During the height of the lockdown, UK producer and singer-songwriter James Blake hosted a number of Instagram live streams, playing a mix of his own tracks and covers from the likes of Radiohead, Billie Eilish and Stevie Wonder.
Over the weekend, Blake was at it again when he jumped online for an impromptu concert to raise donations for The Loveland Foundation, an organisation dedicated to helping women and girls of colour. Taking fan requests, Blake busted out a delightfully sobering piano cover of Nirvana classic, ‘Come As You Are.’ Hearing Blake give Cobain’s lyrics new meaning got us thinking about other artists who have breathed new life into Nirvana songs, so check out six of our favourite below.
Father John Misty – ‘Heart-Shaped Box’
There are a number of fantastic renditions of ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ from musicians like River Cuomo and Lana Del Rey, but none quite capture the desperation of Cobain’s lyrics like Father John Misty. The former Fleet Foxes drummer might not have the guttural scream of Cobain, but he manages to replicate the frontman’s intensity through his phenomenal vocal chops on this stripped back version. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and his soul piercing voice, Misty’s cover hits like a raw nerve as he croons the iconic chorus, ‘Hey! Wait/I’ve got a new complaint.’
Patti Smith – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
For her tenth studio album, the legendary Patti Smith recorded 12 covers of songs from some of her favourite artists. Along with contemporaries Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and Grace Slick, Smith took on Nirvana’s massive hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ A known Cobain admirer (she wrote ‘About A Boy’ as a tribute to the fallen star despite never meeting him), Smith turned the slickly-produced guitar pop of Nirvana’s original into a folksy banjo ballad with an additional spoken word segment straight from the 50s beat poetry scene. Absolutely stunning.
Polyphonic Spree – ‘Lithium’
The Polyphonic Spree is like a doomsday cult who swapped the Kool-Aid for psychedelic compositions as a way to find meaning in this crazy world. Founded by Tim DeLaughter two decades ago, his flock of singers and musicians give Nirvana’s melodic ‘Lithium’ the rockstar treatment as part of the soundtrack for the film The Big Short. Not only does DeLaughter’s upbeat vocal style add a touch ironic joy to the song, but the intro featuring a choir, harp, piano and brass section alters the arrangement and creates a feeling of euphoria without losing the heart of what makes the original such a great tune.
Charles Bradley – ‘Stay Away’
Although I’m paid to write words, it’s almost impossible to describe just how mesmerising the late Charles Bradley is. Possessed with a velvety voice soaked in years of hardship and toil, the man known as the Screaming Eagle of Soul was a force to be reckoned with and one of the greatest soul voices of all time. On par with his cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Changes,’ Bradley’s rendition of Nirvana’s ‘Stay Away’ is a goosebump-inducing shot of unflinching emotion. Backed by the Menahan Street Band, Bradley rasps his way through Cobain’s lyrics over an infectious blues guitar riff. You’ll quickly forget this is even a cover as Bradley does an incredible job making the song his own.
Sinead O’Connor – ‘All Apologies’
It might not be as popular as her re-arrangement of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ but Sinead O’Connor’s acoustic version of ‘All Apologies’ is a haunting three minutes of levity. Released as a tribute to Cobain soon after his tragic suicide, O’Connor’s whispered vocals give an even greater emphasis to the Nirvana frontman’s personal words on forgiveness and the futility of life.
Tricky – ‘Something In The Way’
Trip-hop innovator Tricky is the most unlikely artist to take on a Nirvana song, teaming up with singer Hawkman for a probing take on ‘Something In The Way.’ The song is almost unrecognisable, with the only hint of it being a cover when Hawkman croons the well-known chorus over Tricky’s experimental electronic production. The subtle electronic flourishes combine with Hawkman’s unique baritone for one of the most intriguing Nirvana covers ever released.