Little Roy - Battle for Seattle - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Little Roy - Battle for Seattle

by Charly Richardson Rating:4.5 Release Date:2011-09-05

Cover albums usually fall into two camps: the playful, mildy ironic but not-quite-blasphemous kind (think Hayseed Dixie), and the deadly serious you-are-my-hero-homage kind. Yet despite producer Mike 'Prince Fatty' Pelanconi professing to be a 'fan-of-old' of Nirvana who took the project very seriously, Battle for Seattle doesn't fall neatly into either of these categories.

The original idea was to make a reggae 'whole album cover version'; the Nirvana element came later. And as one of the UK's finest reggae producers, musically speaking Prince Fatty (with help from arranger Nick 'Mutant Hi-Fi' Coplowe) was right on the money, deploying Jamaican legend Little Roy on lead vocals backed by the best reggae players in the country: Wailers guitarist Junior Marvin; Horseman on drums; Mafia from Mafia & Fluxy on bass; Bubblers from the Ruff Cut Band on keys and George Dekker from The Pioneers. As one would expect, the playing and production is crisp, rock-solid and authentic. But then he chose to cover 10 Nirvana songs. Don't worry, I raised an eyebrow too.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with Nirvana as a choice, and it's not all bad: 'Very Ape' unveils deliciously spooky organ and guitar lines; 'On a Plain' utilises stripped down dub, allowing Little Roy's half-whispered vocals to shine through; and the lyrics of 'Son of a Gun' are nicely complimented by a sweet reggae groove. Little Roy and Kurt Cobain even share a similar grain to their voices. But that's all they have in common. Whether Little Roy knew anything about Nirvana before Prince Fatty gave him the call is unclear. And I'm not sure how much this project has enlightened him.

On, Little Roy says "You know, Bob Marley - he's great - he would say, 'One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain'. So it's just the same thing - when these Nirvana songs hit you, you'll feel the music, and no pain." Now I'm no Nirvana expert, but aren't the vast majority of Cobain's lyrics a chronicle of pain, bitterness, and self-loathing? posted a link to one of the singles under the title Little Roy Sees the Rasta in Kurt Cobain, yet surely as a dedicated Rastafarian Little Roy would be the first to see that Rastafari's message of self-respect - with anger directed towards social and political oppressors - cannot easily be reconciled with Cobain's self-destructive nihilism, even if it was caused by 'Babylonian' forces?

It is this fundamental juxtaposition of lyrical and musical content which really grates. Little Roy sings "I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black" over a playful, bouncy groove with chirpy female backing vocalists (it could have been worse; they mercifully left out 'Rape Me'.) And if irony is an excuse, then the tongue is not inserted far enough into the cheek (bar possibly the final track, a lively ska revamp of 'Lithium' which actually works with Cobain's bitter-sweet lyrics). Overall, the production is too clean and bright. Prince Fatty could have utilised his many talents to bring more dirt and darkness to proceedings. Easy Star All-Stars did a reggae cover album of Radiohead songs without losing an ounce of paranoia.

I doubt hardcore Nirvana fans will see this as sacrilege. In fact, it has apparently 'had the thumbs-up' from the 'Nirvana camp' and is being released by their original agent Russell Warby (original meaning he never made much money out of them and this is his chance? God, I'm cynical). The musicians and Little Roy have put in a good effort, but the whole tone of the album is unsure. Battle for Seattle isn't playful enough to be a fun gimmick; or deep and dark enough to really do something conceptually interesting with Nirvana's music. Battle for Seattle isn't offensive. It's just mildly bemusing. Still, at least they didn't include 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.

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