Rick Simpson – Everything All Of The Time: Kid A Revisited
(Whirlwind WR4765. Review-Essay by AJ Dehany)
Part One: Radiohead
Radiohead… National treasure and/or failed dance act, the groundbreaking Oxford group founded in the eighties and fronted by miserabilist millionaire Thom Yorke, is still one of the biggest names in music to have successfully embraced a journey towards experimentalism. Since 2000 they’ve been applying pop writing and rock production to ideas from electronic music with a judicious use of filler to make sonically diverse suite-like album experiences.
Released in October 2000, Kid A was the follow-up to one of the masterpieces of rock music, OK Computer (1997). It was a curveball album with glacial textures and an apparently anti-pop auto-iconoclasm. Despite critical ambivalence, the album was a hit, getting to Number One in the USA and UK without any singles or videos. Since then it’s been acclaimed by Rolling Stone (of all places) as the best album of the 2000s, and revisited with hindsight as an album that changed everything. It still seems like a radically successful move towards the left of field for a mainstream rock act.
Ten years ago Timothy Gabriel wrote about The Degeneration of the Voice in Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, exploring influences from dance music and krautrock from the late seventies which realigned the conventional hierarchies of music, supplanting the primacy of the voice, leaning on rhythm over melody, exploding structure into extended 12” jams. Radiohead managed to make it seem like they’d gone wholly into that, but as Jonny Greenwood has been at pains to point out, they in fact retained concise pop structures for the most part. Kid A was an album that worked to destabilise the dominance of vocals by chopping and screwing and effecting every phrase, yet it’s still very much a vocal-centric album you can play and sing.
Radiohead are a generously covered band. Their breakthrough 1992 QUIETloudQUIET complaint-rock anthem Creep has become canon and been duly beaten into submission by everyone from Tears For Fears to Amanda Palmer. It was recently ripped off by Lana Del Rey to the tune of a court case – an extended irony being that Radiohead were themselves forced to concede credit to the Hollies for lifting a whole sequence from The Air That I Breathe. There is a school of thought that the widening obscurity and abstraction of their work is just a way of avoiding litigation from R.E.M.
On first hearing Kid A in 2000 it felt somewhat like the band were shamelessly ripping off Aphex Twin, Autechre, Modeselektor and the like. The track Kid A itself might not amount to plagiarism, but it’s certainly outlandishly derivative of Aphex Twin’s Flim. Over time it seems to have stood up in its own right for its sweetly melodic sensibility. This is one part of what makes Radiohead so available to being covered. Plus, from Kid A onward the looser song structures give more space to individual expression, and the gnomic polysemy of the songs and their utterance make it feel more like a generational than a personal expression, or music for music’s sake.
Among jazz musicians, we’ve seen versions from names like Mehldau, the Bad Plus and Robert Glasper, who runs together Everything In Its Right Place with Herbie’s Maiden Voyage. Check out Noordpool Orchestra’s Radiohead, A Jazz Symphony. Sadly trioVD’s jazz-metal Nude is a lost classic. Recently I’ve been enjoying Paolo Angeli’s 2020 album 22.22 Free Radiohead, a solo suite taken from across the Radiohead catalogue and given a fantastic avant-esque treatment performed on his unique Sardinian prepared guitar. String quintet Wooden Elephant have covered Kid A in its entirety using extended techniques on acoustic instruments.
Part Two: Rick Simpson
Everything All Of The Time: Kid A Revisited is pianist and composer Rick Simpson’s contribution to this catalogue. His quintet arrangements of the whole of Radiohead’s 2000 album were originally conceived as just one of a series of nights performing more mainstream music with a jazz group. It was so successful he quickly arranged a recording session to get it down on record (literally, with the album being released on heavy duty yellow and blue vinyl). Unlike Wooden Elephant’s recreation of the approximate structures of the original album or Paolo Angeli’s personalised extrapolations, Rick Simpson’s revisitations of Radiohead occupy a highly confident space in between. They’re aware of the pleasures of the hooks and of the pleasures of taking the tunes somewhere new. These are pleasures for both the audience and the musicians, who get into it all with supreme gusto.
Recording it in five hours was an inspired move. The album sounds fresh, spirited and above all concise, the whole set clocking in at 43 minutes, shaving seven minutes off the original album. One of the original’s set pieces, The National Anthem, is based around a fuzzy four-note bass riff repeated over eight minutes, the track moving from cold theremin-like radio noise to jazz big band freakout. Revisited, the atmospheric approach is abandoned in favour of dealing out the material, which works out fairly generously to under four minutes. The track appears less like an anthem for ‘nation as alienation’ (see what I did there?) and more in keeping with the group’s collective joie-de-vivre.
The fulcrum of the group is the interaction of Rick Simpson’s piano and Will Glaser’s drums. The way the pair negotiate the combination of tightly notated material and freedom of interpretation in performance is highly impressive. The tight 7/8 time signatures employed on Optimistic and Idioteque are taken at a frenzied clip, removing the breath between the main melodic phrases but injecting a new vitality. Listening back to the originals you do wonder if Radiohead were a bit bored of cerebrally retaking every track to death. There are moments on Rick Simpson’s previous album KLAMMER which also veer on the point of rushed. But when the group stretches out, it’s bravura stuff. Dave Whitford’s bass is a central unifying force throughout, while Tori Freestone and James Allsopp are formidable saxophonists who give full voice to the moments of chaotic jamming and hold down and beautifully articulate the album’s central melodic voice and its instrumental hooks.
The quieter moments of the album are well worked out. On Kid A, it’s hard to recall what happens in the sound pieces Treefingers and In Limbo, which are beautiful things but put there in large part to slow the pace between the main set piece tracks and give the whole set an uncanny experimental feel. For a jazz album played without the Oxford group’s studio-as-instrument experimentalism, Rick Simpson does end up having to bulk it out with pretty much original material on these tracks. The strangeness of the glacial textures and the ten-beat slow techno rhythm of the album opener Everything In Its Right Place are evened out into a solid jazz workout with a very different feel. Similarly, Kid A’s album closer Motion Picture Soundtrack is, in that overworked word, devastating as a conclusion, where a bleak arrangement for ondes martenot emphasises that crushing final chord change around “I will see you/in the next life”. Rick Simpson’s arrangement closes the set on a lighter note, less impactful but with a delicate subtlety that repays repeated listening.
AJ Dehany writes about music, art and stuff.