In the rock-orientated circles, putting out a remix album is up there with the release of a ‘Best Of’ as a sign that a band is staring down into creative abyss, wishing to generate a bit more income from past accomplishments in the absence of fresh ideas. There are some honorary exceptions, of course: Mad Professor’s 1994 dubwise shake-up of Massive Attack’s Protection is a classic, whilst Jamie XX’s outstandingly imaginative reimagining of Gil Scott-Heron’s sparse comeback album I’m New Here won praise even from the remix/sample-averse creator of the source material.
Having already been subjected to the Greatest Hits treatment (very much against their will, courtesy of disgruntled former label EMI), it’s not much of a surprise to see Radiohead hit the remix trail. The band’s maintained a long-standing dalliance with dance music, where tweaking and revisiting tracks is the rule rather than an exception. Following Thom Yorke’s recently teaming up with Four Tet and Burial to create new music, it was perhaps inevitable that the former – alongside 18 colleagues in the beats-crafting business – would eventually be asked to dismantle and rearrange selections from the Radiohead canon. Which they did on a series of 12’’ singles released throughout last summer, with TKOL RMX 1234567 compiling their efforts in chronological order.
Whereas it’d be borderline sacrilegious to alter in any way the beautifully realised contents of, say, In Rainbows, the murky, sketchy King of Limbs practically demands a re-jig. The odd exception aside, the album latest sounded somewhat half-baked in its original form, an interesting selection of fleeting ideas, grooves and noises rather than a set of fully formed songs. The result was the first noticeable cracks in the Oxford quintet’s peerless critical reputation since 1995′s The Bends, the consensus being that Radiohead’s uncompromising intent to evolve had for the first time been dulled by a relative drought of both substantial songwriting and captivating departures from the norm of what a ‘rock band’ is meant to sound like.
This remix project turns the album’s weaknesses into a strength by providing plentiful building blocks for the artists on remixing duties, the original album’s shadowy forms encouraging admirably irreverent versions that don’t worry too much about upsetting anyone disinclined to see their favourite track gutted and dismembered. Even so, it’s not quite a masterpiece of the genre ala No Protection and We’re New Here. Whereas those two were products of a singular vision, TKOL RMX 134567 bundles together 19 individual styles, from the disjointed abstractions of Harmonic 313 to the electrified Neo-Neu! clatter of Mark Pritchard (both tackling ‘Bloom’). Crafted in isolation, the various artists approach means a unified theme’s not easily achievable. This is despite most remixers preferring to stay in the twilit hinterlands inhabited by the King of Limbs, making the odd upbeat departure from the claustrophobic default setting – SBTRKT’s euphoric ‘Lotus Flower’, for example – stand out from the mass.
For all its faults, it’s great to see Radiohead take risks this late into the game. Here’s hoping the likes of Jamie xx’s wounded remake of ‘Bloom’ – virtually unrecognisable, seriously beautiful – will remind Yorke and co. of their near-unrivalled gifts as architects of atmosphere with substance.