October 25, 2011 - Reimagine
Take a look at the Mona Lisa. Now paint your own version. Stick too close to the original and you’re copying. Veer too far and you’re dissing da Vinci. That’s the sort of dilemma musicians face when covering any song, but it’s even more pronounced when taking on one of the most influential albums of the past two decades. Come As You Are: A 20th Anniversary Tribute to Nirvana’s Nevermind features new versions in sequence of each of the 12 songs on the 1991 grunge instruction manual by the likes of Hawthorne Heights, mewithoutYou and Murder By Death (Bayside’s Anthony Raneri also adds a rendition of “About A Girl” from Nirvana’s 1989 debut, Bleach). While it’s nice to finally be able to make out the lyrics to some songs, most of these covers do little more than point out how one-of-a-kind Nirvana really were.
Nevermind is a visceral and dynamic roller coaster, but Come As You Are is decidedly one-note and down-tempo. Story Of The Year (“Breed”), Hawthorne Heights (“Lithium”), Finger Eleven (“Polly”), Maps & Atlases (“Drain You”) and Pitty (“Stay Away”) stick almost note-for-note to the source material, but sound hollow compared to the originals. The other songs are more loose interpretations with varying degrees of success. The good: mewithoutYou nurture “In Bloom” into a sparse, multi-instrumental ditty; and Murder By Death transform “Lounge Act” into an actual spaghetti western lounge song. The bad: The Dutch Masters (featuring Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Brent DeBoer of the Dandy Warhols) suck all the angst from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the Margot And The Nuclear So And So’s version of “Something In The Way” is intentionally discordant but difficult to listen to. The most interesting song on the album is the title track by Civil Twilight, which sounds more like Coldplay than Cobain, but at least it swells and crashes into its own original moments.
Producer Jim Sampas has history with tribute albums, having helmed similar homages to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska—both of which leaned heavily on indie interpretations. While Come As You Are covers a wider range of genres and the production is sleek and varied, you can’t help but long for the raucous rawness of Nevermind. Then again, if everyone could do so much with three chords, this tribute wouldn’t exist at all.