Below the words, The Polyphonic Spree’s cover of ‘Lithium’. If you’re an established act, I’m guessing that you’d have to have balls to cover such a song. Not because the original represents some kind of high water mark of the whole Seattle aesthetic – to my ears it’s just another plaid-shirted anthem hanging around with a strident (if obvious) hook and a half-finished bottle of bourbon. Rather, it’s a question of identity, the track’s dynamic firmly cemented to that Nirvana thing the world was clutching back then; if ‘Teen Spirit’ is the band’s ‘My Way’ then ‘Lithium’ is ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ – and anything other than a complete re-invention implies a lingering hum of homage. Or even parody.
This version isn’t a complete re-invention, and to be honest I’m still a little undecided if it works. Perhaps its flight is a little more compelling that the original – but then again (and as you’ve no doubt surmised) Nirvana’s music and its contextual application has always left me disengaged – a charge I certainly wouldn’t level at The Polyphonic Spree, although even here there exist levels of uncertainty. Maybe even wariness, considering they sold one of their better-known tracks for a UK TV commercial, something that feels like it’s been running without respite since the Crimean War (Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols has on several occasions defended selling his records to advertising agencies on the basis that it’s his music and he can do whatever he wants with it – which misses the point almost as much as it tarnishes any artistic integrity of the back catalogue).
This is how exciting life is in the LGM garret – sitting around trying to decide if The Polyphonic Spree are a decent listen whilst scowling at tunes which accompany the televised sales pitch. In the plus column I am a big fan of the Spree’s orchestration, arrangements off-centre and a little quirky that draw the listener closer to the mix – particularly, for some obtuse reason, the use of french horn, which makes an appearance here just after the two-minute mark. And maybe that’s the attraction: religious cults with french horns; sounds like exactly the arbitrary nonsense that’ll float my flotilla.
The Polyphonic Spree / Lithium