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Published: 2006/08/19
by Jesse Jarnow

Radiodread – the Easy Star All Stars

Easy Star Records 1014

If Pink Floyd welcomed us to the machine, and Radiohead welcomed us back, then the Easy Star All-Stars have invited us to clear a spot among the gearwork and cogs, chill out, and fire up a fat fucking spleef. Following up 2003’s self-explanatory (and really pretty good) Dub Side of the Moon, Radiodread reaffirms OK Computer’s place in the canon as a tension-ridden classic of late industrial-era art. And, like Dub Side, the All-Stars find all kinds of surprises to mine in the British band’s troll-populated caverns.

"Let Down" uses an echoed melodica to imitate chiming guitars and cue the entrance of legendary reggae vocalist Toots Hibbert, who turns Thom Yorke’s typical angst parable into a sweet-n-dandy groove, over which Hibbert’s sunny voice slides nicely. Citizen Cope transforms the "this is what you get" chorus of "Karma Police" into a resigned enlightenment that could’ve been lifted from any vintage reggae side that ever yearned for justice. "No Surprises," meanwhile, is less elegiac than the original, turned inside out with an uncharacteristic optimism that somehow makes the irresistible hook even more ethereal than Jonny Greenwood’s bells.

Radiodread is the rare tribute album that holds up as music, separate from the fun-time kitsch that makes them such great mix-disc/playlist fodder (though in 20 years, who knows, Radiodread might be the new Baroque Beatles). Instead of merely rearranging Radiohead’s music, slowing it down, and applying liberal echo, the All Stars have gone over it carefully, and — more than anything — nail the vibe of Messrs Yorke, Greenwood, and company perfectly. On "Airbag," they nail the sweeping stadium hook, though stratify it with strong upbeats, while stereo-panned riffs that are nearly ambient on the original are pulled out and passed over to the brass.

Not that anyone besides the most puritanical of music geeks ever felt too guilty for listening to cover bands, but Radiodread surely offers pleasures unproduceable by the original. Like a remix that leaves OK Computer’s spaced-out melancholy undiminished while gently nudging the gloom fader down a tad, the Easy Star Dub All Stars offer the thesis that what we love about songs is encoded more deeply than any of its surface components might hint — and can be accessed with only the slightest bit of ganja-lubed gumption: fitter, happier…

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