"It ain't often that someone successfully pulls off a Radiohead cover," says Ned Hepburn at Death and Taxes. That hasn't necessarily stopped bands from trying, Hepburn adds, but "after nearly 20 years of 'Creep' being played at every open-mic in every coffee shop by every dude that owns an acoustic guitar," Radiohead's "Karma Police," off 1997's OK Computer, is suddenly in vogue.
The results are mixed, of course — there are some fine, inventive covers of "Creep," too. Here are six inspired versions of Radiohead's more enigmatic anthem, from the exotic remake to a bit of goofiness.
1. Shefy and Sabbah's Middle Eastern celebration
Karma is a concept borrowed from Hinduism, one of the few major world religions not rooted in the Middle East. But that didn't stop Tel Aviv singer Rotem Shefy and cellist-arranger Leat Sabbah from choosing "Karma Police" for their "very own Middle Eastern version" of a Radiohead song. With the help of oud player Yaniv Taichmann and percussionist Ori Dekel, plus a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign, this is what they came up with:
If you were in college in the 1990s, Radiohead was your soundtrack, like it or not, says Rafi Samuels-Schwartz at Heeb. But "for all their overblown pretentiousness and rock posturing," Radiohead "did crank out some pretty fantastic songs," and "Karma Police" is one of their best, says Heeb. This "gorgeous Middle Eastern spin... in this debka cover" of the song makes it even better.
2. Kendra Morris goes sultry and soulful
Florida native Kendra Morris looked closer to home for her inspiration. And what she came up with, says Eric R. Danton at The Wall Street Journal, is "a smoky version rooted in Memphis-style soul." Morris recorded "Karma Police" for her upcoming album, Mockingbird, and she "surrounds her sultry voice with subtle organ, wah-wah guitar and a string arrangement that sweeps through the song."
"When we began to work on 'Karma Police' it only seemed right to take it somewhere completely different," Morris tells The Wall Street Journal. "I think that song has the most incredible tone and sets such a warm vibe as is that it just made sense to give it an entirely new one."
Whatever — it works, says Death and Taxes' Hepburn. "Her stellar blue-eyed lady soul vocals shine on this retro-sounding (think Dusty Springfield) cover," and she manages to turn "what could have been an epic bum-out into a real winner."
3. Easy Star All-Stars' reggae rendition
New York reggae collective the Easy Star All-Stars like Radiohead so much they did an entire reggae re-imagining of OK Computer, with their 2006 album Radiodread. "Karma Police" is an album standout. "The concept sounds silly — and it is," says Will Levine at Cover Me. "But the fuzzed-out basslines and mellow keyboard riffs prove to be a surprisingly great fit." Citizen Cope is a guest performer on the track.
4. Eliza Lumley jazzes it up
A year after the "Easy Star All-Stars gave a reggae lilt to the Oxford act's paeans to existential angst with Radiodread," says Amaya Sanchez in Britain's The Independent, British songstress Eliza Lumley gave Radiohead, "of all things, the cocktail-jazz treatment," with her cover album, She Speaks in Maths. It's "a very Fortnum & Mason kind of record: Rarefied, elegant and wrapped up in mink," says Sanchez. "Oddly, it works."
Not everyone agrees. The album did very well on the jazz charts, and Radiohead bassist "Colin Greenwood is reportedly a fan," says music site NME. But "Lumley's covers are appalling — dead-eyed, blank-voiced, and utterly lacking in emotion."
Like it or not, Lumley "goes for the sultry jazz rendition on this cut, complete with woozy upright bass and muted trumpet solos," says Cover Me's Levine. "It strays far from the sound of the original, but it's awesome to hear the melody in a creative and unusual musical setting."
5. Walk Off the Earth's Gianni and Sarah play around
Like the impressive, if somewhat gimmicky, performances that have made their band, Walk Off the Earth, a viral sensation — see the Canadian group's five-people-on-one-guitar cover of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" — Gianni Luminati Nicassio and Sarah Blackwood's playful version of "Karma Police" has to be seen to be appreciated.
Puppet versions of the two singer-instrumentalists make an appearance at the end, right before Gianni and Sarah make their promotional pitch — like fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, Walk Off the Earth has turned YouTube into its primary marketing tool, only with interesting videos and exotic instrumentation.
6. The Bad Plus rhapsodize to a big finish
This final cover is the only instrumental in the bunch, and it strays the farthest from Radiohead's song, musically. But in some ways this cover of "Karma Police," by the Bad Plus, is the most true to the spirit of Radiohead's anthem. The piano-bass-drum trio has created a reputation for re-creating rock songs as avant-garde jazz. "Most of the track is wandering and improvisational," says Cover Me's Levine, "but it builds up brilliantly to a booming and triumphant ending."