CD review: Amanda Palmer, Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele

APPTPHOROHMU is an indie pop album by the ever-fascinating, possibly insane, Dresden Dolls front-woman. As an avid Radiohead fan, I can say that I’ve seen my fair share of odd covers and approach any new attempts with skepticism. Radiohead is one of the most critically acclaimed and sonically polarizing acts of the past two decades. Anyone trying to cover 7/8 time signatures, moog synthesizers or anything off the Kid A album needs to bring a certain quirky spin to get the mood right. Radiodread (reggae); Jaydiohead (mashups feat. Jay-Z) and Rodeohead (bluegrass) are the first examples to come to mind. Thankfully, the ever gifted, possibly demented, Amanda Palmer and the Unmarketable Title on Her Magical Ukulele makes the cut.
Even to those familiar with the Boston beauty queen’s body of work, there are still a few surprises. Radiohead’s deft songwriting is revealed thanks to Palmer’s slippery coos and cat calls which highlight Thom Yorke’s poor lyrical pronunciation (oh those are the words to “Idioteque!”). Her tempestuous theatricality, making up three fifths of the Dresden Dolls (the other two being Brian Viglione’s superhuman drumming), and her bottomless sincerity bring warmth to the sonic workmanship colder than an Oxford September rain. One needs to look no further than “Creep,” recorded live in Prague, to find a soulful lightning rod seducing hearts in the crowd.
Unfortunately, the ukulele is not the star, despite what the title would have you believe. Amanda and her enchanted instrument are accompanied by strings and pianos on songs like “No Surprises” from Ok Computer. Though pretty, Palmer’s powerhouse presence tends to chew out anything else in earshot. It isn’t the Dolls playing, it’s a solo album by the stormy front-woman and it’s all about her, though it’s a minor infraction.
The album that was originally available by donation in July just like Radiohead’s In Rainbows. The collection is not bargain bin quality, though it rarely is with either the artist or her songwriters. Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele is a gutsy performance that should seem fresh and inviting regardless of the listener’s level of fanaticism for either act. Listen to it over supper.