Today a month ago, Reggae legend Little Roy released his Nirvana covers album entitled Battle of Seattle. Don’t let the title or the idea put you off, this is no mere novelty reggae record.Though it certainly has a lot more humour and joy to it than the Battle of Seattle that was associated with middle class kids trying to be protesters. Little Roy sings his heart out with a smile on his face, a welcome relief from others who have butchered Nirvana songs by trying to channel Kurt’s darker side just a little too much, just look at Flyleaf or Miley Cyrus’s amusing attempts. Instead, Little Roy decides to acknowledge a little more Beatles and Bay City Rollers than Black Flag and Black Sabbath.
The result is astounding.
Album opener Dive seems to channel The Specials and while it is admirable it doesn’t seem to really give a good indication of the innovation which is to follow. Second snog Heart-Shaped Box follows a similar theme,soulful backing vocals adding a creepy element of misery and despair that would be as home in New Orleans as it would in Jamaica or Seattle. Very Ape is the same, playing on Reggae’s unfamiliar sound effects to unsettle the listener.It is when the album goes into Sliver however that the album comes into its own. Whereas it probably has the most desperately pained lyrics Kurt Cobain ever wrote, Little Roy captures the joy in it as one would when telling the story to a friend. Like all great pop songs, from God Only Knows to I Heard it Through the Grapevine, the pain of the singer should be great but the music subtle as if from another lifetime. Come As You Are follows a similar trend, Little Roy may be what Kurt was at one point judging from the lyrics, a sensitive but meloncholic soul forelorn and as abrasively sweet as possible. Polly and About a Girl are enjoyable but not radically altered as is On A Plain. Son of a Gun is akin to Otis Redding at his most soothing. To say Son of a Gun not a Nirvana song because it is a cover is a bit like saying Twist and Shout is not a Beatles song, though after this maybe some will only know the Little Roy version and not Nirvana.
Testament to his understanding of Nirvana fans both dedicated and casual alike, Little Roy finishes with Lithium. It’s up to you if you want to listen to it again after, but I can guarantee that you will at least have a smile on your face after singin ‘yeah,yeah,yeah…’ along to the sweetest of Reggae voices at the end of an equally enjoyable album.
Speaking on the album, Little Roy said to Nirvana fans:
‘We do it so you can enjoy and once again be dancing to Kurt’s songs…’
Little Roy worked with some of the top Reggae musicians around and it shows, the band work so smoothly it’s incredible to believe it’s the same band.
When asked about how he related to the songs he had this to say :
‘In all my years of writing, and listening to others songs going into Kurt’s songs is like…they’re so different…they’re so realistic when you get deep into them and to know then that I can really put myself into the place of those lyrics..what took thinking to write such great things it’s amazing.’
His own favourite track was Heart Shaped Box and why not,it’s a beauty. I’d pick Sliver but the important thing is that Little Roy has given Nirvana finally to be enjoyed in ways not only more credible than Baz Luhrman’s use of Smells Like Teen Spirit but also more enjoyable than Flyleaf’s cover of the same song and more accessible than Patti Smith’s enjoyable but esoteric bluegrass cover of the same song. In the same way that everyone has a favourite Beatles or Bob Dylan song that the mistakenly attributed to another artist, hopefully Kurt can realise his dream of being a folk legend. With the music living on and not the celebrity.
Grungenews Review : 5/5