There's been a dark aspect to Nirvana's influence over the past few decades. If everyone who bought one of the 30,000 copies of the Velvet Underground's debut album started a band, as Brian Eno once claimed, then everyone who bought Nevermind went on to start a shitty nu-metal band. In many ways, the album—which remains one of the best records ever recorded—was also, tragically, sort of a Pandora's Box for grunt rock. On the classic album's 25th anniversary, we take a look back at the worst offenders.
PUDDLE OF MUDD
Though they formed in 1991, the year of Nevermind's release, Puddle of Mudd didn't break through until the release of their major label debut, Come Clean, in 2001. Since then, they've played the role of a kind of bizarro Nirvana, existing more in the realm of Fred Durst than true grunge. Their frontman looks similar to Cobain, with his stringy blonde hair, but also present is a rap-rock skater affect. Sonically, Puddle of Mudd plays pretty generic post-grunge rock, and the Nirvana influence is evident. They've covered everything from "Breed" to "About a Girl" to "Come As You Are" (below).
As is the case with most of the bands on this list, a Google search will reveal a number of videos and blog/forum posts assessing the similarities between the two bands. Some even dare to ask which band was better.
Limp Bizkit doesn't really sound that much like Nirvana, but are worth mentioning here for a few reasons. For one, Fred Durst is credited with Puddle of Mudd's popularity. He facilitated the band's rise after getting his hands on one of their demos. Durst is also an avowed admirer of Cobain's.
"It's directly about me fantasizing inside of the depression of someone with a tortured mind, like Kurt Cobain," he once said in reference to Limp Bizkit's 2006 song "It'll Be OK." "I really connect with him. I have my own torture. I've been impacted by his poetry, his philosophies and music, obviously. On this new song, it's another way into my depression and expression of that turmoil."
Limp Bizkit also has a song called "My Own Cobain," and Durst has his idol's face tattooed on his chest alongside the face of Elvis Presley. What he, like so many others, took from Nirvana was a caricature of their angst.
Creed frontman Scott Stapp’s hee-haw bellow resembles that of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder more than Cobain, but he has thought of taking a page from Nirvana, in the saddest way possible. From a 2014 Daily Beast piece about Stapp's fall from grace:
One evening, after guzzling a bottle of whiskey, Stapp said he grabbed two MP5 machine guns from his collection. He claimed he thought anyone remotely associated with Creed wanted him dead, so that he’d transform into a “Kurt Cobain martyr-type” to sell more records. Stapp pointed the guns to his head, but then his eyes caught a picture of his 4-year-old son, who inspired the hit song “With Arms Wide Open.” “And in an instant, I just turned and shot the house up,” he said. “And I just broke down. I was like, ‘I was about to blow my head off. How low can I get?’”
The angst has always been there with Creed, but instead of wallowing it, their Christian rock tried to rise above it. Their over-the-top earnestness turned them into a punchline, but they were also hugely successful, so maybe the joke is on us.
Like Creed, Nickelback is a punchline for many, but still one of the most popular rock bands out there. They're also probably the band most frequently—and often, ironically—compared to Nirvana. If Puddle of Mudd is Nirvana for Fred Durst fans, Nickelback is Nirvana for Kid Rock fans. And Canadians. The band was formed in Hanna, Alberta in 1995.
Frontman Chad Kroeger hasn't has much to say about the comparisons, although he does seem to take issue with any surprise Cobain may have felt when Nirvana blew up following the release of Nevermind. “I always thought it was strange when these artists like Kurt Cobain or whoever would get really famous and say, ‘I don’t understand why this is happening to me. I don’t understand! Oh, the fame, the fame, the fame!’ ” he told Bloomberg in 2014. “There is a mathematical formula to why you got famous. It isn’t some magical thing that just started happening. And it’s going to move exponentially throughout your career as you grow, or can decline exponentially if you start to fail as an artist.”
Not only do South African hard rockers Seether sound so much like Nirvana it's almost hard to believe, frontman Shaun Morgan actively wants to be in Nirvana. “It would be something that I would love to do, but it’s not something that anyone has ever asked me to do," he said when asked if he would want to play with the band's surviving members. "Obviously, just from being a kid, even just to play a show with those guys would be great. But it’s not something that I’ve ever been approached about doing, but obviously as a childhood dream, it would be great to be on stage with those guys.”
He also credits Nevermind with inspiring him to pick up a guitar in the first place. Hopefully he'll be giving it a spin on Saturday.
Like Seether, Silverchair—the "Australian Nirvana," as they were dubbed by MTV in 1995—sound almost comically similar to the band to which they are most often compared. So much so, in fact, that some guy on YouTube made an entire mix titled "SIMILAR SONGS: SILVERCHAIR VS. NIRVANA."
And like Puddle of Mudd and Nickelback, frontman Daniel Johns sports long, blonde, Cobain-esque hair. Drummer Ben Gilles even resembles Dave Grohl, both in his stringy brown hair and lack of shirt. Behold, the video for "Freak:"
Rocking about one's outcast status was of course brought into the mainstream by Nirvana, as well.
While most Nirvana imitators key on Cobain's pained yell and the band's heavy, power chord-based sound, Staind has shown particular fondness for Nirvana's more somber, down-tempo tracks. Frontman Aaron Lewis has covered both "All Apologies" and Nevermind's devastating acoustic closer, "Something in the Way."
Staind's most popular original song, 2001's "It's Been a While," is similarly downtrodden. The video features the band playing surrounded by candles, bringing to mind Nirvana's legendary appearance on MTV Unplugged.
Staind and the rest of these bands enjoyed varying degrees of success, which means people liked them, which is fine. But it's not likely that future rock historians will look back on Puddle of Mudd, Creed, Seether or any of the other post-grunge mainstays with much fondness. They were mostly derivative, trying in their own ways to replicate a band that was so authentic it couldn't even sustain itself under the tawdry spotlight of superstardom. Despite the relatively short amount of time they spent at the top of the music industry, though, Nirvana was indeed one of the most influential groups of all time. It's just too bad one of the things they helped usher into the mainstream was the word "nookie."