Various Artists: Rapster Exit Music: Songs With Radio Heads

[Rapster; 2006]

Styles: Radiohead tribute
Others: Christopher O’Riley, that cool marching band, too many

When I first listened to this disc several months ago, I was planning on writing a parody about Radiohead tributes. I was going to make jokes about Radiohead reggae, Radiohead for bedtime lullabies, klezmer Radiohead, etc. This parody has became impossible, because its jokes have become the truth. Both reggae and lullaby renditions of Radiohead songs have been released this year, and klezmer, I'm confident, is not far behind.

Although this record is not quite as much of a niche effort as those just mentioned, it does pad a micro-genre that still lacks an entry that tops O'Riley's piano renditions. Making uninhibited criticism of this record even more difficult is the fact that I am still very attached to the original versions of these songs: instead of seeking the valuable ideas that come out of these reworkings, I mope about the fact that they simply aren't the originals. My own petulance aside, I think a more accurate title for this comp might have been Songs With Radio Threads -- you have familiar melodies and lyrics here and there, but in general, each of these covers is rather distant from the original in tempo, tone, and most importantly, mood. Funk, jazz, breakbeat, and rumba are a few of the styles that are used to dress up (often tackily) what were some poisonously beautiful songs.

Most of the tracks lose the dread, the melancholy, the subtle gray-to-silver-to-cadmium-to-incisors-to-death transitions that are the trademarks of Radiohead material. Herbert is one of the few artists here who stays true to his own style while also affecting some measure of Radiohead's beauty and chronic disquietude. He turns "Nice Dream" (a fairly warm song, by Radiohead standards) into a chilly toy factory of a track, with synths and beats that squirm and spin like broken playthings. Mara Carlyle does a nice job of capturing both the hope and despair in the song's titular lyric. Mark Ronson's funky version of "Just" is fun, but other attempts at more convivial spins on the originals fall flat, often overstaying their welcome by several minutes. I get the impression that some of these groups are still working on mastering their own styles; convincingly integrating Radiohead's, even for a song, seems beyond them.

I'm all about innovative rethinking of old material. Unfortunately, there are already a slew of groups out there who are releasing weak interpretations of Radiohead ideas. A covers record is more honest about its central influence, but when its use of that influence is as clumsy as those on the majority of this disc, it's hard to recommend it.

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