As unions go, it’s an unlikely one - the tortured gut wrenched angst of rock's most iconic modern day suicide and a veteran Jamaican recording artist who has crossed dub faders with reggae legends such as Prince Buster, Lee Perry and The Wailers. But Little Roy’s “Battle For Seattle”, ten Nirvana cover versions set to a sweet rocksteady beat, is an undeniable triumph. Why? Because, like most successful marriages, the most affecting aspects of each are thrown into sharp relief by the limitations of the other.
For me, the best reggae has always been about survival, music borne under difficult conditions and expressed through either militant musical experimentation or exuberant celebration. The best reggae is either righteously angry or positively soothing, but always life affirming. Nirvana, on the other hand, struck me as a competent heavy rock band fronted by a petulant heroin addict, too easily in thrall to third division British punk bands to convince me I should spend much time with the records. I thought they made an agreeable enough racket, but to me Cobain always came across as a whining middle class crybaby who had nicked all the best bits of the Pixies and dressed them up in an MTV friendly bleached blonde makeover. I thought he was little more than a heavy metal Leif Garret.
This young man wasn’t the Brad Pitt of Frat Rock; he was a genuinely bruised individual with a God given gift for soulful self-expression.
All that changed when I sat down one night and watched Nirvana Unplugged. Stripped of the screeching heavy histrionics, Cobain's music was laid achingly bare and all the more unsettling for it. I realized I had been wrong, wrong, wrong. This young man wasn’t the Brad Pitt of Frat Rock; he was a genuinely bruised individual with a God given gift for soulful self-expression. This was not a mere alt-rock rip off dressed up for the emo generation; these songs were piss stained love letters from a hopelessly broken heart. And their author was very much the real deal. There was one particular moment when Cobain paused mid song and his eyes flickered open and flashed utter stark terror, like an open wound caught pulsating under the spotlight. It was like looking into the innards of a walking corpse. He hated himself and he wanted to die. And it wasn’t a glib by line on a record company press release. He meant it, man. You could see it in those terrified eyes.
I was a late convert to Nirvana. Too late to enjoy any more recorded output, as it turned out.
So for me, this collection comes as a welcome affirmation of the unique talent that passed far to soon. Little Roy has revived the spirit of Kurt Cobain and paid his respects tenfold.
Cobain's genius was for an unsettling and nakedly confessional lyric set to a simple memorable melody. This record realizes both of these elements to magnificent effect. “Polly” and “Come As You Are” lend themselves beautifully to Little Roy’s mournful, keening vocals and his versions of tracks such as “On A Plain”, free of the grunge guitar and pummeling Dave Grohl drums are like beautiful fossils scraped bare and gleaming under Prince Fatty’s stripped back production. Have a listen to the single, “Sliver/Dive” on the link below. And then place your order for the album. Angst has never sounded sweeter.
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