Amanda Palmer is great. First as part of The Dresden Dolls, later as a solo artist, and currently as one half of the duo Evelyn Evelyn, she’s a true original who embraces both showmanship and the do-it-yourself ethos. Now that she’s free from the constraints of her contract with Roadrunner Records after a hard-fought battle to be released, Palmer has taken on the burden of being a true solo artist by foregoing a record label and releasing all her music independently from here on out. Fan support is crucial for this venture, which is why she offers plenty of purchasing options for whatever projects she does. This week, she released an EP’s worth of Radiohead covers, as performed on her ukulele with the occasional piano or violin part to flesh out the arrangements.
Covering Radiohead is basically the most impossible of impossible tasks. It’s not something to be undertaken lightly, though perhaps that might be the smartest move considering there’s no way you’ll ever top the original versions of the songs. Complete reinterpretations also hold some weight, as renowned classical pianist Christopher O’Riley released two albums of Radiohead songs dressed up with the instrumental flourishes of a grand piano. There was also the “Rockabye Baby” Radiohead album, which used glockenspiels to turn the band’s songs into lullabies. What Amanda Palmer does is deliver mostly straight interpretations of some of Radiohead’s most iconic tracks, though the ukulele really brings a more “acoustic-lite” feeling to the whole thing. On the EP’s opening “Fake Plastic Trees”, Palmer mostly uses the ukulele to keep some sense of rhythm in the song, because there are barely any chord changes. Instead, the melody carries via her voice. Though she can clearly handle the vocals (though does any voice REALLY compare with Thom Yorke’s?), on the whole the track comes off a bit thin. Of course when you’ve only got a uke, thin is about the best you can do. “High and Dry” fares a little better, as it lends itself to the ukulele, but it’s the very small splashes of piano that additionall help the melody where it most desperately needs it. Still not great, but satisfactory. Continuing with the upward mobility, “No Surprises” wisely adds not only piano, but just a hint of toy piano along with some overdubbed harmonies. Given the original’s relative simplicity, it’s not too difficult to replicate. Both “Idioteque” and the two versions of “Creep” function as expected, though none of them really grab you like they should. What does work in the most effective way imaginable, is Palmer’s version of “Exit Music (From A Film)”. There is no ukulele this time, it’s instead supplanted by the piano. Compared to the plain acoustic and atmospherics of the Radiohead version, it feels as emotionally bare and paranoid as the original. Some bits of cello and violin also add to the dramatic flair, and it practically makes the entire EP worthwhile on its own.
What does make the entire EP worthwhile is the high, high cost of 84 cents for all 7 songs. All those songs for cheaper than a single iTunes track, and you get a choice of 320k mp3, lossless, or a handful of other formats. Yes, there’s also the option to pay any amount higher than 84 cents should you feel it to be worth that. And while most of the other possible packages for purchase are already sold out, there’s a T-shirt and digital version of the EP combo for $20 still available, along with the most expensive $1,000 version which gets you a 32GB iPhone, a DVD, a vinyl and digital version of the EP, a shirt and various other trinkets, plus a personal phone call from Amanda who will play a cover song for you and sing a Haiku of your choosing as well. Yes, there are some choices. Unless you’re a hardcore Amanda Palmer fan who is willing to support every little thing she does, chances are just the digital version of the EP will suffice. For 84 cents, this is worth a purchase if you like Palmer, Radiohead or both of them even a little bit. Hell, maybe even throw 5-10 bucks her way and help pay her bills for another month. This isn’t going to change your life, nor will it probably compel you to listen to it repeatedly, but it is a novelty worth having on hand for the occasional times you want to hear a halfway decent Radiohead cover. Or just Amanda Palmer singing songs you’re more readily familiar with, if you’re not her biggest fan.