One of garage rocker Jay Reatard’s final recordings, before his 2010 death at age 29, was a cover of Nirvana‘s “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” an emotionally frayed deep cut on the group’s final album In Utero. Reatard’s version features on the compilation In Utero: In Tribute, a digital and vinyl edition of which will come out on Record Store Day on April 19th. The comp also includes a cover of each In Utero song and boasts punky contributions by Thursday, Circa Survive, These Arms Are Snakes, Ceremony, Daughters and others. It will come out shortly after Nirvana are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Reatard dials back the distortion on his recording, which begins with a dog barking in the background. When it builds to the song’s crashing main riff, he shows restraint, pulling off a swelling guitar slide and putting all of his effort into his typically nasal vocals. The chorus is one of Kurt Cobain’s most emotionally revealing – “I miss the comfort in being sad” – and Reatard taps into the ambiguity of those lyrics not just in his vocal performance, but in his almost cow-punk backing track and the gilded noise that is his guitar solo.
Speaking with Rolling Stone last year, Dave Grohl said that “Frances Farmer” was a turning point in the evolution of Nirvana. After a self-imposed hiatus following the support of Nevermind, it was the first song Cobain presented the band for In Utero. “We were recording a couple of songs, one for the single with the Jesus Lizard and a Wipers cover,” he said. “And Kurt said, ‘Oh, I have this new song idea.’ And he played ‘Frances Farmer.’ It was ‘Oh my God, we’re gonna have another record.'”