Can you guess what Jonny Greenwood’s been doing instead of finishing the new Radiohead album? No, not perfecting his sudoku. Not breeding Japanese koi carp. Jonny’s actually been really getting into reggae. And he wants to share it with you.
‘Jonny Greenwood Is The Controller’ – 17 tracks of vintage dub and Jamaican soul, pieced together during six months digging through the Trojan Records vaults – is a great album on its own terms, and it says a lot about Radiohead right now. Swapping instruments, eschewing conventional studios for natural ambience, toying with samplers and splicing tape reels… in a sense, Radiohead’s working methods more resemble the mixing-desk-as-instrument spirit of dub pioneer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, toiling in home-built studio the Black Ark, than the legion of bands cracking open the piggy bank for two weeks at Abbey Road.
What’s surprising, mind, is how cheerful the selection is. Last year’s ‘Radiodread’ – a track-by-track cover of ‘OK Computer’ by New York reggae sorts – was eerie in its ability to reinvent Thom Yorke’s tales of urban alienation as apocalyptic shanty laments. But alongside cobwebbed dub-cuts such as Lee Perry’s ‘Black Panta’, there’s songs such as Marcia Aitken’s sweet, soulful ‘I’m Still In Love’ and Desmond Dekker & The Aces’ ‘Beautiful And Dangerous’ – sunshine-tinted reggae of the sort ’70s punks used to adore when they weren’t cracking each other’s skulls. In short, it’s more ‘good summertime barbecue’ than “the crackle of pigskin/the dust and the screaming” – and all the better for it.