[9 August 2010]
There’s no written law that expressly forbids people from covering Radiohead songs, but the general consensus is that it’s just not a good idea. It has been well established that the members of Radiohead are actually aliens who have continued to bewitch and befuddle us earth folk with their divine musical super-powers for the last two decades. Not even the most talented among us posses the wherewithal to reproduce something on par with what the band has created. It’s of little surprise that the few successful Radiohead covers projects tend to be instrumental (the Classical piano recreations of Christopher O’Riley) or vast departures from the source material (Easy Star All-Star’s reggae infused Radiodread).
Enter Amanda Palmer, one-time Dresden Doll and noted slayer of sacred cows. With the Dolls on indefinite hiatus, Palmer has tripled her workload. She has published a book with fiancé Neil Gaiman, adapted Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea for the high school stage, and will spend the Fall of 2010 as the Emcee in a Boston A.R.T. production of Cabaret. The jewel in her crown to date, though, is Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, her astonishing Ben Folds-produced solo album. Though the album was a critical success, Palmer’s relationship with Roadrunner Records was damaged beyond repair when, according to Palmer, the label demanded shots of Palmer’s stomach be removed from the video for album track “Leeds United”.
To celebrate her escape from major label tyranny, Palmer has elected to treat her loyal fan base to an EP of Radiohead covers. On the aptly titled Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele, Palmer looks to pay her respects to the band’s music as well as their business acumen. Palmer is self-releasing the EP and charging fans a quite reasonable 84 cents for a download. While most of that loose change will end up in Radiohead’s coffers, Palmer has bundled the EP with a good deal of homemade swag. If a limited edition vinyl doesn’t bring home the experience for you, there are hand painted ukulele’s to be purchased at 1,000 bucks a whack.
As for the EP itself—it comes pretty much as advertised. For an artist as fearless and unpredictable as Amanda Palmer, it’s disappointing to find a track list consisting of the same safe Radiohead songs routinely covered in coffeehouses all across the land. While she effectively recreates Thom Yorke’s vocal tics, adding spot-on harmonies along the way, there’s nothing particularly exciting or revelatory in Palmer’s takes on “Fake Plastic Trees” or “No Surprises”.
The EP comes to life only briefly when Palmer’s playful side surfaces. While the world scarcely needs another cover of “Creep”, it’s impossible not to smile when Palmer adorably attempts to mimic Jonny Greenwood’s legendary pre-chorus guitar stutters on her ukulele. Her galloping take on the twitchy “Idioteque” makes one wish that she’d tackled more post-Kid A material. Ironically, the most successful cover here is the ukulele free cover of “Exit Music (for a film)”. Recorded live at the Sydney Opera House, the piano-and-string-soaked track suggests that Palmer has the goods to compete with Radiohead without sounding foolish.
Until she decides to re-arrange In Rainbows for dog symphony, her inoffensive ukulele ditties will have to suffice.