Radiohead Reimagined

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4 août 2010, 21h34m

Full post (w/ videos + songs): http://malleusincus.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/radiohead-reimagined/

Hi, I’m John, and I’ve been juggling a bunch of post ideas in my head. I finally settled on one on Radiohead, but I must warn you that my musical tastes are far more diverse than such an introductory post might indicate. I fully intend to blog about everything from the most popular artists of all time (like Radiohead) to artists who have barely few enough fans that all of those fans would barely fill up a neighborhood. But most of all, I’ll only post about music that has value to me. Hopefully that means something to some of you reading.

Since the group’s inception in 1985, Radiohead has released album after album of musical gold. The band has been lauded as one of the greatest musical artists of all time, has been nominated for 14 Grammy awards. They draw on influences ranging from jazz to Krautrock, and bring to the table a unique sound that has provided an influence for artists by the masses. That said, I think any self-respecting music listener must own at least one Radiohead album, if not all of them. Hell, In Rainbows was available as a free download!

Because of this prolificacy, however, I hope that it is fair to assume that I do not have to detail the power of Thom Yorke’s voice, the brilliant fusion of jazz timings into songs masterpieces such as “Pyramid Song,” or the impressive stylistic developments Radiohead has made over the course of the past 25 years while managing to maintain their own sound.

Instead, the focus of this post is what other artists have done with Radiohead’s music. I have selected five covers in remarkably different styles that showcase how music can truly be transformed by an artist’s perception and playing style.

Paranoid Android

Radiohead’s longest song to date contains four distinct sections, and is said to be put together from three different song ideas, each from a different band member. This building block style of song-writing reveals that the song is influenced heavily by The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.“

That said, the abrasive guitars, frequent key changes, and gritty lyrics lend next to nothing to an instrumental interpretation. Beyond that, even Radiohead took a year and a half to learn to play their song live.

Paranoid Android//OK Computer

However, Gareth Pearson, a fingerstyle guitarist on the CandyRat label (more on that in later posts) has managed to cover the song on a single instrument. Though this cover is liberal in its fidelity to the original song, it is nonetheless very impressive how Pearson changes the impact of the song while maintaining the same structure. I a soft spot for the sound of a skilled musician fingerpicking away on an acoustic guitar, and while many of the youtube comments seem to dislike this cover, for me it hits the spot. In fact, it was the fact that this video had recently been posted (I bought the album a few weeks back) that inspired me to write this post.

Exit Music (for a Film)

Inspired by a Chopin prelude, this song was used as the credit music for the 1996 film version of Romeo & Juliet, and features the eerie sounds of children playing played backwards and a mellotron choir.

Story has it that Marilyn Manson once listened to Exit Music while standing over a cliff, and the song made him decide not to jump. Regardless of the validity of this tale, the sombre mood of the song beautifully showcases Yorke’s vocals and certainly has been the soundtrack to some of my deeper ruminations.

Exit Music (for a Film)// OK Computer

The most compelling cover of Exit Music that I have heard is certainly Brad Mehldau’s jazz rendition. Again, it is entirely instrumental, but Brad’s grieving, crying, screaming piano is accompanied by a bassist and drummer, providing an atmosphere almost as entrancing as the original song. This is quite a feat, seeing as Mehldau achieves almost the same level of expression of Yorke though the vocals are supplanted by just the voice of the piano.

To be fair, some readers may not like the extensive soloing. It is latent with occasional dissonance and quite a bit of cacophony, and his hands race where Yorke’s tempo slows. But for me, this show of creativity only enhances the performance’s power. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you feel about it:

Reckoner

A song that was originally the coda/outro to another song that began with the same name, Reckoner has become one of the Radiohead songs I play most often. Beyond that, it is one of the songs in the Radiohead Remix program, where stems were given to remixers. This has caused it to be a favorite for mashups and remixes alike. Here, Yorke’s vocals just breach the barrier between being soothing and chilling. Simple chords and progressions are fit together in a complex, layered fabric of music that completely envelops you. To this day, I swear no more than a minute has gone by after listening, despite its nearly five minute duration. The lyrics tell me “you are not to blame,” but in listening, I completely forget if there is anything anyone could blame me for.

Reckoner//In Rainbows

Despite the wealth of remixes and mashups, I still find the most striking spinoff of Reckoner to be the cover by Gnarls Barkley. Though Dangermouse’s brilliant production isn’t exhibited to its full extent here – the cover is rather similar to the original song other than the last minute and a half (coincidentally my favorite part) – Cee-Lo’s vocals send chills down my spine. I can’t even imagine being their for the actual live performance: the low quality of the youtube audio leaves much to the imagination. But still, there is a great amount to enjoy.

Creep

Radiohead’s first single, released in 1992, is still one of their top songs. The odd thing about the song is that it was so popular that the band stopped playing it on tour – people came to the concerts just to hear the one song; Creep was completely dropped from the set list from 1998 to 2001. It is an odd phenomenon that a song that is essentially about a stalker has become so popular. It describes a man who lacks the self-confidence to face a woman and instead follows her around, but the lyrical lament lends the song some sort of accessibility: nearly any many can identify with this faltering self-image.

Creep//Pablo Honey

One of the most riveting performances I have ever seen is a cover of creep by Mustard, a homeless artist that was invited to The Opie & Anthony show. The gritty tone of Mustard’s voice fits the song like the glove – it is almost as if Yorke’s lyrics were written Mustard specifically. The video has brought me close to tears many a time. It truly saddens me that this kind of honest talent goes unrecognized while artists without a message (who can use autotune) become so popular.

Nude

Apparently nude was written in 1997, but was not included on an album until ten years later. It was originally called “Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any),” and has gone through an evolution in chord structure, instrumentation, and overall style. The version that appears on In Rainbows features a dub-influenced bass line, and acoustic guitar has been replaced by electric. This shift towards an electronic sound is matched by Yorke’s vocals, which seems distant despite how melodic it is – sometimes I forget to listen to the lyrics, and just hear his voice as another instrument.

Nude//In Rainbows

However, this increased electronic influence also serves to make James Houston’s take on the song that much more appropriate. If anything, the song becomes an art project. Houston’s use of electronic hardware to make all of the sounds from the song shows exactly how dehumanized and detached the song is: after a few times watching, it seems not that the hard drives sound like Yorke, but that Yorke sounds like a hard drive singing. The Houston version takes it so far that some people may be reluctant to call it music. Personally, I find the sound of the printers and hard drives oddly pleasing and beautiful. Also… you may want to skip a minute into the video unless you want to appreciate the aesthetics of the video.

Well… there it is. When you combine an influential, groundbreaking artist like Radiohead with other brilliant musicians, you can end up with a very very diverse area of music. Feel free to link to any other Radiohead covers that you find to be compelling in the comments – I’d certainly love to hear them.

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