Category Archives: Radiohead
Radiohead – In Rainbows
This is the case of an album whose story almost overshadows the music itself. During Radiohead’s longest break in between studio albums, the band began to slowly post mysterious encoded artwork and fragments of lyrics on their website, piquing the interest of both the press and public. Then without warning, Jonny Greenwood made a startling announcement. Not only was the new album (now called In Rainbows) coming out in 10 days as a direct download, but you could pick what you wanted to pay for it—even get it for free. The subsequent buzz was near-deafening, with everyone from analysts to fans dissecting just what this bold marketing meant for the music industry and for the band, almost forgetting the impending release of the record itself.
With all of this hubbub, necessary or not, In Rainbows could have easily been remembered for its release strategy. Fortunately, not only did the album turn out to be good, it turned out to be a masterpiece. It’s not as visionary as OK Computer or Kid A, nor does it deliver the anthemic catharsis of The Bends. Instead, In Rainbows is the band’s version of a romantic record, more unabashedly gorgeous and emotional than anything they have released. Of course, this being Radiohead, things aren’t so cut and dry. These aren’t gushing, adoring ballads but songs of alienation (“Reckoner”), unrequited love (“Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” “All I Need,” “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”) and the pitfalls of casual sex (“Nude,” “House Of Cards”). Sonically, it’s their most rock-oriented since OK Computer, and though it is not as complex as that record, In Rainbows has a cleaner, tighter sound befitting a record so direct. Indeed, not only is the ringing piano on “Videotape” and clattering percussion on “Reckoner” delivered with a punch, but Thom Yorke’s lyrics are more straightforward than they’ve ever been, helping underscore every emotion the music evokes. In Rainbows is also a spiritual successor to OK Computer in that its experimentalism mainly runs beneath the surface, unveiling smaller details over time. Coming off of a long break and the somewhat uneven Hail To The Thief, perhaps the biggest surprise of this fantastic seventh record was that it proved Radiohead to still be at the top of their game.
Radiohead – The King Of Limbs
Compared to Jonny Greenwood’s legendary “It will be out in 10 days” post for In Rainbows in 2007, the announcement for The King Of Limbs was even more startling and mysterious. There were at least cryptic messages and artwork posted on Radiohead’s website leading up to the release of In Rainbows. For this, there was nothing. Plus, Limbs was only announced four days before it was actually released to the public via download, albeit without their last album’s name-your-price gimmick. So with virtually no time to build up hype for The King Of Limbs, it was hard to know what to expect, even if the press had been feverishly analyzing Thom Yorke’s playlists of what he’d been listening to lately.
As it turns out, The King Of Limbs continues the Radiohead tradition of being wholly unlike the album that preceded it, offering some new paths even as it recalls their previous work. Inspired by the electronic artists like Flying Lotus and Four Tet that Yorke has championed in recent years, the album is atmospheric and formless, with nearly every track built upon short, repeated loops and interlocking rhythms. In short, The King Of Limbs is their least structured and song-oriented since Kid A. But unlike that album, this isn’t a difficult listen; The King Of Limbs has a gentle, almost unassuming sound, buoyed by the band’s decision to use more organic instrumentation than electronics. It still requires multiple spins to get a handle on the shifting melodies and spacious arrangements, but it isn’t self-consciously alienating like their work was a decade ago.
“Bloom” sets the tone for the rest of the record. Beginning with a hovering keyboard loop and Phil Selway’s shuffling drumming, Thom Yorke jets the whole thing into outer space as soon as he wails, “Open your mouth wide, the universal sigh.” The driving funk “Morning Mr Magpie” and the great, shambling groove of “Little By Little” follow suit, albeit with more discernible structures. The interlude “Feral” hints at dubstep and introduces the stronger, more evocative second half where Limbs really starts to take shape. Lead single “Lotus Flower” is the best thing on here, featuring one of Yorke’s most riveting vocals, transcending the fleeting percussion and electronic manipulations that surround him. Elsewhere, the orchestral piano-driven ballad “Codex” bleeds into the pretty space folk of “Give Up The Ghost,” both of them vying for the most gorgeous moment on the record. And if there was any lingering sadness following those tracks, closer “Separator” seems to end optimistically, with its sprightly guitar riffs and a promise that “if you think this is over, then you’re wrong.”
The emphasis on the vocals makes this feel like a spiritual successor to Yorke’s solo effort, The Eraser, and at 8 tracks and 37 minutes, The King Of Limbs almost seems like an EP preceding a longer, more varied effort. It’s far from a masterpiece—it lacks the depth and emotion of the band’s best works and is a bit too monochromatic—yet as they near their 20th year of record-making, this brisk eighth record makes one thing clear: Radiohead are still very much at the vanguard of pop music, even if this collection doesn’t necessarily innovate. It’s a holding pattern, to be sure, but a very enjoyable one nonetheless.
Radiohead – Hail To The Thief
After the separated-at-birth experiments Kid A and Amnesiac, it was unclear which direction Radiohead would head next. From the looks of Hail To The Thief, it seems the band didn’t really know either. Compiled mainly from songs they have been tooling around with for many years and some newly written material, their 2003 effort is the band’s longest and most varied effort to date. It’s also, as the title implies, their most explicitly political. This isn’t to say that Thom Yorke is going on any Rage Against The Machine-styled rants here—he’s not even particularly topical. Instead, inspired by the tumultuous global climate following the 9/11 attacks, he explores his fear of Orwellian governments (“2+2=5,” “Sit Down, Stand Up”), while imaging a safer future for his children (“I Will,” “Sail To The Moon”). But it isn’t all politics, and Yorke uses the opportunity to try a few new lyrical approaches, whether they be stream-of-consciousness paranoia (“A Wolf At The Door”) or a fictional character study (“A Punch Up At A Wedding”).
This eclectic approach extends to the music as well. After two albums of delving into particularly experimental territory, Radiohead return with more guitars, drums, and especially pianos than they’ve had since the ’90s. They haven’t abandoned electronics entirely—”Backdrifts” and “The Gloaming” make that perfectly clear—but it only informs the music here, rather than forming the foundation. “2+2=5” starts like many other Radiohead songs, ethereal and plaintive, until all the sudden it works itself into a furious frenzy with Yorke shouting, “You have not been paying attention!” as if indicting all those who hadn’t taken his neurotic warnings seriously. Elsewhere, the creepy dirge of “We Suck Young Blood,” the growling “Myxomatosis,” and the excellent “There There”‘s pounding percussion move in different directions entirely.
However, what makes Hail To The Thief unique in Radiohead’s catalogue is also its greatest weakness. It’s clear the band takes advantage of their longest tracklisting to date, trying a little bit of everything, but it also results in an inconsistent, unfocused listen. Songs like “Scatterbrain” and “Where I End And You Begin” fit the tone of the record to be sure, yet they feel like obvious filler. Radiohead are at their best when they are overreaching, and since they rest on their laurels here a bit, some of these songs don’t stick as well as they should. That being said, for anyone else, Hail To The Thief would be a great achievement, but for Radiohead, it’s a bit of a letdown. Despite this, the numerous great moments on here rank with the band’s best work.
Radiohead – Amnesiac
The long, tumultuous recording sessions for Kid A yielded many more songs than the ones that landed on that album. Seeking to avoid a double album, Radiohead decided instead to release another long player only months afterward. Because of this, this second album, Amnesiac, was often derided as “Kid B,” a collection of songs that didn’t fit on the original album because they simply weren’t good enough. While there is some truth in this—many of the more experimental tracks are clearly Kid A rejects—the album is far from an afterthought. In fact, many of the songs here that were left off Kid A for being (relatively) too conventional rank among Radiohead’s best. The haunting “Pyramid Song” finds transcendence amidst its ever-shifting time signatures; “You And Whose Army?” builds to a rousing finish, and “Knives Out” twists a melody from “Paranoid Android” into the closest thing to a pop song the band had done since OK Computer. Elsewhere, the bookending tracks “Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box” and “Life In A Glasshouse”—the former all clattering percussion and mumbled vocals, the latter an emotional jazz number featuring Humphrey Lyttelton and his band—capture Radiohead still pushing the boundaries of their music with excellent results. Still, the more electronic and formless tracks like “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” and “Like Spinning Plates” may sound good in the moment but feel a bit tossed off compared to the accomplished experiments of Kid A. It’s enough to make this one of Radiohead’s more unfocused albums, but the difference here is that even the lesser songs on Amnesiac are interesting enough to make this record more than worthwhile, showcasing the band at some of their most adventurous peaks and indulgent valleys.
Radiohead – Kid A
OK Computer was an immense critical and commercial success, causing Radiohead to be heralded as the heirs to the “world’s biggest rock band” title. All of this took the band by surprise, and during their following tour, the members of the band, especially Thom Yorke, became increasingly depressed and disillusioned with their fame and the attention. Naturally, the group retreated to the more difficult fringes of their sound on 2000’s Kid A. This ironically resulted in even greater commercial success, claiming Radiohead’s first #1 spot in America. This was, of course, unintentional—it was mainly due to a Napster album leak and built up hype after OK Computer—since Kid A was designed as a deliberately difficult record to challenge the expectations of Radiohead’s fans. This isn’t to say, however, that the album was a conscious attempt at commercial suicide. Rather, the album feels like a natural, even inevitable, transition from OK Computer‘s futuristic rock, albeit a rather extreme transition. From the moment “Everything In Its Right Place” sets in with its wash of otherworldly keyboards, it’s also quite apparent it’s not much of a rock album. Instead, Kid A is a largely electronic album, one that still feels like a Radiohead record, even when it sounds like nothing else. The band, rather than adding simple dance pulses or coffeehouse trip-hop, takes influence from more challenging forms of electronic music, something they had only flirted with previously. It never sounds forced, though, even when they incorporate elements of Krautrock and free jazz (“The National Anthem”) or ambient music (“Treefingers”). Assuredly, it is a demanding listen at first since nothing here follows any sort of conventional structure and Yorke’s lyrics are often cryptic, obscured, and fragmented. Yet, despite its alien qualities, the album is frequently emotional and beautiful as on the warped divorce song “Morning Bell;” the paranoid IDM of “Idioteque;” or the sad, ethereal folk of “How To Disappear Completely.” Plus, even though there really isn’t anything on here that can be considered a hook (except for, perhaps, the refrain to “Optimistic”), the music, once it sinks in, is just as memorable as any pop song, a testament to the album’s—and the band’s—success. Kid A may not be as immediate as some of their other work, but a patient ear reveals the album to be possibly their most rewarding.
Radiohead – The Bends
If Pablo Honey hinted at Radiohead’s cerebral, cathartic sound, then The Bends was the breakthrough, a quantum leap forward for the band in terms of composition and songwriting. The band synthesizes a multitude of influences ranging from R.E.M. and Pixies to The Smiths and My Bloody Valentine into something new, creating sweeping anthems of despair and alienation. But compared to the sullen, paranoid roads the band would later travel, The Bends feels bright and alive, even if Thom Yorke’s lyric sheet would state otherwise. The trick is that even when the music takes left turns, it always lands on a strong, focused melody, making the band’s envelope-pushing experiments seem exciting rather than ponderous. “Just” and “My Iron Lung” are muscular rockers that display the band’s more visceral side, even when the songs explore unconventional structures. Meanwhile, the haunting “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” is memorizing and dark, riding Ed O’Brien’s instantly memorable guitar riff. Yorke’s lyrics also considerably developed, providing social commentary while becoming more cryptic and memorable. This is seen most notably on the album’s biggest stand out, “Fake Plastic Trees,” a sparse, melancholy acoustic track that bubbles over into an exciting, cathartic blowout. Though the band would continue to refine and innovate, The Bends stands as Radiohead’s first real demonstration of their talent and remains a classic of alternative rock.
Radiohead – Pablo Honey
Eternally thought of as “the album with ‘Creep’ on it”, Radiohead’s debut album, Pablo Honey, is indeed the least remarkable record in the band’s oeuvre, but it’s also unjustly maligned in the grand scheme of the group’s legacy and has its fair share of memorable moments. At this point, Radiohead haven’t mastered the ability to make their textured guitars sound distinctive yet, so the album is at its best when it delivers angst-filled anthems, the group’s true forte this early in their career. “Stop Whispering” and “Anyone Can Play Guitar” are quite good, both sweetly melodic and forceful at the same time, qualities that the band would later expand on The Bends. The dreamy (then chaotic) album closer “Blow Out” is just about the only place the band mixes things up to great effect. Then there is, of course, “Creep,” which, despite its overexposure, is still a rather fine song: a moody, grungy rocker punctuated by Jonny Greenwood’s exclamatory slams of feedback. Still, much of the latter half of the album is somewhat generic, and Thom Yorke is still in the very early stages of his lyrical development, often reciting self-deprecating tropes that fail to leave an impression. Though the band’s basic sound is outlined on Pablo Honey, there are few signs of the directions Radiohead would later take in their career.
Radiohead – OK Computer
A key album of the 1990s, Radiohead’s OK Computer is something of a miracle: a truly complex, experimental rock album that was appreciated by the masses upon its release. Of course, this is mainly because the band tucks all of its unconventional time signatures, complicated syncopations, and electronic and instrumental hip-hop influences below the surface, unveiling new layers and hidden elements with each listen. But if it were just a clump of easily-digestible experimentation, the album wouldn’t have achieved the acclaim or influence it did. Instead, OK Computer merged these innovations with some of Radiohead’s most memorable and evocative work yet, including the multi-segmented “Paranoid Android,” the painfully resigned “No Surprises,” and the cathartic pop of “Let Down.” Massively influential upon its release, OK Computer‘s sweeping melancholy put a definitive end to the declining Britpop movement, galvanizing a new wave of British (and American) alternative bands who also traded in falsetto-sung alienation, albeit in a much more radio-friendly way.