I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m something of a collector of unlikely cover versions. Not boring melismatic takes on pop classics performed by X-Factor contestants, nor overly reverent note-for-note copies by bands worshipping their childhood idols. But Richard Thompson giving us his take on Oops I Did It Again, La Maison Tellier reimagining Killing In the Name as a blues-folk song, Tori Amos showing us what Smells Like Teen Spirit sounds like on the piano, or Hugo doing 99 Problems in the style of Steve Earle? Now I’m in. Oh, and if anyone can find a recording of Sleeping States’ version of Throwing Muses’ Call Me, please let me know where…
This curiosity had led me to Easy Star All Stars before, but it was their version of Radiohead’s OK Computer, Radiodread, that I used to play in the kitchen. If OK Computer was the Dark Side of The Moon on the 1990s (and isn’t No Surprises effectively a song-length rewrite of a single line from Time: “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way”) then I suppose it should come as no surprise to me that they had earlier put together a reggae version of the Pink Floyd record, but I think it had slipped my attention.
I wonder if the experience of listening to this record would have been different if I were as intimately familiar with Dark Side of the Moon as with OK Computer. As it is, it’s a record I didn’t stumble on until I was in my mid-20s, and while I remember being struck by Time when I heard it for the first time it’s not a record I played to death. So if the Easy Star All Stars get the mood of a song ‘wrong’ I’m not going to notice it in the same way. And Dark Side of the Moon, while hardly three-chord child’s play music, is not quite as overwhelmingly musically complicated as OK Computer – there’s nothing on it that’s quite as difficult to arrange as the seven minutes of Paranoid Android.
Opening track Breathe actually sounds much as I remember it, in a way that makes me wonder if it secretly began life as a reggae track. In places, I wonder if this album might have worked better if they hadn’t stuck so closely to the sound of the original record. One of the best moments for me was On the Run, which rather than sounding like a reggae song, brought back memories of late 90s drum and bass, or at least the kind of late 90s drum and bass that got daytime radio play. While I can’t pretend to really understand actual drum and bass music, a drum and bass track by a reggae bank covering a Pink Floyd song? That I can get on board with.
On the other hand, their version of Time just doesn’t grab me. I sort of appreciate adding in the crowing cockerel and the alarm clock noise to the ticking clocks at the beginning of the song. But something about the slow, relaxed pace of their version of the song makes me think of it not so much as a tribute but as a parody. On the other hand, the other really well known track on the album, Money works really rather well. Maybe because it’s easier to imagine it as a reggae song in the first place, that while the sense of time passing by too quickly, of wondering where it’s gone and why I haven’t achieved anything with it, feels like a very first world problem, money problems are universal.
Listening to this the thought occurs that prog rock and reggae have more in common from a musical perspective than you might think – that it makes sense to think of this as a record that straddles the the two genres, rather than simply being a ‘reggae version of a prog album’. Now, this comes from someone whose knowledge of reggae is, um, limited (mostly to hearing Lee Scratch Perry records being played very loudly from the terrace two doors down from me when I was sixteen and hearing people playing Bob Marley compilations). After all, both are taking the guitar/drums/bass/vocals format of rock music and adding complexity and texture. Songs like Us and Them and The Great Gig In The Sky, in particular, sound like they’re straddling a line between prog and reggae, keeping one foot in each camp.
I’m not sure that I loved this record, but it’s pleasant background listening. I can imagine going back to it sometime in preference to Radiodread. Because a part of the appeal is simply in the novelty, and it’s still rather new to me.
A footnote: In the course of writing this, I discovered that about seven years ago, they released a re-mix album, Dubber Side of the Moon and for me at least, it was the more bass heavy, droney versions of the songs on this record that worked best. In particular, the rather sinister sounding Alchemist remix of Money and the playful electronica of the Kalbata remix of Any Colour You Like.
Highlights: Breathe, Money, The Great Gig in the Sky