To say that it’s ambitious to take on the first of the Holy Trinity of Radiohead albums is an understatement. The Bends was where Radiohead found their sound, began exploring more textures in their music, and their prog rock dreams. It was a stunning fucking classic. And so unique, the only other album I can think of that sounds like it is Ok Computer. And that’s also by Radiohead, if you weren’t paying attention. So when I got word that Irish singer/songwriter Rosie Carney was proposing to cover the album from start to finish, she got my attention.
We reviewed Carney’s début ep, I dreamed I was the night, last April, and loved it, in fact, we called her a ‘breath-taking talent.’ So, this was an interesting proposition. Starting with ‘Planet Telex,’ Carney creates a loving, lush, beautiful document, her vocals textured, the music acoustic, and shimmery. In fact, ‘Planet Telex,’ which is one of my least favourite songs on the original album, is here transformed to a remnant of Sufjan Stevens, but better. And then that segues into the acoustic guitar intro of ‘The Bends,’ the best track on Radiohead’s album. Here, Carney recreates the dreaminess of her ep, she curls up around the guitar chords, her voice both ethereal and layered in the background and deeply intimate, like she is actually three feet away from me, singing this song to me and only me.
The album grew out of a failed attempt to cover ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ whilst she was attempting to deal with mental health issues. Carney has been up front with her struggles with her struggles with anxiety, in particular. And Radiohead are front and centre in her story, having suffered a vicious anxiety attack at a Radiohead gig. I admire Carney for being so open, to making mental health struggles we all have normal, to make them part of life. At any rate, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ becomes another dreamy, floating moment of bliss in Carney’s re-working, here re-worked from her original attempts.
The Bends, taken as a whole, singular document works so well because Carney makes no attempt to be Radiohead, she is not interested in re-crafting the songs as the lads did them. Instead, she strips them down, and then builds them back up from the bones of the guitar chords. Her co-producer, JMAC, introduced violin, viola, cello, drums, horns, woodwinds and vocoder remotely, as this album is also a pandemic production.
In fact, ‘Bones,’ which is a loving, gentle folk song in her rendition, her acoustic guitar so warm you can feel the sun on your face, was the track she listened to non-stop on repeat as she fled London at the start of the pandemic, back to her parents’ place in Ireland. And she reports that ‘Every single line resonated with me on such a deep level and after this one I became far more confident in how I wanted the songs to sound if they were mine.’
And this she does. Beautifully so.