes sense that the gritty, raw texture of Beartooth is going to be passed over for smooth, shiny, easily-digestible Deadmau5 nine times out of 10.

But does that make all rock music irrelevant and the victim of senseless slaughter? Of course not. To stand by such an assertion would be flagrant and ludicrous reductionism. All genres have their time in the spotlight, and if we’re being true to the meaning of rock, the “underground” is exactly where it should be right now anyway.

“The meaning of rock.” What’s that? It’s a question that can engender thousands of answers, but if we’re speaking historically, rock is fundamentally counterculture. Rock always needs something to resist. Whether it be The Sex Pistols or Bob Dylan, rockers of all branches have been “anti—” and controversial for decades. They even oppose each other.

On the other hand, rock is and has been one of the most uniting forces the world has ever known. It provides much needed respite for the world-weary, the angst-ridden, the broken-hearted. Kids who might otherwise have wanted out of this life decided to stick around because of that one chorus in that one A Day To Remember song.

So we pick up our guitars. We set up our kits. We plug in our amps and attempt to dial them past 10 even if we won’t ever book Madison Square Garden, because house parties and club venues and even empty basements are just as good. We don’t scream the lyrics for the money. To paraphrase a Dangerkids song, we do it because “there is something in us that won’t leave us alone.”

So, in the spirit of all that is rock ‘n’ roll: Fuck you. Rock is alive and well.