Music of Human Origin
Even with the existence of the MOBO awards, there are fewer boundaries in popular music here in the UK than there were in the Seventies when I was growing up. Back then you couldn't listen to Disco and Rock; it simply wasn't allowed. One TV music quiz had a category called "black music", which was a mystery to me - I thought it was something satanic. (At least they were honest, though. "Music of Black Origin" just opens the doors to whiteys like Joss Stone whose music is - to my ears - less "black" than, say, Beefheart's, while also managing to hint that unqualifying people of colour like Kele Okereke are race traitors for playing Indie Rock. Nice one.) Still, I am happy to be living through times when these arbitrary distinctions are being purposefully and humorously dismantled, even if the White Boy Rocker in me complains that the Scissor Sisters sail too close to the wind.
Outside the bedrooms of mashup DJs, few are doing more in this regard than Easy Star All-Stars. Their Dub Side of the Moon altered the Pink Floyd standard forever - it wasn't so much a Reggae homage, as a memory refit for those who heard it: the Floyd are Rastas. The Floyd always have been Rastas. I love Big Brother.
What struck me most forcibly about Dub Side… was the All-Stars' obvious love for their source material, which shines vividly through every skanked-up detail. Here were highly accomplished Reggae singers and players, not to mention a producer, who clearly adored one of history's supposedly "whitest" groups.
While Radiodread - a walk through OK Computer - reveals a similar affection for the Floyd's closest living equivalent, the experience is rather different. In retrospect, the melancholy and mellow minors of Dark Side of the Moon were made for the ganja treatment, while Thom Yorke's angst and Radiohead's rhythmic and harmonic awkwardness don't succumb quite so easily.
Take the swooping ebow motif which opens 'Airbag': its devil intervals and false relations sit irreconcilably against the uptempo Reggae shuffle and Horace Andy's sweet vocal stylings, and fragile songs like 'Exit Music' don't quite survive the transplant surgery. At other times you can palpably hear them grappling with the instrumentation, as on 'Lucky', where it takes a voice, a slide guitar and a trombone to replace Ed O’Brien’s stratospheric guitar on the chorus.
Elsewhere the project is more successful: translating 'Fitter Happier' into a Deakus-like patois mumble ("Respec' Jah creatures!") is a creative swipe akin to Dub Side's D'n'B treatment of 'On The Run'; replacing Thom's desperate falsetto with a female voice, as on Tamar-kali's intense 'Climbing Up The Walls', ought to have happened more often; and my heart quickens whenever the Easy Star horn section bursts in on the scene.
But the best idea on the whole LP was to turn 'Paranoid Android' into a Special AKA number. Dammers and co. had a grasp on the darkside rarely heard at the popular end of MOJO (the 'J' is for Jamaican), and this pastiche follows the idea through to its logical conclusion, clipped time signatures and all.
So I salute the All-Stars in shirking easy targets in their evil plan to Dub every Uncut reader's favourite albums out of existence - I think even I could make a Reggae version of What's The Story (Morning Glory) - even if this time the result is "just" an album of great covers, rather than We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Easy Star peeps, you have my complete support. If you're looking for suggestions - why not do Spiderland next?