VA: Exit Music: Songs With Radio Heads

I can already hear Radiohead purists balking at Exit Music—to no one's loss but their own. Listeners with a less precious attitude towards the band's catalogue, on the other hand, will find much to love about the eclectic collection. One imagines the group itself would be charmed by the artists' irreverent and stylistically diverse approach to its material, and considerably more so than had interpreters mimicked its sound by way of a too-literal homage. Most of the artists reinvent the originals (most taken from The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid A) by emphasizing the soul at the center of the group's songs. Naturally the set draws attention to the songwriting quality, not the band's signature sound, but the songs hold up fabulously in the hands of others.

The covers themselves? Some are, frankly, superb: Shawn Lee's soulful rendering of “No Surprises” brings forth a quietly jubilant side of the song, Mark Ronson and Alex Greenwald give “Just” a fabulous soul-funk treatment boosted by snappy horn writing, bubbly soul bass, and chicken-scratch guitar, Pete Kuzma and vocalist Bilal transform “High & Dry” into a delicious Marvin Gaye-styled romp, and Yoruba Records head Osunlade and vocalist Erro give “Everything In Its Right Place” an incredible Brazilian dance makeover without losing the original's hypnotic feel. Elsewhere, RJD2's “Airbag” becomes sputtering electro beamed in from Neptune, jazz trio The Bad Plus performs a ruminative autopsy on “Karma Police,” and “Morning Bell” receives a driving soul-jazz makeover by The Randy Watson Experience (Ahmir Thompson and James Poyser), highlighted by a ferocious drum & bass attack that almost makes one overlook its nine-minute length. A major strength of the album is the depth of commitment the artists bring to the pieces. These aren't sloppy covers recorded on the fly but thoroughly considered arrangements. Lushly augmented by Mara Carlyle's entrancing vocal, Matthew Herbert's “(Nice Dream),” for example, conjures the Parisian ambiance of a Montmartre café while magnificent horn writing graces The Cinematic Orchestra's instrumental version of “Exit Music (for a film).”

April 2006