November 21, 2003

Christopher O'Riley: True Love Waits-Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead

This fascinating little record, released on the same day as Hail To The Thief, offers a different view of Radiohead. Christopher O'Riley is a classically-trained pianist, and he's also a Radiohead geek. Fanboy. Obsessive. Literally. The fifteen songs on True Love Waits only scratches the surface of his catalog; in performance, he'll play a full twenty-song set of Radiohead songs that doesn't include any of the songs on this album.
Heck, he's even played unreleased songs that even the most obsessive Radiohead fan might have missed.

True Love Waits is a pretty simple concept: Radiohead songs as played by a classical pianist. As novel of an idea that might be, it's a bit surprising when you realize exactly how well most of these songs survive the translation. It doesn't hurt that Radiohead's always been a bit sad and forlorn, because the sadder and bleaker the original song, the better the interpretation. O'Riley covers every album from Pablo Honey to I Might Be Wrong, but it's not a surprise that most of the songs True Love Waits are from OK Computer. For the complexities of "Airbag," "Karma Police," "Subterranean Homesick Alien" and "Let Down," in stripped-down form, they're even more powerful. The award for most moving composition here, though, goes to "Fake Plastic Trees," one of the few songs that never fails to bring me to tears.

While at times True Love Waits slips into monotony, for the most part O'Riley is an interesting interpreter. Ironically, it's the weaker Radiohead songs that don't really leave an impression, and it's no coincidence that these songs come from their forgettable debut album, Pablo Honey. If True Love Waits accomplishes one thing, it's the rethinking of Radiohead's later work, especially songs from the underappreciated Kid A. While many critics dismissed it as an album of bland, flat electronica, O'Riley's interpretations of "Everything In Its Right Place" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack" help highlight the missing tenderness of both songs, adding a human dimension to these cold, lifeless songs.

It would be easy to dismiss True Love Waits as a bit of a novelty. (anyone remember Grunge Lite?)
And while it's true that there is a certain novel aspect in recording an album of classical interpretations of a modern rock band, O'Riley (and Radiohead, to be honest) makes some interesting yet surprisingly faithful choices. It's interesting listening; it might not be something you listen to regularly, but it's beautiful enough to stand on its own. Personally, I'm interested in hearing O'Riley perform some original material, because if he's really this inspired by Radiohead, I'm pretty sure his own work is also as lovely and as beautiful as True Love Waits.

--Joseph Kyle

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