Following reggae’d-up takes on Radiohead and the Beatles from the Easy All-Stars, old-school Studio One vocalist Little Roy and U.K. dub aficionado Mike “Prince Fatty” Pelanconi — who produced Hollie Cook’s gorgeous debut album of super-’70s pop reggae — assay the songs of Nirvana in a similar ital spirit. Will the most rain-blasted, fatalistic and (let’s admit it) whitest body of work in modern rock shrivel under the Caribbean sun? Or will the rule that you can perform pretty much any song in the roots-reggae style and still get a result hold true?
Happily, trad reggae’s spiritual subtext and all-round rooticality suit Cobain’s songs surprisingly well. Melody and emotional subtlety were always Cobain’s secret weapons, and they shine out in this wholly different idiom. Opener “Dive” transmutes the original version’s tsunami-of-sludge guitar riff into mighty Wall-of-Jericho horns, this pre-Nevermind song of high-school misery becoming a full-on “Babylon By Bus”-style meditation (it even quotes “Armagideon Time”). Lee Perry’s hallucinogenic tropes and spatial craziness pop up for its flipside “Sliver,” and “About A Girl” shows a strange affinity between Cobain’s hoarse pleading and Little Roy’s voice — imagine a less quaversome Horace Andy.
Elsewhere Nirvana’s big-ticket singles get superbly imaginative treatment. “Heart-Shaped Box” wittily borrows the clothes of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved?” (the pain of love flips into joy), “Come As You Are” has the organ chug and imperious majesty of classic U-Roy, and “Lithium” practically becomes a ska number. Sensibly, they don’t even attempt “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” If existential misery was Kurt’s stock in trade, then reggae’s is release and salvation, and Battle For Seattle is a glorious reimagining of the holy texts of grunge that steps far beyond novelty into genuine musical merit.