14 October 2014

Radio Riddler Production - Purple Reggae

Reggae versions of classic albums is as old as modern music, the biggest name for me is Easy Star All-Stars.  Their versions of albums like 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and 'Thriller' are sometimes wonderful, sometimes there are parts that do not quiet work but there are always genius moments.  However, in recent years there have been new production teams to emerge from the crowd.  One of the most strange is Radio Riddler Productions, this is not because of their music; it is more to do with the fact it is Brian Fast Leiser and Frank Benbini of Fun Lovin' Criminals fame.  Granted it is not as mad as Marduk doing europop (I wonder what that would sound like), but it is not something I would have imagined either.  Now this project has been long rumoured, but it has took so long is due to awaiting the sign off from his Purple Highness on the album.  Prince is notorious for rejecting covers and stopping projects which he deems unfit for his work, but this one has eventually come to be released.  To be absolutely honest I had no idea that this was coming until one of my friends suggested the album during a conversation, the line up of singers did not fill me with hope either (more on that as we look at the tracks).  But whilst I have a lot on, sometimes it is best to make a left turn with this blog-thing; time to see if the album is as good as the cover.

Starting the album is "Let's Go Crazy" which features Suggs from Madness, this is not that much of a mad direction with madness being part of the Two-Tone movement; it is strange to hear him lay his vocal talents over a Prince number.  The number is very energetic and the feeling is a more of a good time party, with the original obviously being a more pop-rock number.  I do not know if it because I always associate Madness & Suggs with my youth, but this does not feel like the cover of this song I would have hoped for.  It is enjoyable, but something about it makes me expect it to turn into "One Step Beyond" at any moment.  The vocals on the cover of "Take Me With U" are handled by Deborah Bonham (sister of the late Led Zeppelin drummer), her vocals have a more classic rock vibe about them if I am honest; but her delivery cannot be faulted.  It is slowed down and relaxed, but there is a little too much going on over the top of the bass and vocals for it to be anything other than decent.  Mr Benbini takes vocal duties for "The Beautiful Ones”, once again there feels like there is too much going on over the top of what I can only describe as a workman like performance.  The opening of the album has been good, if not spectacular if I am honest.

The second act starts off (just like the original) "Computer Blues" which has Na'mi Cortazzi from Mr Benbini's other act 'Make It Nice Brothers' on the vocal duty.  The beginning and end of the song have a very cheesy feeling about them; it is almost holiday reggae if I am honest; at one section I was tempted to press fast forward.  However, the middle section saves this song; the slow and bass heavy middle section just washes over me and sooths the soul.  It is such a Jekyll and Hyde number that I cannot figure if I really dislike it or if it is my favourite of the album.  I would like to point out that Na'mi Cortazzi sounds like he could be a really interesting vocalist by the way, just some of the choices of music for this song are...interesting, yep - let's go with interesting.  Next is "Darling Nikki" which is just UB40 with a different singer (Mr Benbini supplying vocals again).   Whilst I cannot find fault with the music per se, I must admit this is a very English form of Reggae on show here; it does not excite me as much as the Trojan stuff.  That said, once the vocals are put to the side and the bass takes over the song it does become a lot more exciting.  "When Doves Cry" is much better, it takes a classic and it does deconstruct it to a new level.  Vocals are supplied by Citizen Cope who has sung on the Easy Star All-Stars version of Radiohead's 'OK Computer'.  It keeps the interference of the instruments to a minimum, which give the bass and stripped back guitar time to breath.  The improvement with this song cannot be underestimated, as thus far the album was in danger of becoming self indulgent to a dangerous degree.

Next is an interesting version of "I Would Die 4 U" with Sinead O'Connor who famously covered another Prince song "Nothing Compares 2 U".  Unlike the strange energy of the original, this version of the song takes a more relaxed path.  It starts off the last third of the album with each section of the band playing its part right - the bass does not smoother the drums, the keys do not overwhelm the subtle performance by Sinead O'Connor, the bass is right where it should be in this song and being the ring general.  In short, it is a brilliant cover of a classic Prince number.   "Baby I'm A Star" is handled by British soul legend Beverley Knight, this is another great vocal performance which feels better than the music underneath it; the song seems to be in a rush to get to the end and because of this rushed feeling, it just feels ill prepared.  Ending the album is the cover of "Purple Rain" with the vocals being handed by ex-UB40 vocalist Ali Campbell; you cannot help but compare this song to the singer's UB40 output, it lends itself very well to that sort of musical style.  Again, like an awful lot of this album there is nothing wrong with the performance, it just does nothing to improve or enhance the original.

This album is very workman like; it is very steady and dependable.  It is not bad, but it is neither exciting nor very original.  The top cover is "When Doves Cry" as it does what a good cover should do; it changes the original a little.  The vast majority of the others are just either too focused on trying to be the original with a reggae bass or have too much going on to be anything other than average.  Also, whilst all the vocals are handled very well, there are a few odd choices on here.  An interesting listen, but it does not enhance the original source material at all.

5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

Top track - When Doves Cry

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can keep up with the Radio Riddler Productions activities on Facebook here

Here is also a link to their Soundcloud page

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

If you are a Deezer user, here is a link for you

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