I think you have to be in a very specific kind of mood before you listen to a Radiohead album, especially during lockdown when your mental health is in a state of constant flux and the album you said you’d listen to would be Kid A. Simply put, for most of January I didn’t think I’d been in the right kind of mood to get through Kid A so to bridge the gap and psych myself up I ended up turning to my favourite Radiohead album, In Rainbows.
I’ve already talked about lead single Jigsaw Falling Into Place at length on this blog but I want to take a look at another song on that list that falls under the category ‘Best song not to be a single’, like Gas Panic! from Standing on the Shoulder of Giants or Failure from The La’s (Or saying that, anything from the La’s). Basically the song that provides the biggest excuse to purchase/stream the album. For In Rainbows, that song is Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.
Now, one YouTuber I’ve been following as of late has been MicTheSnare (Can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3qbvcgOHXRIFIofXyd1vBw), mainly because he reviewed both Blur and Oasis albums and called Blur the better band, in terms of Britpop at least, so he can’t be all that bad. At the merciful end of 2020, he released his own quickfire awards show commemorating the year’s music with the standard categories such as ‘Best Bar in 11/8’, ‘Best Warping of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Name to Fit a Rhyme’ and ‘Album Most Suited for Waiting in Line for a COVID Test’. The Grammys could learn a thing or two from him. But one category that caught my eye was ‘Best Covers of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” on Albums by Women That Have Covers in Black and White Featuring the Artist’s Face Obscured by Their Hair’.
The co-winners were Lianne La Havas and Kelly Lee Owens. And the simple fact that this category existed, let alone that two rising artists had gone and done a cover of it and popped it on their albums, meant that I had to check both their efforts out.
Lianne La Havas – Weird Fishes
We begin with that signature opening drumbeat slowed down a couple of notches that dominates early proceedings before we start to get a more ethereal, ‘swimmy’ sound to accompany it, and create the atmosphere a song titled Weird Fishes deserves. The cherry on top though has to be the bassline, one which I never really paid attention to in the Radiohead version but here it’s loud and clear and keeping the song smoothly flowing. Lianne turns in a gorgeous and emotional performance here, one that for the most part reminded me of Billie Eilish singing No Time To Die. She nails the personal and bittersweet vibe of the song, peaking as the music takes a backseat three minutes in. It’s just her, alone, at the bottom of the ocean with the Weird Fishes. Then the band returns to create the impression she is floating back up to the surface, escaping. You can tell Lianne enjoyed every second of this and was determined to get it right. That, she definitely did.
Kelly Lee Owens – Arpeggi
Well, this was different. There’s no real drumbeat to start off with, instead we have a more mysterious sound produced by synths that create the impression of being underwater. Immediately a more mysterious, captivating atmosphere is created. As it turns out, this is in fact an instrumental which does make this a little trickier to talk about, trickier still because at first I didn’t feel like this was going anywhere for me. Therefore, I decided to do some digging. Turns out that this is in fact the opener to Kelly’s album Inner Song and that she did initially record vocals but ended up ditching them, believing that the music itself did the talking.
“What it represented for me was a beginning, the arpeggios rising from a murky surface towards the light” – Kelly Lee Owens, Rolling Stone, 2020.
Looking at it as an album opener I’d say it’s quite effective and probably a good stepping stone to her work. I admire that she’s saying that she doesn’t want to Thom Yorke and that the music alone creates the song’s story, but I can’t help but feel that the vocals are a missing piece of the puzzle. That being said, it is still a good adaptation of the tune and I do think that if you closed your eyes listening to this you would easily be able to picture yourself at the ocean’s floor.
Going into this I had every intention of comparing the two versions of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi but now having listened to them and realised just how different they are I think it would be really unfair. Both are brilliant in their respective ways, with Lianne paying a more traditional tribute to the song with an excellent performance, while Kelly takes the track and puts her own spin on it. Both are clearly passionate about this Radiohead song and that passion bleeds into the music. They know what they want to do here and they do it to the letter. Give both of them a try if you’ve got time.