I signed up for this review out of morbid curiosity more than anything else, sure I would hate it. I had never heard of Rosie Carney at that point, so it was nothing against her as an artist. But whenever I hear the words ‘cover’ and ‘album’ together, I shudder. Add to this instant aversion the fact that Carney is not just releasing an album of covers by a mix of artists here, but is in fact taking on one of the most important albums in my (and the world’s) musical evolution, and you will likely understand my skepticism. This is The Bends she is tackling here. And while The Bends may no longer be my favourite Radiohead album, it is the album that launched the longest love affair with a band that I will ever endure in my lifetime and it was, for a long time, the most essential set of songs in my collection. So, yeah – no mean feat for Rosie to win me over here.
But this year has been something of a peak for Radiohead covers, particularly in the form of fascinating renditions of ‘Weird Fishes’ by Lianne La Havas, ‘You Never Wash Up After Yourself’ by Marika Hackman, and ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ by Phoebe Bridgers and Arlo Parks. So there was a chink of optimism when I first pressed play on this album. And my first pleasing conclusion while listening to the album was this; there was nothing offensive here. Rosie has a gorgeous, measured voice and this was a musically talented and daring artist taking on a collection of classic songs during a period of uncertainty and global crisis. I was okay with this album. I could listen to it more than once. And when it comes to a cover of any song by one of my favourite bands, that really is the first test.
It took some time, though, for my opinion to become any more nuanced than that. I had to move past these as Radiohead songs. And in all honesty, renditions of songs like ‘High and Dry’ and ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ that did very little to stray from the melodic structure and basic makeup of the originals made it difficult for me to really shift that feeling. They still felt too close to the songs I knew so well. That said, as time went on I did really grow to love the chimes that were added to ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and feel that they were an inkling of what made some of these other covers so involving.
In the end, the thing that really fascinated and convinced me that this album was much more than just another covers album was something that surprised me. I have already mentioned that The Bends is no longer near the top of my list of Radiohead albums and that is because, as the years have gone by and they have got increasingly inventive, I have felt that there are certain songs that have become dated and haven’t really stood the test of time in the same way as songs on their later works. Rosie Carney manages to infuse almost every one of those songs with a new sense of urgency; a modern spin that makes it almost as involving as it was back in the day (almost – because come on, it’s still Radiohead).
‘(Nice Dream)’ becomes a swirling, building, haunting song that claws at your insides. ‘Just’ changes from a very good if slightly dated rock song, to a gothic folk slow-burner that would fit in well on the soundtrack that Thom Yorke did for Suspiria a couple of years ago. ‘Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was’ retrains its ingrained sense of sadness and self-consciousness, but the sparse instrumentation and Rosie’s beautiful voice update it to something that could fill a whole new generation of teenagers with the chills and angst that I experienced back in 1995. ‘Bones’ is ethereal and vocally mesmerising. Most remarkable of all, to me at least, is how ‘Sulk’, which was always the song I liked least on The Bends, becomes the possible highlight on Rosie’s version. Heavily autotuned and drenched in synths it becomes something almost otherworldly and is totally involving.
So in the end, my morbid curiosity turned to grudging admiration and then to plain old enjoyment. This is a very good album that I can have no complaints about. Because it is a covers album, it is unlikely to be something I spend a whole lot of time with in the future. But I will return to it. More importantly than that, though, it made me want to check out everything Rosie has already released and it will have me high up the queue the next time she releases new music.
Words by Fran Slater