9 Nirvana Covers Actually Worth Hearing

Since this is the second post of the day honoring Kurt Cobain’s birthday I’ll keep it short.

Nirvana was such an iconic band with so much of their allure wrapped up in Cobain’s voice and lyrics that covering anything by them is automatically a bold move.  However, Mr. Cobain himself was awfully partial to the cover (see the MTV Unplugged in New York track list) so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the world is full of Nirvana covers as musicians continue to be inspired by his work.  As is always the case with covers, the bigger the fan of the coveree the more critical they will be of the coverer.  Since I cannot presume the general taste of the Internet, I would like to present 10 covers of Nirvana songs that are actually worth giving a listen to:

Animal Collective – On A Plain

AC are staunchly committed to making their own sound and here they prove that, unlike most bands, they can bring Cobain’s lyrics into one of their own compositions without making them sound trite and out of place.

EMA – Endless Nameless

Erika M. Anderson was one-half of noise-folk band Gowns and played in Amps for Christ and for the last few years she has been following a musical vision that is all her own as EMA.  All the noise and mess is still there so don’t be surprised when you see her completely tearing apart this pitch perfect rendition of one of Nirvana’s noisiest treats.


The Flaming Lips
– Pennyroyal Tea

Whether or not Wayne Coyne is breaking Kurt’s chops with his exaggerated pronunciation (if you can call it that) of “tea” here, this is still a cover worth checking out.

Girl Talk – Scentless Apprentice

The mash-up guru takes pre-programmed samples and jumps around like a teenager in his bedroom singing what is clearly one of his favorite songs.  I don’t know if the audience knows what to do with it, but it is refreshing to see someone paying homage to their hero’s so unabashedly.

Herbie Hancock – All Apologies

The jazz legend’s take on one of Nirvana’s best-known songs seems like it doesn’t know what it wants to be: a Herbie Hancock bop tune with plenty of funky improv or the tastefully interpreted source material.  In ths hands of this master, it is little else but pure magic.

Jay Reatard – Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle
Faithful to the original while sounding like Reatard there is not a mis-step here.  A wonderful interpretation of one of Kurt’s most honest lyrics.

Rise Against – “Sliver”
The Chicago punks offer up a faithful rendition of Nirvana’s 1990 single for The A.V. Club.  While the lyrics might sound trite at first listen, they are an excellent example of Mr. Cobain’s ability to look into his difficult past and write a damn catchy song out of what he sees there.

Scala & Kolacny Brothers – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Piano and voices. Lots of voices. This stripped-to-nothing rendition is creepy and beautiful.

The Vaselines – Lithium
The Vaselines were two of Kurt Cobain’s favorite songwriters and years later they prove that the respect was mutual with this incredible cover of one of Nirvana’s best-known songs.

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