14 March 2015
Easy Star All-Stars - Radiodread
Easy Star All-Stars have made a niche for themselves by creating musical reinterpretation of famous album, they have tackled 'Dark Side of the Moon', 'Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' and most recently in 2012 they also tackled Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. However back in 2006, they decided to tackle an album that could not be further away from reggae than it is possible with a cover album of the third Radiohead album 'OK Computer'. Now for those of you who do not know Radiohead (you never know, there might be some people out there who have never heard of them....not likely I know) they are an English rock band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, formed in 1985. 'OK Computer' is the third album they released and in some quarters it held as one of the most important albums of the 1990's, some people go a step further and say it is one of the most important albums of all time; after I have finished this review I will be getting to my view of that album a bit later. However, after looking at cover albums of 'Purple Rain' & another version of 'Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' (both cleverly linked on the titles), it is time to see how this album fares.
This album follows the same playing order as the original, starting with “Airbag” which has vocals supplied by Horace Andy. It is surprising how well this song lends itself to the dub/reggae sound. The song is changed from a post-millennium hangover to a strange and beautiful dance floor slow burner. It is a beautiful re-imagination of a song which some people have called a classic and Horace Andy’s vocals are perfectly matched to this stunning opening. Next is “Paranoid Android” which is slightly disappointing in comparison to be honest; instead of giving it the full dub make over it begins as a basic stripped back acoustic recording, the vocals of Kirsty Rock are pleasant enough and it is only when the brass section starts that you would get a hint that this dub version of what is arguably the most famous song Radiohead have ever released; it is a shame, but it is also not really that surprising as the original is such a strong number. The third track is “Subterranean Homesick Alien” which features the vocals of Jr. Jazz, this one is much better once again with the core material being changed to suit the style and the bass taking the centre of the song; it might seem like other instruments are the dominant instrument, but the bass is all present. Once again, it is a great re-imagination of the original and compliments the source material. “Exit Music (For A Film)” is a dark number that even the lords of dub could shine a light on it to make it anything other than an anthem for the broken and damned; now I love Radiohead and even I find this song hard going normally, this makes it slightly more bare able (note the word slightly). It still sounds as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel and Sugar Minott is trying his best to make these twist barbs sound beautiful, but by deity it is hard going – stunning, but hard on the soul.
“Let Down” features the vocals of Toots from Toots & The Maytails and this is a much changed song, the upbeat guitars, horns and slow bass are at odds with the lyrics; it sounds like a depressive is trying to ruin the summer holidays for everyone around him; but they treat this with such a gentle touch and Mr Toots is such a fantastic performer that you find yourself smiling along with the song. It is a strange and wonderful number that make for fantastically bizarre over. Next is the cover of my favourite number of the original album – “Karma Police”. Vocals are handled by Citizen Cope (who featured on the Radio Riddler version of Purple Rain which I reviewed last year and is linked above); the song does not stray too far from its source material if I am honest, but unlike “Paranoid Android” it does at least bring the dub and reggae to the table this time. It still sounds terrific as well, but it does not quite top the original – but a very engaging attempt nevertheless. “Fitter Happier” is next with vocals delivered by Menny Moore, the machine nature of the number is emphasised here and with the pulsing bass and tight drums in the back ground it sounds like a twisted remix of a song designed for elevator music – of course I love it. It is just as dark as the original and it makes the hairs on my neck stand on end, it is a really good cover. Following on is the equally hypnotic “Electioneering” which breaks down the component pieces and with the help of Morgan Heritage we have a spectacular cover that once more brings a new perspective to this number; doing exactly what a cover should do with a brilliant instrumental towards the end as well.
The ninth track is the cover of “Climbing up the Wall” which really takes a sinister edge towards the song; vocals are handled by Tamar-Kali who is treat with grace on this number and also gives the song a beautiful slant. I found that from the opening notes and swirling sounds that they have taken this dark indie rock number and given it something approaching beauty, taken the twisted view of humanity and giving it hope. It is brilliant to see the way they have unlocked the hidden soul that is buried under the weight that is Yorke and Co. Next is another of the better known songs from this album “No Surprises” with vocals supplied The Mediations; this is given a more light hearted approach, not in a mocking way but it takes the dower exterior and replaces it with a slow and calming number that makes the body sway and the mind take notice of the clever lyrical content which was originally written and performed to such effect by Radiohead. I will be honest it does not surpass the original, but it does a very good job of covering one of those songs which I thought could never be covered effectively. After this is “Lucky” (a song that was first released on the ‘Help’ album (a collection of new and rare songs released in 1995 to raise funds for the charity Warchild)), with a buzz of the jungle beforehand and the hi-hat ticking away nicely the audience is introduced to this hellish anthem sung by the fantastic Frankie Paul. Out of all the covers, this is the gem of the album – it truly surpasses the depressing and repressive original, making it sound as if there is some good in the world and that we are not all up shit creak without a paddle. It takes the song and they stamp their authority on it, that is something very hard to do and it is done with such effect here that it makes the original redundant – that is how good a cover it is. After this is “The Tourist” which has the unenviable take of following that towering cover, vocals are supplied by Israel Vibration and it does not match those dizzy height; however this does not mean that it is a redundant song, it is just a different number compared to that monster of a cover. They change the song into a drifting dreamscape number that sounds every now and then as if it is going to drift into a nightmare, but it just manages to pull itself back from the abyss in the nick of time. It is a great way to end the main part of the album, but after this there is two other tracks – “Exit Music (For a Dub)” and “An Airbag Saved My Dub” which are heavy dub versions of songs that have already appeared on the album. They are both very good, but not essential to the overall experience (it would have been more interesting if they had been kept for a heavier dub version of the album akin to what they did with ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. On the vinyl version there is a further two dub versions called "Dub Is What You Get" and "Lucky Dub A", that is the start of an EP right there - it could have been a nice addition to the album and not tagged onto the end of the main record.
As cover albums go, this is a strange one to get my head around. On one hand, it is hard to not compare it to the source by the nature of the record and it is akin to seeing a very talented band doing great set of song; but at the end of the day there is nothing going on that was not created by someone else's hands, no matter how much they add to it. With that being said apart from one song on this album (really not impressed by that version of "Paranoid Android", it was just lifeless), it is an impressive interpretation of these songs. The Easy Star All-Stars are a talented group who are very good at what they do, but the crux of the matter is that no matter how good the covers are - it is still an album of covers. Really well played, an interesting talking point for people and it is incredibly well crafted, but still just tribute - high scoring, but I wish there was an album of new material by them.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the artist page on Easy Star records here
You can also follow their activities on Facebook here
You can stream the album on Spotify here
For our Deezer users, here is the link for you
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