Let’s time warp back to 1994. Radiohead was about to be flying high with (I’ve always felt) their creepiest and most menacing-sounding record, 1995’s The Bends. This EP dropped before the record, in 1994, and collects the tracks from the two-part UK My Iron Lung singles and one track from the Japanese-only Itch. Basically, it’s chock full of (at the time) rarities and b-sides.
My Iron Lung, of course, is a great track, the band’s reaction to the success of Creep (“this is our new song / just like the last one / a total waste of time / my iron lung,”) with that throbbing bass in the fore, and those guitar slashes and that laidback baring of the teeth before going mental on the breakdown… The Trickster shuffles and punches along before soaring as well. Why this wasn’t an album track for The Bends, I honestly don’t know. Lewis (Mistreated) is Radiohead channeling the Pixies, mainly, and it’s cool for its many restless riffs and licks.
Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong floats beautifully, finally just a bit rougher but still floating. Sweet. Up next is Permanent Daylight, which ( I think) was a clue for Radiohead fans of what was to come in the next couple of records. That beat, that sound, that feel… add some more electronics instead of the guitar rock band sound and this could have been on Kid A. Sounds great as it is, though, too.
Next up are a couple of short tracks that feel more like sketches than fully realized songs. Lozenge Of Love is a strange little picked-acoustic space-out track, and You Never Wash Up After Yourself brings on the R.E.M. arpeggiated guitar, gentle and sweet. And finally, a fairly basic acoustic version of Creep, because the world was not yet tired of that song in 1994. Sadly, this version I have here overdubs the word very over Thom singing the word fucking. Because we’re not grown-ups enough to hear swearing on a record. Alas.
Cool collection of non-album tracks from a band on the verge of becoming one of the world’s biggest acts (if they weren’t already, by that point).
I suppose this counts as my drunk review for this week. I didn’t post anything yesterday. Crazily enough, I couldn’t have been arsed, yesterday. But tonight I am here and here’s whatcha get…
This record, and others by this band that sounded like it, used to really piss me off. I hated how radiohead went away from the rock and more fully towards the electronic things (and that was a long time ago). That trick worked really well on OK Computer, but to me it didn’t seem like license to make a career of it. But no one ever asks me these things and so they go their own way and make their own choices.
However, I’m sitting here with two glasses of a decent merlot in me (which, tonight, constitutes an approximation of drunk because I am really, really tired), and suddenly somehow this record is appealing to me. How?
I haven’t the foggiest. It’s still mostly drum machine and synthesizer crap while Yorke whinges along as only he can. If I played this in the morning, I’d curse a blue streak, shut it off and question why I even own it in the first place. In that order. I know I would.
But I don’t even remember buying this CD. It just appeared in my collection. Has it been here long? I don’t really know. I know for sure I haven’t consciously chosen to play it in a long enough time period that I’ve apparently forgotten I own it. And what made me plug it in tonight? I couldn’t tell you.
Wow, so far this is shaping up to be a fantastic friggin’ post.
Let’s blame the French. They made the merlot that is making me like this CD, tonight. So easy to blame the alcohol, I know. But whatever the case, tonight this record is hypnotic and, oddly, musically relevant. I like the departures, such as the piano bits of We Suck Young Blood (even though the handclaps are completely weird). I listened to Go To Sleep twice, that track was great. There There was funky, and wasn’t A Punch Up At The Wedding one of those hard-to-get tracks people bootlegged before it appeared here? Well, whatever. It’s cool.
It should be noted that I don’t care much about whatever it is he’s howling on about. Sometimes, when I pay attention, I will listen to what he’s saying. But usually, I just let his voice become another instrument and I couldn’t care less what he’s yelping. Wiki says this record is full of political stuff. That’s nice… aaaand nope… still does nothing, for me.
Look, I don’t believe that my momentary approval of this album in any way indicates a shift in my usual musical tastes. I like radiohead, usually in small doses. They have a couple of albums that I love, and they were released well before this one showed up. I still say the Bends is one of the most menacing CDs I own, and even it flirts with this electronic stuff. But with that one it was more of a flirtation, not a full-on relationship like this.
Whatever. Look, I’m sitting here, I’ve had a couple of drinks, and I liked this record well enough this time. Apparently, merlot makes me appreciate more recent (ha, it was 11 years ago) radiohead. Who knew?
I’ve written about radiohead in these pages before, as you may recall. So you’ll know that I prefer their earlier stuff… and not to negate the shift they made into exploring blips and bleeps and electronic silliness. Oh no. I just listen to their beginnings more often. Chacun son gout.
This is truly an incredible band. Their musicality, originality and inventiveness must be utterly shaming (and inspiring) for all of the other bands who continue to trundle along beneath them. They are huge for a reason.
So it follows that there’s this greatest hits disc released after they left their label. And what a disc it is. Sound-wise, these songs flow one to the next as though the intervening years between them don’t matter at all. Sure there’s an increasing electro-tomfoolery from the later tracks (it’s not for me but whatever), yet it all still sounds remarkably like only radiohead can sound.
Imagine if this were an album, not a compilation… a new release that sounded this good. Damn, it’d blow minds… Look, all you really need to know is that their futuristic, claustrophobic and agoraphobic sound is by now so sure and strong as to be invincible. Fans know this stuff inside and out. If you’re new, what rock have you been living under, exactly?
There’s two versions of this set (with either one or two discs). Get the two-disc special edition, even if only for Talk Show Host (I love that track, and there’s really no other reason to buy the Romeo And Juliet soundtrack). Of course, you probably already own all their records and have downloaded a ton of other stuffs already, so it’s moot. But if you just want to listen to them occasionally, or have a set in the car that isn’t your lovingly crafted MP3 collection in its entirety, get the two-fer. Trust me on this one.
This band was essential listening 15 years ago and it still is today. Personally, I just wish they’d have placed the tracks chronologically – then I could ignore disc 2 altogether. And where the hell is Stop Whispering?!? I mean, c’mon!
02 Paranoid Android
03 Karma Police
05 No Surprises
06 High And Dry
07 My Iron Lung
08 There There
11 Fake Plastic Trees
13 2+2 = 5
14 The Bends
15 Pyramid Song
16 Street Spirit (Fade Out)
17 Everything In Its Right Place *
02 I Might Be Wrong
03 Go To Sleep
04 Let Down
05 Planet Telex
06 Exit Music (For A Film)
07 The National Anthem *
08 Knives Out
09 Talk Show Host
11 Anyone Can Play Guitar
12 How To Disappear Completely
13 True Love Waits
* If I were the band, I’d be pretty pissed that Parlophone/EMI, even after all those years and all the tens of millions of dollars earned for the coffers of the over-priced idiots behind desks, couldn’t even get their shit together long enough on a career-spanning retrospective collection of one of their best-selling bands to correctly spell two of the song titles on the packaging. I mean, “Everthing In Its Right Place” (sic) and “The Natioal Anthem” (sic)? Man, that would bug me forever to think of all the millions of copies out there, misspelled. Completely shoddy, if you ask me. Ever heard of a spell-checker? Yeesh. Damn The Man, I say. Damn The Man!
I believe I’ve noted (several months ago) in these pages that I really like radiohead. I’ve been in on the gag since around the time of Pablo Honey, thanks to our buddy Brian being into them long before it was cool to do so, and I’ve heard (and owned) every record since. But I haven’t even really liked most of their output after OK Computer. Think what you will, but it’s true.
To me, that album was a perfectly calculated snapshot of the band standing at the precipice of every musical style that appealed to them at the time, and using it all to their best advantage. It was a culmination, a recap of their other (brilliant) early records, a solid and ultimate notice to the world that this band mattered. It’s just a great listen, from start to finish. Since then, they’ve blasted off into orbit, focussing most of their energy mostly on just one aspect of their sound, becoming knob-twiddling weirdos writing brilliant songs that I can’t stand because I hate that electronic shit. If it’s an element in the song that compliments the rest of the actual instruments, then fine. But if the blipping and bleeping are the focus, you’ve lost me.
Still though, I love ‘em. I think they’re amazing song-writers, but I just can’t listen to the recent stuff very much. At least, not an entire album all the way through. If I hear a track on the radio or in a mix, fine. But that’s about my limit.
So here comes yet another record. And kudos to the band for staying at it, never relenting on their creative output, and for turning out yet another quality product that will obviously make radiohead fans the world over very, very (very) happy.
Now, I do love artists who do cool shit for their fans, and In Rainbows has been (initially) handled in a neat way. For the past couple of months this record has only been available through the band’s web site, and (even cooler), it’s pay-what-you-can. So if you’re a fan, pay ‘em what you normally would, or make a donation and give ’em more! If you’re merely curious about the record, give ‘em a little. If you’re just in it for the kicks, well, just take the album and don’t give them anything. How you go about purchasing the record says a multitude of things about who you are, as much as it does about how much of a fan of the band you are. It’s a sociological experiment in capitalism. Well done.
Of course, the record will also see CD release soon (this month sometime, by all accounts), and it’ll come with an extra disc of songs. So if you’re a real fan of the band, you’ll have to go out and buy the whole thing again to get the extra tracks. Frankly, I hate when bands do this to their fans. I mean, they already bought it once, so give ’em the works and be done with it. Let them use their other disposable income to come out and see you on tour or buy a t-shirt or something. Anyway. This, too, is a bit of a consumer-centric sociological experiment. I hope they’re tracking data and learning a whole bunch about radiohead fans and their spending habits. I’m sure someone out there will care about the results.
They were so cool about it on the internet, and then dinks about the CD release. I mean, to me, they’re saying they’re innovative and generous by allowing fans to pay what they can, on the one hand, and then saying “Oh, by the way, we need another villa in the south of France, so go buy it again to get these extra songs” on the other hand. Looks like it to me, and that’s shit. One or the other, guys. Sad thing is, it’ll work, and they know it.
And now, the record.
Let me preface my comments by saying that over the past two or three efforts I could always hear the song I wish they’d recorded in behind the other, blipping and bleeping electronic shit. It frustrates me to no end, because they really are good songs, at heart.
From the opening seconds of 15 Step I thought, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again,’ because that track wouldn’t do much to dissuade a person from thinking that this was going to be just like the last couple of records, and to me, that’d not only be boring, it’d be rubbish. A sign that’d they’d finally settled their shifting music efforts into a sound I don’t like.
But then right after that, Bodysnatchers improved my mood immensely. From there on, it was hit and miss for me, but mostly it’s mid-to-slow-tempo tracks with Yorke howling/whinging over top of the music. Not much new, in this way. Which is not to say that any of them are poorly-written, nor are any of them full-on annoying. Actually, this is one of their better attempts at music in a decade.
House Of Cards was interesting, though it could have been a minute or so shorter and had the same effect. And the acoustic-driven first single (at least, so says the internet, and it’s smarter than me), Jigsaw Falling Into Place, may be one of the best, most concise songs they’ve constructed in years. It’d kick ass in a live setting, I’m sure.
Don’t get me wrong. Overall, this record was pretty damn good, if you go in knowing what to expect. I mean, here they’ve even made obvious attempts at maintaining melody throughout entire songs (!), and the electronics are toned down enough throughout most of it so that I could actually hear the songs. So much better than the last couple of efforts, in this respect.
Every radiohead album is a freak-out, an over-the-top experiment in sonic landscapes, lyrical creation and rhythmic amazement. They always seem to be trying to out-do themselves, which is expected, actually, of any band. Nice to see a band try, though. But it all holds together in the complex instrumentation, the daring arrangements, and Thom Yorke’s ethereal voice. It’s what we’ve come to expect, although for them it just seems natural, anyway.
Look, none of this is completely unlistenable. It just depends on your point of view. Either: a) this is yet another perfect radiohead record. The band has legions of fans around the world who will tell you exactly that. So, if you chose this option you will analyze the record to death and blog and chat about with all your little radiohead fan-friends and you’ll love it forever and ever amen. Or: b) it’s yet another radiohead record that will get a couple of plays and then sit quietly with the rest, one more soldier in the growing ranks of the radiohead army on your shelf, containing tracks just ripe for the inevitable Greatest Hits disc at some point in the future – the one you’d play more than any album on its own.
Whatever you choose, radiohead fans around the globe, rejoice!
And get ready to open your wallets a second time, if you want the second disc. Which you know you do, so you’re screwed. Think of that what you will.
Honestly, everything else aside, the music here gives me hope that the band may once again find a balance between their ambition, their talent and their instruments of choice.
01 15 Steps
04 Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
05 All I Need
06 Faust Arp
08 House Of Cards
09 Jigsaw Falling Into Place
And, as reported on the internets, here is the upcoming CD release’s second disc Track Listing:
01 MK 1
02 Down Is The New Up
03 Go Slowly
04 MK 2
05 Last Flowers
06 Up On The Ladder
07 Bangers + Mash
08 4 Minute Warning
I’ve always found this album to be full of menace. Even now, 11 years after its release, it still creeps (get it?) me out. There are so many beautiful, lyrical songs here. On their own, or especially in the hands of other, lesser bands, they would be great anyway. But somehow there’s a real edge here, something lurking and cruel.
Perhaps it’s Thom Yorke’s voice and delivery, and we definitely can’t forget the lyrical content, but I’d be more inclined to think it’s the music itself. The guitars buzz and chew and growl, the drums pound mightily in all the right places, the bass wraps you in a bear hug with big meaty arms, and there’s just enough distortion and feedback to make the whole thing sound like it’s going to fall apart at any minute.
Sure, there are the radio-friendlier songs here, and everyone talked ad nauseum about the video for Just, but I think the real strength of this record is seen when you take a step back and view the cohesive whole. Each piece fits perfectly into the puzzle, each song leads inexorably (and necessarily) to the next, and if you play it in its entirety, you’ve been told one complete, sinister story.
Every radiohead album is an event, an evolution, a new way of becoming for a group of musicians that’s just trying to do their own thing. That thing, mind you, always tends to be unexpected, refreshing, highly intelligent, and outside the current norm at the time of each release. Every record has its own personality, it’s own raison d’être, if you will. The Bends, to me, has one over-arching purpose, and that’s to use unearthly beauty to scare the living shit out of you.
Everybody’s got an opinion about radiohead. Anything and everything you can call to mind, from loving them to hating them, it’s all been said and done already. Such is the way it is with interesting, thought-provoking and challenging artists. Look, if you want Britney, go to the mall, buy Britney and be happy. This is so very much more than that and you’ll be glad you stuck around for it.
I’m on a big Montreal kick today so here we go with this, another CD that really reminds of that city. Not because I bought it there (I already had it and loved it by the time we moved there). But once, early on, we were on the bus heading out of the city towards Mont Tremblant to attend a friend’s wedding, and this CD was in the discman as the cityscape rolled past us. It was the perfect soundtrack to enhance seeing the city through bus windows. Yes, I am a geek, but those images and these tunes are indelibly linked in my brain.
Thom Yorke has one of those voices that either intrigues you, drawing you deeper into the song, or it’s the vocal equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. For me it’s the former, and it fits perfectly with the incredibly able soundscapes created here by the band. Yes, that last sentence proves I’m a music-reviewing tosser. So what? I love this CD. It makes me babble superlatives. I love everything about it, even how it smells. I never get tired of it. It’s brilliant and creepy. It sings and screams. It ambles, and yet it strides with purpose. It really doesn’t care if you like it or not. It damns a lot, yet somehow forgives everything too. It does not want to hold your hand.
What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? Get up off your cynical, sardonic ass and get yourself a copy of this record (if you’re one of the 6 people on the planet who don’t own it already).