Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Karma Police” serves as the centerpiece of Radiohead’s 1997 classic, OK Computer. The beginning tracks of OK Computer find Radiohead at their most experimental to that point. From the shape-shifting “Paranoid Android” to the slow burn of “Exit Music (For A Film),” these otherworldly melodies embody the theme of disillusionment that runs through the album.
The opening notes of “Karma Police,” however, hit with a directness and simplicity that immediately leaps out. Thom Yorke’s voice weaves effortlessly through the chord changes, hardly rising above a whisper when he sings, “This is what you’ll get / when you mess with us.” It’s a remarkable moment when the song’s quiet intensity finally bursts in the second half, Yorke’s disdain turning into something that sounds an awful lot like optimism and warmth.
A standout track on a standout album is a perfect recipe for some great covers. Here are five interpretations hand-picked by Cover Me to help you get your good karma for the day.
1. Easy Star All-Stars – Karma Police (Radiohead cover)
The first track comes from the Easy Star All-Stars’ Radiodread, an excellent reggae cover album of OK Computer. The concept sounds silly – and it is – but the fuzzed-out basslines and mellow keyboard riffs prove to be a surprisingly great fit. Citizen Cope guests.
2. Eliza Lumley – Karma Police (Radiohead cover)
Eliza Lumley goes for the sultry jazz rendition on this cut, complete with woozy upright bass and muted trumpet solos. It strays far from the sound of the original, but it’s awesome to hear the melody in a creative and unusual musical setting.
3. John Vanderslice – Karma Police (Radiohead cover)
John Vanderslice explores the dynamic shifts embedded in the original. The first part of the song is spacious and moody, with fluttering and reverberating keyboards and barebones drum loop. In the second part, Vanderslice adds a thundering acoustic guitar that buzzes and crashes to the song’s climax.
4. The Dresden Dolls – Karma Police (Radiohead cover)
This cover from The Dresden Dolls is the most straightforward of the bunch, but barrels forward with a fierce energy captured perfectly by the live recording. Check out the sweet snare sound, courtesy of guest drummer Jerome Dillon of Nine Inch Nails.
5. The Bad Plus – Karma Police (Radiohead cover)
The Bad Plus are well-known for their jazz interpretations of rock classics, and this instrumental rendition of “Karma Police” doesn’t disappoint. Most of the track is wandering and improvisational, but it builds up brilliantly to a booming and triumphant ending.
Want more Five Good Covers? Check out previous installments here.