Various artists Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads
Various artists Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited
Only a churl would deny that Thom Yorke and his bandmates in Radiohead are sonic sculptors to contend with. But only someone who's never heard a James Brown record would make a big deal over the band's sense of funk or groove or swing. It's a soft spot in Radiohead's sound that perfectly sets up Exit Music, an appealing new tribute album assembled by the neo-soul heads at BBE, the stylish London label behind the Beat Generation series of producer-showcase discs. Most tributes pointlessly reiterate the honored act's strengths; the worst water down those assets. Exit Music asks a question: What would Radiohead sound like if they were an R&B group?
The answer: pretty dope. The members of the crate-digging elite gathered here take all kinds of liberties with Radiohead's music, always an imperative for an interesting cover. In "High and Dry" Philly soul dude Bilal and Jill Scott sideman Pete Kuzma strip the track of guitars, reducing the music to a head-nodding throb driven by warm bass and gooey organ; similarly, Bilal replaces the vitriol in Yorke's vocal with honey. Celebrity DJ Mark Ronson and Phantom Planet singer Alex Greenwald take "Just" as an excuse to throw a house party; the result is breezier than anything Radiohead have even thought about playing. A version of "The National Anthem" by Meshell Ndegeocello and drummer Chris Dave is just as claustrophobic as the original, but it's no longer about Yorke's postmillennial tension; this "Anthem" charts the pang of unfulfilled desire.
The late French songsmith (and professional sleazebag) Serge Gainsbourg probably never knew a desire he didn't fulfill. His taste for sex is well represented on Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, a new tribute disc featuring a capable (if predictable) roster of international rockers, including Franz Ferdinand, Portishead, and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. This one's less revealing than Exit Music; for the most part, it simply stresses Gainsbourg's gifts. But its pleasures are self-evident: Who wouldn't want to hear Cat Power and Jack White's supermodel wife Karen Elson purr their way through "Je T'aime Moi Non Plus"? Only a churl.
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