St. Vincent & Muse Both Cover 'Lithium' in Tribute to Kurt Cobain, Prove That Song Might Be His Legacy
Kurt Cobain died 20 years ago Saturday, and in order to pay tribute to the legendary frontman, media outlets from coast to coast ran editorials, retrospectives, old interviews, you name it, celebrating the Nirvana singer's legacy — but fellow musicians had plans of their own. Specifically, both St. Vincent and Muse chose to honor Cobain's passing at their respective shows last night — the former in Chicago, the latter in São Paolo — with renditions of the song "Lithium," off of Nirvana's 1991 smash-success Nevermind. Aside from their multi-thousand-mile separation, there's nothing to suggest that this was planned in any way; the two bands are fairly different in sound and audience (bombastic British dude rock vs. ambient arrhythmic lady rock), and their covers are accordingly individual, while still keeping surprisingly close to their source material.
Though "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is often considered the band's most anthemic track — its choral demand of "Here we are now, entertain us" a perfectly disaffected Gen-X call to arms — there's something to be said for "Lithium"s comparatively simple "Yeah," the repetitive up-and-down-and-up-again surge of its chord progression. It's the perfect song for lying on your bed, staring at the ceiling, picking at the balled lint on your sweater, before pummeling the hell out of your mattress at the chorus — an anti-anthem, then: blithely accepting of unsuccess, even celebratory, crescendoing 'til it gets so jadedly joyful it's almost manic. "I'm so happy, 'cause today I found my friends: They're in my head / I'm so ugly, that's okay, 'cause so are you," small reassurances about those things that might not, in fact, be okay — until we scream them out with a super-loud rock song, that is.
So, in honor of St. Vincent and Muse's coincidence, as well as "Lithium"s perennial sway, below is a sampling of the many (many, many) covers of the now 23-year-old song floating out there on the airwaves — to supplement the hundreds more being plucked out in teenage bedrooms as we speak, of course. If these myriad versions prove anything — from instrumental to choral to Valium-slow to reggae (yes, reggae) — it's that some songs just work right, and yes, Cobain was one helluva songwriter. RIP, sir, ever and on.
Yes, in addition to being eminently attractive and sickeningly charming, Joseph Gordon-Levitt apparently sings and plays guitar — which, on the one hand, stop it, we get that you're a perfect human, no need to rub it in. But on the other, of course, it is pretty great to see him give Cobain some love at a performance in Nirvana's native Seattle. Plus, damn do I love the stripped down, Billy Bragg-ian, "one dude and an electric guitar" approach — and surprisingly, his voice isn't half bad.
The Polyphonic Spree
Not to show my hand too early, but this may be one of my all-time favorite covers of this song — the crazy multi-instrumental choral surges upping the "manic, cynical joy" quotient as high as humanly possible. Tim DeLaughter's wild vocal slides are as refreshing as they are strangely fitting, an expansive, field-dance-worthy rendition.
A slow somnamble of a cover, featuring a plodding bass line, muffled backing vocals, and an actual organ, which gives the whole "Light my candles in a daze, 'cause I found God" piece a much more official spin.
Yep, it's the reggae. Hey, I'm not saying it's perfect, or even ideal — but I will absolutely say that I'm shocked at just how well it does work. So thank you, Little Roy, for proving that much to us.
Having done several full-on tribute shows billed as "Deervana" — notably, at SXSW 2011, from whence this video came — Deer Tick are perhaps most faithful to the sound of the original: multi-piece dude band, raspy voice, essentially the same time signature. Still, there is a little extra edge to their interpretation — spurred on, I'm sure, by the crazy-dancing crowd.
Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra (Please Ignore How Bad That Name Is)
No, seriously — I was so skeptical when I first saw this track, but when it comes to instrumental / string covers, this rendition is really excellent. Though I love me some Vitamin String Quartet, I've gotta say, I think they've officially been out-bowed this time.
A strangely trip-hoppy reworking: washed-out heavily-accented female vocals over insistent pounding bass. The version you would play during the "we're going down the rabbit hole" scene of any given indie movie.
... Aaaaaand, The Original
Because really, in the end, who's going to beat it?