Album Reviews

Exit Music – Songs With Radio Heads

(Rapster) UK release date: 3 April 2006

Having lurched with terror at the suggestion of hip hop and dance covers of Radiohead songs, it’s easy to find yourself coming around slightly. The Futureheads‘ stab at Kate Bush‘s Hounds Of Love, you think, was pretty damn great, and Beck made a pretty good job of Bowie‘s Diamond Dogs.

But Radiohead? Hip hop and dance incarnations? As unlikely as it sounds, it’s a brainwave already brought to fruition, and it’s probably worth looking into – even just for the rather prominent novelty value. “Listen to this!” you’ll meaow at the office party, before bodypopping to RJD2‘s interpretation of OK Computer’s Airbag. Strangely brilliant.

The Radiohead lads are an eclectic lot, indubitably (spouts the label spiel: “The band themselves are devotees of both hip hop and dance music”), and so one assumes this foray into ‘track translation’ is one undertaken with their blessing. And, indeed, the first steps are tentative, taken in reverence to the stature of the tracks tackled: Shawn Lee No Surprises is pretty much note-for-note, some slight funk and soul injected through the drumloop and vocal. This is botox treatment, not breast augmentation.

Hip hop powerhouse Mark Ronson and Phantom Planet‘s Alex Greenwald throw a little more caution to the wind with their version of Just, adding a liberal layer of funky brass to stick to the assertion that, if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it properly. Ronson’s beats hit the mark so firmly that Greenwald sounds almost too Yorke-esque. Shouldn’t they have roped in MC Abdominal and gone for broke? Apparently not.

RJD2’s electronic instrumental of Airbag is, as already established, prime dancefloor filler for robot dancers everywhere, while Matthew Herbert and Mara Carlyle‘s (Nice Dream) proves that you can only change a song’s constitution so much: an unassuming, minimal backing grants Carlyle permission to harmonise freely, shedding new light on a familiar friend of a track. As is the case with the album as a whole, this is offered as an alternative – not a replacement.

Jazz-lite reworkings of Morning Bell and High & Dry, on the other hand, pass rather anonymously, and even the most ardent of Radioheads would struggle to pinpoint them in a noisy, smokey lounge (what they’d be doing in said lounge is beyond me). In Limbo is a little more attention-worthy, the paranoia of Kid A translating well into Sa-Ra‘s industrial dance offering.

The Bad Plus take Karma Police to jazz cafe and treat it to coffees rather than absinthe before The Cinematic Orchestra bring proceedings to a close with a suitably dramatic but down-trodden Exit Music (For A Film) that goes on and on in some kind of pledge to give value for money. And they certainly do.

Not a cold-blooded crime against music, then, but neither the fantastically original translations promised by the folks behind it, Exit Music is as worthy as any collection of cover versions – which is saying either a lot or nothing at all depending on your take on such things.

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Exit Music – Songs With Radio Heads