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Spotlight on: True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead

Christopher O'Riley (performer); Radiohead (composers);
True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead

On True Love Waits, pianist Christopher O'Riley has taken fifteen songs off of Radiohead's acclaimed albums Pablo Honey, The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac (the title cut comes from the live I Might Be Wrong) and adapted them for solo piano -- just the perfect thing for those curious about the band's complex melodies, but turned off by the wailing (some say whiny) voice of lead vocalist Thom Yorke. Though originally presented with the help of a computer, O'Riley plays them completely bare, without accompaniment, completely organic.

And in what ways, you may ask, does this album differ from the instrumental adaptation of pop songs (and pop culture pariah) that goes by the name of Muzak? O'Riley chose these specifically because they would sound good on a piano; he wants the music adapted properly, not simply re-recorded by a nameless orchestra and piped into your local Safeway. True Love Waits is meant to be listened to actively in order to appreciate the nuances of the music, not to passively wash over you while you search for the cheapest brand of creamed corn.

Christopher O'Riley is a stunning pianist. I kept checking the liner notes to make sure that there was only one person playing the music, especially in the busier parts for which Radiohead have become famous. Only being somewhat familiar with the band's music before listening to this album, I was not quite sure what to expect, although I had heard a combined performance and interview with O'Riley on NPR which gave me an inkling, and I have most of the albums necessary for a basic appreciation. However, as I didn't have the key disc from which the bulk of True Love Waits was taken, I borrowed it from a friend who is a fan and who was eager to be of assistance.

Radiohead are no strangers to adaptations of their music. A search on Amazon.com found no less than four albums devoted to Radiohead covers; two by The String Quartet (one entirely of OK Computer and one mixed), one of other bands doing the songs, and one electronica selection. But what makes O'Riley's album the classic of the bunch is the heart behind it. Since he is a fan, he does his best to retain the dignity of the music and its original feel, even incorporating singer Yorke's sometimes strange vocal sounds into the melody. The songs remain remarkably similar to their origins, easily identifiable to the familiar ear. We end up with the same meal, just on a different plate; something to which fans of the band with an appreciation of the complexity of the music will surely gravitate.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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