01 January 2007

Reggae Computer

So I was browsing Amazon whilst ordering the smattering of low-cost Christmas presents I could afford to get for myself given the festive income and my tight financial situation when I came across a couple of albums that made me sit up and take note. They were thrust into view, I surmise, by the fact I had finally got around to ordering No Protection, the Mad Professor remixes of Massive Attack's second album, Protection. Whilst No Protection has not dropped through my door yet, Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread have - and on first listen have both blown me away.

As one may guess from the title of both this post and the albums themselves these two works are reggae interpretations of two classic albums from massively successful artists: Pink Floyd's seminal Dark Side of the Moon and Radiohead's 1997 masterwork OK Computer. When I saw them the idea just made me laugh up front - neither of the original albums, and especially not OK Computer seemed to me to be obvious candidates for this type of reworking. I was prepared to let them slide by out of my consciousness again until I scrolled down the Radiodread page and noticed the track listing. It was then I saw that Airbag was vocalised by Horace Andy and, in that moment, it struck me just how well that could (or would) work; I decided to buy both in that epiphany. As I've mentioned before, I'm a huge admirer of Andy's vocal style and his uniqueness and I was champing at the bit to play that track from the second I clicked to buy it to the minute it dropped through the letterbox.

Technically I suppose I ought to have listened to Dub Side... first since that was the earlier effort, but it was Airbag that sold me on the concept of the dub re-workings and so Radiodread got the first play. I was doing domestic chores at the time, but almost as soon as the record began to spin a smile etched itself onto my face - a smile I did not lose until after it ended. At times very close to its inspiration (they kept the wailing guitar with which Airbag opens for instance) and at times a lot further from it (were it not for the vocal line I would not have recognised Exit Music, though it is stonkingly good) Radiodread nevertheless maintains a high level of musicianship - the album contains no samples from OK Computer, it is all original recordings - and holds the interest impeccably. Admittedly I would never have given the album a second look - with or without Horace Andy - had I not been a huge Radiohead fan already so the interest it sustained on first listen could well have been a morbid one, but no - a couple of days later it still holds a fascination. Paranoid Android is especially well done, considering that in its original form it comes in so many distinct sections and tones. The one low point for me (Fitter Happier aside, but that I take for granted on both versions) is Let Down: which tallies with my finding that the weakest of the original tracks too by quite some margin. When listening to either copy I will skip that track as it simply does nothing for me even though when OK computer was first released I loved Let Down and thought it was the best thing on the album - weird how perceptions change, but I lost that view by the Millennium, not in a recent airing.

So Radiodread is definitely going onto a favourites list. It was also a 2006 new release so would certainly get a place if I were to ret-con my review of the musical year. As for Dub Side... I'm less smitten but I do think it is an amazing work and I will be listening to it a fair bit more but it has not quite got the same bite to me as the later work. I hold DSotM in its original conception in very high regard, though I came to it more from the Pulse live album (and now DVD) than from the original recording, but I guess given my age and musical growth OK Computer always had a bigger impact on me no matter how much praise has been lavished on DSotM over the years. Contrary to some of the Amazon reviewers I think Dub Side... is actually less polished than Radiodread, or at least less of a challenge to those undertaking the work. This may just be because I listened to the second album first and thus the "novelty" aspect was eroded - I had a better idea of what to expect and was less taken aback by the interpretations of the original tracks. Alternatively it could be a reflection of my preference with respect to the source material. Either way it leaves me feeling I cannot fairly say more about Dub Side... than I have already despite the fact I've listened to it a touch more than the other in the last couple of days. I'll suffice to recommend both albums - as a fan of both Pink Floyd and Radiohead and without any reggae or dub knowledge or experience beyond my like for Horace Andy, born of his work with Massive Attack - with genuine enthusiasm. Both works are done with great respect to their source material rather than as rip-offs or novelty records, and both have integrity. Both are significantly different to the albums they cover yet both are more than recognisable and worthy of a listen if you approach them from a musical angle derived from the original works.

Do yourself a favour and try to give both a listen - it may just blow your mind.

And, for what it is worth - Happy New Year.

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