Some groups arrive on the scene with a distinct sound worked out; others are mere products of the scene they emerged from, religiously adhering to their influences, symptoms of the contemporary rock epidemic.
The Radiohead of Pablo Honey were in no way indicative of the experimental, intelligent rock outfit they'd become; in some respect they were the antithesis of the group they would develop into. This Radiohead was a faceless, generic alternative rock band, interchangeable with any number of their peers. There was nothing to distinguish them, no hidden sign of the phenomenon they'd evolve into; in that regard this album is little more than a historical curiosity for hardcore fans to snatch up and attempt to decode the hidden brilliance of.
This is also the home of the infamous megahit Creep, a teen angst anthem with far too few discernable hooks to merit its legendary status. All the same, it's certainly one of the strongest and most distinctive tracks on here, and does succeed on a purely atmospheric level.
Other stronger cuts include the rockers You and Anyone Can Play Guitar, showing that their songwriting talents had started to manifest themselves even in the creative rut they were trapped in.
Most of the album makes for a monotonous, mind-numbing listen, however, with very little standing out and most of the tracks just dragging and melting into one another. The songs are for the most part criminally derivative and terminally hookless; any competent alt rock group could've produced them and in no way would they be hailed as the future saviors of rock.
While Radiohead would pass through many forms, this doesn't feel like a Radiohead album at any stage of the development, recognizable only for Thom Yorke's distinctive voice. One wouldn't suspect that Radiohead would start out this way, with an album nearly completely devoid of personality. A failed experiment would be preferable and easier to reconcile with than this conservative, generic bore.
The transition from alternative hacks to experimental rockers couldn't be instantaneous, and this obscure EP helps delineate the process. Alternately out of print or overpriced, few own, or have even heard of, this EP, which is truly a shame; it's certainly an infinitely more rewarding listen than its predecessor.
The title track is arguably the first truly great Radiohead song, an experimental rocker that alternates its moody verses with psychotic instrumental breaks, a more adventurous, innovative listen than every track on the debut combined. Radiohead were already showing experimental inclinations, and this song is a pivotal moment in their development.
The Trickster is a tragic case, a forgotten classic consigned to eternal anonymity on this EP. An exceptional riff rocker, it's eminently worthy of inclusion on The Bends, and its dismissal as a B side is both baffling and outrageous.
The other tracks, be it the entertaining rocker Lewis (Mistreated) or the haunting Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong, are uniformly strong, and superior to just about every track from the debut. Creep actually benefits from a minimalist acoustic backing, sounding more raw and emotional.
Were it not for its extreme brevity MIL would receive an even higher rating. This, rather than The Bends, was the true birth of the real Radiohead, depicting the emergence of the talents and ambitions that would come to define them. A must buy for all Radiohead fans, if only because it's the only place you'll find The Trickster.
Radiohead's pinnacle as a (relatively) straightforward rock group. This is where most fans jump on board, and for good reason; this is not the same group that churned out the mediocre alternative rock of PH. This is a confident, adventurous groups, one not afraid to take risks; moreover, this is a group that's already immeasurably progressed as songwriters, no longer willing to pump out hookless effluvia.
Every track is strong and, more importantly, every track has something different to offer, with none of the repetition of sound that plagued PH. Planet Telex immediately signals that this is a different group, with experimentation with sonic textures. The title track continues with a better vocal melody than you'll find anywhere on the debut. High And Dry is a ballad that actually possesses some emotional resonance, making one wonder how it could be a PH outtake. Fake Plastic Trees is even better, though, with Yorke at his most depressive, sewing the seeds for devastating numbers like How To Disappear Completely. Other highlights include Just, perhaps their best straight rocker, as well as the returning My Iron Lung which more than retains its potency.
This album was a necessary step for Radiohead; by finally mastering basic rock, they became free to evolve more musically. Tracks like Just represent just how far their basic rockers had come; nothing on the debut could boast that kind of adrenaline, memorability or impact.
Furthermore, the group were already heading in new directions, displaying a new sonic range (Planet Telex) and more unconventional structures (My Iron Lung). Ironically, it's these deviations from the norm that enable it to be such a strong rock album; Radiohead are at their best when they're experimenting, which is why their me-too debut was such a disaster.
For some the band discovered the perfect balance between conventional rock and experimentation here, and their subsequent album is too avant garde. In that regard, perhaps this is the best place to start with the group before proceeding further.
Widely hailed as the band's magnum opus, this is the start, and thus most accessible, of their experimental period. In OKC the band presents their vision of the future, providing a theme that can enable one to construe it as a concept album if they have a particular desire to do so.
Their songwriting has evolved with their ambition, and their tour of their dystopic future takes the form of everything from sci/fi nursery rhymes to suites about schizophrenic robots to arena rockers to haunting ballads. The tracks are flawless, save the consummately irritating Fitter Happier, a gimmicky glimpse of a Big Brother-esque fascistic government regulating the population that serves no purpose after one listen. In that regard it's the album's Revolution 9, an irritating experiment to be religiously skipped, only this one's far shorter and thus infinitely more palatable.
The album immerses you from the opening moment, with a brilliant and evocative riff that leads you into the sci/fi fantasy of Airbag. Paranoid Android follows, a suite that shifts between rocker and ballad, featuring a killer riff along the way. Subterranean Homesick Alien mostly relies on an other worldly atmosphere, while Exit Music (For A Film) is a dark, haunting ballad. Karma Police is an incredible moody rocker with more Orwellian overtones.
No Surprises is often picked as the best track, an exceedingly catchy futuristic nursery rhyme dealing with the problems of aging. It's certainly an exceptional track, but on an album this strong it's difficult to select a favorite.
Every track is brilliant, and save for the aberration Fitter Happier the album's completely devoid of filler. Radiohead made it abundantly clear on this album; they were capable of making serious artistic statements, and could engage in experimentation without sacrificing catchiness or melody. Every subsequent album was merely a reiteration of that fact, as they descended deeper and deeper into the realm of the avant garde, never losing their way.
This is the album that alienated many of their fans, their least accessible creation and the one that, ironically, netted them their only grammy.
On OKC, the group had certainly entered their experimental phase, but this experimentation primarily manifested itself in the form of embellishments to the music, rarely constituting the form of the music itself. The album still featured rock music, recognizable, comfortable rock music, albeit through an experimental filter.
On Kid A that all changed. The experimentation was no longer confined to the background or sidelines; it broke free and dominated the entire album.
While some proclaim that it's a self-indulgent, pretentious disaster, I would call it an artistic triumph. Once one penetrates through the layers of (sometimes dissonant) sound, they'll discover that the brilliant songwriting that informed OKC is still intact, and the songs are still intelligent, resonant, and even catchy.
Moreover, these are songs that no one else could have made. By embracing experimentation even further, Radiohead have created a unique style, one that doesn't arrive at the expense of their melodies. While OKC certainly wasn't conservative, these songs are truly like nothing else, generally possessing only the faintest trappings of the rock genre.
The National Anthem begins deceptively with a catchy riff, soon transforming into an avant garde dissonant noisefest, but one that still makes sense. How To Disappear Completely is a haunting, devastating ballad, and Optimistic contains an extremely catchy vocal melody. Everything In Its Right Place is a sonic wonder, and the title track is an evocative instrumental. Idioteque is remarkably catchy, and Morning Bell is absolutely beautiful.
Once more every track is strong, and accentuated rather than marred by its experimentation. For the first time experimentation was truly at the heart of the album; while plenty of groups conducted similar experiments in electronica, few integrated it with songwriting of this caliber. They had truly come a long, long way in the last seven years.
Shortly after the release of their previous album Radiohead revealed that the Kid A sessions had yielded enough new material to sustain another full CD. It was rumored that this extra material was of a more accessible, conventional rock nature; these rumors were soon dispelled.
Amnesiac may be even more overtly avant garde than its predecessor, depicting further exploits in their romance with electronica. This results in some tracks, like the gimmicky Pulk Pull Revolving Doors, that can be hardly said to constitute real songs, amounting to little more than failed experiments. Still, when a group takes so many chances such failures are inevitable, and more often than not these experiments prove successful, like the haunting Like Spinning Plates, which employs similar sonic textures to much greater effect.
There's no getting around the fact, however, that this is an album composed of outtakes, and despite the undeniable quality of much of the material it's still a distinctly lesser offering than KA. Still, with great tracks such as the haunting, minimalist Pyramid Song, driven by a piano riff that actually benefits from its endless repetition, the comparatively traditional rocker I Might Be Wrong which could almost be seen as a return to their roots, the dark, ominous Knives Out and the sonically fascinating Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box, the album more than merits its existence, and would be a strong outing for most any other band.
Nonetheless, its nature as an outtakes comp prevents it from ascending to the heights of their previous masterpiece. In addition to the stronger tracks, there are songs that could be perceived as little more than fragments, along with the horrendously wrongheaded inclusion of a reworked Morning Bell, which loses nearly all the haunting majesty of the original.
By no means was it a mistake to release the album, however; it contains a number of instant Radiohead classics, albeit with a modicum of filler to dilute its potency. This is still Radiohead doing what they do best: experimental rock with a foundation of strong songwriting to ground it. The band were on a creative roll, and the fact that an outtakes collection could be this strong is a true testament to that fact.
This live EP seems to exist for one purpose only: to prove that, if called upon to do so, Radiohead were capable of by and large reproducing their hyper complex material in a live forum.
This certainly is an impressive fact, but it makes one wonder if that's really an adequate reason to justify the release of this EP, a quick cash-in on the success of KA and Amnesiac.
The EP's biggest flaw is how unrepresentative it is of a typical Radiohead concert. To hype their recent albums they've abstained from including any pre-KA material, focusing solely on the tracks of their last two releases. This is especially mystifying as their earlier material would be far more conducive to live interpretations, and could actually benefit from the energy inherent to live renditions.
The problem with neglecting the early output is that the sole aim of these live productions of recent material seems to be to exhibit their capacity to faithfully perform them, without ever attempting to ameliorate or expand upon them in any respect.
This leaves the listener with competent translations of good songs that are inevitably inferior to the originals. By not offering anything new with these versions there's little reason to listen to them as opposed to the originals. Is it impressive that they can emulate their studio trickery to this degree in a live setting? Yes. But once the novelty of this has worn off, the listener is left with very little incentive to listen to them again.
Predictably the highlight is the title track, as, by being the closest to their tB style rock, it's the one number capable of benefiting from the extra adrenaline of the live medium. It rocks harder than the original, making it stand out far more than it did on Amnesiac, where it was largely lost in the shuffle.
The obligatory fan-bait is the EP exclusive True Love Waits, a pretty, haunting acoustic ballad. It's hardly enough to warrant a purchase, but it's a nice treat for fans who shelled out the cash for the EP. It's not a lost treasure of the stature of, say, The Trickster, and it's hardly a tragedy that it never resurfaced on an album, but it's a good enough listen and the sole intimate moment on the album.
Even the track selection from KA and Amnesiac is somewhat suspect. Does one really need a third version of Morning Bell (though at least it's based upon the infinitely superior KA version)? Why no Knives Out, Optimistic or, for another more personal moment to break it up, How To Disappear Completely?
This is a frustrating listen. Radiohead badly need a good live album, and this isn't it. They have more than enough material that's ideal for a live setting, and they intentionally left it off in favor of showcasing their instrumental chops in handling difficult material. The KA and Amnesiac material is simply not suited to live performances, and could never surpass the originals in any department. This EP has little reason to exist. It's still enjoyable, as these are good songs, and the highlights (I Might Be Wrong and True Love Waits) help make this a worthwhile listen, but only diehard fans need go out of their way to get it.
On this album Radiohead discovered the perfect balance between melodic songwriting and experimentation. More daring and innovative than OKC but with hooks of the same caliber, and as adventurous as KA but with stronger songwriting, HttT is a synthesis of all of Radiohead's strengths with none of their weaknesses, and possibly their greatest artistic statement to this date.
The melodies are accessible without ever being straightforward or trivial, while the song structures are complex without being self-indulgent. 2 + 2 = 5 is a multi-part rocker while Sit Down Stand Up is a tenebrous dirge that transforms into a surreal percussion showcase while Yorke chants eerily. Sail To The Moon is a cathartic, minimalist ballad while Backdrifts is experimental techno with a series of catchy vocal melodies.
A Punch Up At A Wedding is an ultra catchy dose of bile, with vitriolic invective being spewed at some target with Positively 4th Street caliber venom. A Wolf At The Door is often cited as the album's best cut, with its rapid vocal delivery and moody instrumentals, and while I don't agree it's certainly a great song and a fitting closer for the album.
Every song is strong, and while We Suck Young Blood is often denigrated as filler even it, with its macabre clap-along verses and bizarre vocals, possesses a perverse kind of charm.
The most unconventional cuts, like Myxomatosis, work extremely well, never feeling experimental for the sake of being experimental and always adhering to well defined melodies.
This album is the first Radiohead offering to provide any social commentary in the lyrics, but thankfully it tends to be of the more veiled, cryptic and oblique variety rather than the heavy-handed, didactic drivel spouted by most rock groups who profess to have a social conscience. Thom Yorke is by no means a poet or philosopher, but after the teen angsty era of Creep passed he became a decent lyricist by the genre's standards, and certainly an inoffensive one.
Where Radiohead will progress from here is anyone's guess. Having refined their formula to perfection, the chances are they won't settle for a carbon copy of HttT but will rather go for another stylistic reinvention. Ever since they metamorphosed from an alternative rock group to an intelligent, experimental outfit Radiohead have never been content to make the same album twice, and that trend will likely continue.
HttT is a brilliant album, filled with innovative, unconventional melodies, clever song structures and gripping production. No two songs sound alike or repeat the same tricks; each track will engulf you in its own sonic landscape, composing a wholly unique, unforgettable experience.
For now this is Radiohead's peak, and the standard by which all future albums will be judged. Anytime a group fully understands their strengths and focuses on using them to the fullest the result is something special. It's a wonderful thing when a group's songwriting keeps up with their experimentation, compromising neither.
Bodysong was a British documentary charting the course of the human experience from birth to death. The film was bereft of dialogue, hence its instrumental soundtrack, composed, produced and largely performed (there's mild orchestral backing on a few tracks, and there's the occasional guest spot from artists like brother/bandmate Colin on bass guitar, along with some extra instrumentation courtesy of the album's co-producer Graeme Stewart) by Radiohead's guitarist Jonny Greenwood, was paramount to the entire project.
Greenwood's significance to Radiohead is instantly apparent from the sound of the album, as he effortlessly conjures hypnotic, fascinating soundscapes complete with dark, haunting atmospherics. The sound is alternately dominated by electronica overtones, passages reminiscent of ambient (but there's always at least a modicum of musical progression in each track, ergo it's never truly ambient) with the occasional instance of straightforward rock elements.
Throughout the course of the soundtrack Greenwood demonstrates that he's an immensely gifted composer and musician, as each passage of music has a purpose and independent musical worth as opposed to typical soundtrack fare with their desultory instrumental noodlings and repetitive structures.
A soundtrack's most important mission, of course, is to provide a solid musical foundation on which to build, and it's in this respect that Bodysong excels. While it's sufficiently intriguing and entertaining to constitute a worthwhile attentive listen, the album functions far better as background music, providing an unobtrusive yet compelling sonic experience.
With moments of menace, beauty and even catharsis, Bodysong is everything one could hope for from an instrumental soundtrack, engaging enough to be enjoyed on its own while sedate and restrained enough to function as appropriate, interference-free background music.
If anyone purchases this album expecting a product bearing heavy resemblance to Radiohead music then they'll be severely disappointed. While analogs can be drawn between the complex, intricate and tenebrous aural layers of Bodysong and the atmospheric instrumental foundations on numerous Radiohead tracks, the correlations end there.
Bodysong lacks the excitement and dynamic approach of Radiohead music, offering instead an experience that washes over the listener as opposed to directly engaging him. Ergo Bodysong must be judged for what it is, a soundtrack, and an exceedingly good one at that. While limitations of the genre curtail it from rising above its inherent constraints, its strengths are readily apparent. Greenwood is to be commended for concocting these thirteen well written, meticulously crafted instrumentals, which eschew sonic clichés in favor of presenting an imaginative array of creative aural backdrops and fascinating soundscapes.
Thus while I can't rate it above the level of 'good,' as its potential is severely diminished due to its status as a soundtrack, it's still a profoundly worthwhile experience; while Greenwood is at his best with his bandmates, he proves himself to be a formidable solo contender in the studio as well, having superbly handled this demanding project with the utmost skill and precision.
It may seem absurd to attack an EP that makes a concerted effort to evade purchase; a permanent Japanese only import, if you're not Japanese and you own Com Lag you have no one to blame but yourself, with no viable scapegoats (impulse shopping, casual curiosity, a relentless onslaught of record company advertising, everyone else owns it, etc.) available. You must have taken the time to order the EP online for an exorbitant import price with ample time to consider precisely what it was you were doing.
Nonetheless, the vilification of Com Lag is a necessary thing; a group like Radiohead shouldn't get away with releasing a product this aggressively superfluous and defiantly lackluster without absorbing the appropriate dose of vitriolic invective from the music reviewing community.
Not that Com Lag really has any pretensions to amount to more than a cheap cash-in, a compilation of alternate cuts of HttT tracks and obscure outtakes from said sessions. No doubt had it not been for the arbitrary and ill advised impulse to create this EP these tracks would have been consigned to irrevocable anonymity, a fate which most of them eminently deserve.
The alternate versions are uniformly extraneous, ranging from decent but pointless to outright bastardizations to utter butcheries. They would be called padding were there anything of substance present on the album to be padded save a single worthwhile track.
The new material fares better, if only for the fact that any unheard Radiohead material is inherently interesting on some level, if only initially. Most of the tracks are pure atmosphere pieces, pleasant enough but rather pedestrian coming from expert sonic landscapers like Radiohead. Along with a decent but uninspired acoustic ballad, this is what constitutes the fan-bait portion of the EP: a series of utterly extraneous experiments and toss-offs that don't really go anywhere.
With the exception of one track, that is, the infectious bluesy I Am A Wicked Child, with its repetitious moody riff and haunting atmosphere. Most would be eager to dismiss it as well, as it's defiantly simple and close to the antithesis of the hyper-complex/experimental/inaccessible behemoth Radiohead have become, but in that regard it's quite refreshing, and rather penetrating with its dark minimalism, a nice slice of something different to prove that the group's in no danger of stagnation.
Fond as I am of that song, however, it in no way justifies the global transaction necessary to enact its purchase. I have no idea what the Japanese have done to deserve having this EP inflicted upon them, but the most we can do is attempt to prevent the contagion from spreading.
For the first few listens the EP manages to sustain one's interest all the way through and almost cultivate a positive effect, but after that it becomes painfully apparent that there's but a modicum of substance on here, and nearly nothing you'll ever want to hear again (except for I Am A Wicked Child, not to mention the alternate versions which will make you want to hear the originals again to reaffirm your faith in the band).
Where MIL pointed a way to the future, Com Lag is simply a brief retread of the past, milking it for everything it's worth before moving on. When the group does move on, doubtless there will be no relation whatsoever to this EP; it will have been forgotten, a deleted mistake. And that's as it should be; it adds nothing to Radiohead's past or present, doesn't prophesize its future and does little else other than hype an album that's already been out for over a year, an utter cosmic absurdity.
In the midst of a massive Radiohead tour (which included some new material in their embryonic forms), frontman Thom Yorke decided to release a solo album, his first LP without his bandmates assisting him in both the songwriting and instrumental departments.
On the ensuing album Yorke embraces electronica as his genre of choice, a natural progression from the myriad occasions throughout the band's career that boasted electronic overtones, a stylistic tendency that culminated in the challenging yet brilliant Kid A.
While Yorke has always been much lauded for his contributions to the widely acclaimed alternative rock outfit Radiohead, it was unknown whether, when flying solo, he would be capable of sustaining an entire album without the support of his bandmates. Fortunately Yorke dispels these doubts with a highly impressive outing on which his skills as a composer, vocalist and musician are given the chance to shine without his talents being eclipsed by the considerable strengths of his Radiohead brethren.
While Radiohead had never simply been an electronica group (unlike Clinic, who often opened for them), with that leaning solely constituting a single component of a highly multifaceted band, it was certainly a prominent aspect of their later sound, and thus it's understandable that Yorke would select it as the primary focus of his solo debut.
The Eraser is electronica at its finest, with atmospheric, moody tracks drenched in a dark vibe that infuses the album with a tenebrous feel. While vocals are rarely the focal point of an electronica project, Yorke opts to defy this convention, and his singing perfectly matches the elaborate, complex instrumentation.
There's no filler on the disc, with each track featuring an evocative mixture of strong melodies and gripping atmospherics, while the instrumentation is imbued with an emotional layer generally lacking in the sterile, clinical world of electronica. It's Yorke's exceptional singing that truly adds the human component, however, as he explores a rich spectrum of vocal expression.
Highlights abound, but the album's centerpiece is the excellent Black Swan, complete with brooding atmospherics, great vocal melodies and hypnotic instrumentation. It comes closer to rock than many of the other songs but not at the expense of its electronica treatment, as those two elements not only coexist but complement one another. The track bears some resemblance to Amnesiac's I Might Be Wrong, but it's hardly a rehash, as only a few of its qualities can be considered reminiscent of the aggressive, menacing guitar driven rock and roll of that particular song.
The lyrics throughout the album are strong, often featuring political overtones and resultant condemnations of Bush and his cronies. This lyrical trend had begun on Hail To The Thief, and Yorke continues this tendency without descending into the realm of heavy-handed polemics or ham-fisted bluntness.
Ultimately The Eraser is a highly auspicious solo debut for Radiohead's frontman. It can't be mistaken for the work of his band, but it shouldn't be, as it's a separate artistic endeavor that should evade misguided comparisons to that group's output. Thus if one is expecting a Radiohead album, or even Radiohead lite, they will be vastly disappointed, as The Eraser is an independent venture with no aspirations toward achieving the style or quality of the group's material.
When assessed for what it truly is, divorced from the burden of being contrasted with the ever lauded band, it's an excellent album, displaying Yorke's flair for the genre of electronica. With flawless performances and highly accomplished songwriting The Eraser proves that Yorke can stand on his own. Thus listening to the album for sporadic instances of the Radiohead sound is a thankless occupation, as the disc should be appreciated as a whole rather than having its individual elements dissected and subjected to intense scrutiny.
There certainly are passages that resemble Radiohead's work, but that's natural given how integral a part Yorke plays in his band. Due to this, the album can easily be recommended to fans of the group provided they have the proper expectations; primarily, however, the disc should appeal to any with a fondness for electronica, and, given its comparatively human feel, it should likewise attract music lovers who are generally put off by the cold, dehumanizing tone of the genre. The Eraser's melodies are highly accessible and can most assuredly be enjoyed by anyone with an open mind for the experience.
One could be forgiven for approaching Spitting Feathers with a certain degree of apprehension and skepticism; after all, it's not only primarily composed of B-sides but its commercial release was confined exclusively to Japan. The last time Yorke was involved with a product of that nature was with the release of Com Lag, the horrid EP that was Radiohead's follow up to Hail To The Thief, and the trauma of that abysmal listening experience could certainly predispose one to only approach Spitting Feathers with the utmost caution.
Thankfully, however, Spitting Feathers is a far more listenable product than the dreadful Com Lag; it may lack any lost gems of the caliber of I Am A Wicked Child, but the general quality level is far higher than on that sonically abrasive debacle.
This isn't to say that the selections included on Spitting Feathers are great; most of them rely more on mood and atmosphere than any striking hooks or memorable melodies, and they fail to live up to the high standards set on The Eraser. Nevertheless they're uniformly quite entertaining, and can certainly be said to be above average electronica.
In addition to four wholly new tracks the EP also contains an extended mix of Harrowdown Hill, and while it may not be a radical improvement over the original it's still an interesting alternative to an already solid number. Despite its elongation it doesn't overstay its welcome, and it's sufficiently different from the version on The Eraser that it isn't simply a predictable retread.
More interesting are the new cuts; while none are on par with the likes of Black Swan or Analyze, and most likely none are worthy of inclusion on The Eraser, in this context they work quite well and offer an intriguing and enjoyable listening experience. All four are decent songs, from the controlled chaos of The Drunkk Machine to the moody A Rat's Nest to the catchy Jetstream to the experimental oddity Iluvya. There are moments of dissonance, and the majority of the tracks are rather basic and rudimentary, but they're hardly filler; on the contrary, it's apparent that some genuine effort was put into them and they're a far cry from tossed off B-side status.
Thus while bereft of any essential classics Spitting Feathers simply provides an engaging, if brief, listen. The songs aren't especially memorable and likely won't be retained in the long run, and by and large they're more interesting than indispensable, but nonetheless they're good enough that they certainly merit a listen from any fan of Yorke's work, either in or out of Radiohead.
As a bonus the EP includes the music video for Harrowdown Hill, a rather heavy-handed, self-important affair that dispels any measure of subtlety contained in the song (and Harrowdown Hill was already far from subtle); it's a nice extra, but hardly a necessary one. The true incentive to buy the EP is the new material, while the true deterrent is the exorbitant price tag. The EP is certainly decent, but one might want to wait until the price is diminished to seek it out. It never exceeds the level of 'pretty good,' and thus doesn't quite warrant the import fee it carries.
Sadly the actual quality of In Rainbows has been largely overshadowed by its revolutionary, decidedly unorthodox method of distribution; at the time of the album's initial release Radiohead were in a nebulous limbo between record labels and, rather than vault the CD until their corporate status was clarified, they elected to embark upon a rather unusual gambit.
Myriad albums have been leaked to the net prior to their official releases, so rather than wait for the inevitable web piracy to take effect Radiohead opted to offer In Rainbows via their site; this in and of itself was hardly radical, but the band pushed the envelope further by leaving the cost of this transaction wholly to the customer's discretion.
It's certainly unconventional for a major new album to be available for a mere cent, but such was the case with In Rainbows. Loyal fans were free to pay exorbitant quantities of cash directly to the band, bypassing the usual filter of the record company's share of the profits, while more parsimonious listeners could acquire the album for less than the price of a stick of gum.
Whether this is the way of the future or a fluke stunt, Radiohead certainly garnered a lot of attention thanks to this novel marketing, so much so that the album itself has nearly been eclipsed by its own means of release. This is a pity, as In Rainbows is another great album from the band, and an eminently worthy follow up to the seminal classic Hail To The Thief.
At the time of Hail To The Thief's release Thom Yorke stated that Radiohead's next album would sound nothing like their prior work. While this boast proved to be quite hyperbolic in practice, as the album is unmistakably the work of Yorke and company, In Rainbows does sport a rather unique sound, one that pervades nearly the entirety of the CD.
Rather than detract from the proceedings due to an unhealthy stylistic uniformity, this ubiquitous sound lends the album a certain degree of cohesiveness that serves to compound the album's potency; In Rainbows isn't a concept album ala the group's magnum opus OK Computer, but the singularity of form does manifest itself in a similar vein as on that outing, recalling the sense of wholeness inherent to that classic and emerging all the stronger for it.
Part of the distinctive sound that animates In Rainbows is a certain innate rawness that permeates the majority of the tracks. While this isn't a criticism, there were times on albums like Kid A where, rather than visualizing a rock group performing a song one would instead envision a cadre of sonic alchemists meticulously fashioning each individual note in a cold, clinical studio, turning dials and pressing buttons as opposed to strumming guitars and beating on drums.
The band hasn't wholly eschewed this dynamic; doubtless it's just as prevalent as on their prior outings. It is, however, deceptively masked on In Rainbows, as once again Radiohead sound like a genuine, organic rock outfit. As I'd stated, this is in no way preferable or superior to the Kid A modality, but it does inject a certain freshness into the proceedings that had been conspicuously absent for quite some time.
Furthermore this newfound spontaneity in now way compromises or dilutes the band's signature experimental edge. The songs are just as innovative and intricately crafted as ever, making it all the more impressive that they're implemented through the medium of comparatively straightforward rock music.
The raw feel of the album makes for quite a compelling experience; it's not the axiomatically gratifying alternative rock of The Bends that so many Radiohead fans have been pining for, but rather a healthy balance between the experimentation of albums like Amnesiac and the intelligent rock of OK Computer.
As is always the case, however, it's the caliber of the songwriting that determines the merit of an album, and in this department In Rainbows truly excels. While the raw atmospherics accentuate every track, they derive their efficacy from the high quality of the material.
The album is bereft of filler, as each track is simultaneously catchy and deeply rewarding on a level that few bands are capable of operating on. Songs like the opener, 15 Steps, may be intensely experimental, but they remain accessible to the average listener thanks to their strong melodies and stunning array of hooks.
Bodysnatchers is sufficiently complex and creative that it's easy to lose sight of the fact that, on the most basic level, it's a catchy riff rocker, while Nude is moody beauty at its finest and a great showcase for Yorke's signature brand of soft, tender vocals.
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi is another stellar experimental offering, while All I Need is as straightforward a ballad as one is apt to find in Radiohead's recent canon and all the better for it. Faust Arp features a great display of Yorke's vocal dexterity as he speeds through the rapid barrage of verbiage, while Reckoner is a definite highlight which is high praise given the uniformly strong quality of the album.
House Of Cards is another moody, captivating number, while Jigsaw Falling Into Place may be the album's best cut, a brooding rocker with a superb melody framed by a single recurring hook that's bewitching in its simplicity.
The closer, Videotape, achieves cathartic bliss through its haunting minimalism in much the same way as Pyramid Song's devastating repetition. Thom Yorke is at his best when he's at his more fragile and despairing, as his vocals assume a penetrative quality that makes for a truly heart-wrenching experience.
Overall In Rainbows is another tremendous achievement for Radiohead, cementing their role as one of the finest, most daring and cerebral bands of their times. Between an arresting raw moodiness that pervades the album and the band's usual songwriting brilliance the album is simply excellent; it may not be quite up to the level of OK Computer and Hail To The Thief, but that doesn't diminish the extent of the group's accomplishment, as In Rainbows is certainly one of the best CDs in recent memory and further proof of the band's considerable talents.
It's always difficult to assess the quality of a soundtrack when it's divorced from the context of the film it inhabits. Musicians approach soundtracks with a vastly different agenda and array of ambitions than they would customarily bring to a project; thus when composing the score of a film, their music is so inexorably linked to the images on the screen that the mere act of listening is insufficient to receive a clear impression of the full scale of their artistic opus.
Ergo it may seem unfair to judge a soundtrack independently of its film, and indeed such a critique may lack the inspiration and precision that a critic would normally apply to a work of art; nevertheless aspects of a soundtrack can be appreciated regardless of their context, and a reviewer can certainly endeavor to accurately capture at least the more universal facets of such a work.
And Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack to the brilliant PT Anderson epic There Will Be Blood is certainly accessible, even on its own, on at least some superficial levels, enabling one to enjoy and applaud myriad aspects of the score. The soundtrack may lose some dimensions of its scope when detached from its intended purpose, but Greenwood's compositions are strong enough on their own that even a casual listener will find much to praise.
The soundtrack of There Will Be Blood is a stunning work of tenebrous beauty, an atmospheric vision suffused with both grandeur and a more immediate sense of menace. Whether a track is orchestrated to gradually build tension, such as Future Markets, or simply delineate the inherent darkness of the material, Greenwood elegantly complements the themes he tackles with his fluid, organic compositions, while alternately string quartets and full fledged orchestras adroitly interpret his score, bringing it to life in brilliant fashion.
Due to its status as a soundtrack, however, the album is often more suited toward being used as background music than an intense, focused listen. The album is remarkably compelling, by soundtrack standards, when taken on its own, but even so it's not engaging in the direct fashion that superior rock albums are. This isn't so much a criticism as a mere product of the composer's intent, as on the level that the album's designed to work this is more a merit than a vice; there's no reason that the soundtrack should arrest one's full attention when experienced on its own. Nevertheless this impacts upon its value as an album, no matter how unfair that may be.
Thus by soundtrack standards There Will Be Blood is an exceptional work of art, and a testament to Greenwood's talent and versatility; few men can deftly handle composing for a rock group, a string quartet and a full orchestra, but Greenwood has ably accomplished this impressive feat. It's easy to see why the BBC recruited him to be their resident composer, as well as why he's an indispensable asset for Radiohead. As a pure album, however, There Will Be Blood is not quite as captivating, growing somewhat monotonous at times. For what it is, however, it's a very good product, and can prove rewarding in any context. Greenwood has definitely artistically progressed since penning the score to the also strong Bodysong, and it's clear that with time he'll distinguish himself further and further as one of the premier soundtrack composers of this, or any, era.
While King Of Limbs is by all means an experimental album, it's an experiment that Radiohead have conducted before. What this means is that the album may seem daring to the Radiohead-uninitiated, but offers few surprises for longtime fans of the group.
Radiohead have already dabbled in this kind of minimalist, spare style. The album's barebones arrangements, mechanical percussion and moody flourishes are not dissimilar to those found on In Rainbows. Moreover, while Radiohead don't fetishize tape loops to the extent of Klaus Schulze, the band do continue to demonstrate a pronounced affection for them.
This isn't to say that King Of Limbs is a total retread. While the basic content may seem unchanged, the intensity of it has not. In Rainbows may have seemed stripped down at times, but on its successor it often feels as if one is listening to the blueprints of a song rather than a song itself.
Much like the band's Krautrock influences, there's very little that feels organic in King Of Limbs. Thus what little humanity the album retains can be found in Yorke's vocals. It often seems as if Yorke's expressive delivery animates otherwise inert aural architecture, breathing life into bare, colorless soundscapes.
Because of this reliance on emotive vocals, tracks like the instrumental Feral suffer without this emotional backbone. The track is cleverly constructed, but can more readily be respected than enjoyed.
One respect in which King Of Limbs differs from In Rainbows, however, is in its de-emphasis of conventional melodies. While part of this can be attributed to the deliberate lack of structure, it's clear that a failure in the songwriting department is the true culprit.
As a result of this inadequacy, much of the album is forced to depend upon mood and atmosphere. Fortunately, the band excel in this area. While songs like Lotus Flower and Codex may not be that memorable, their hazy, ethereal beauty remains mesmerizing for the duration of the tracks, compensating for any melodic deficiencies.
I would seldom choose atmosphere over hooks, but I'd be remiss in failing to acknowledge how spellbinding much of King Of Limbs is. As far as mood music is concerned, it's difficult to best the likes of Give Up The Ghost and Separator. These songs may not rank amongst the band's strongest material, but their hypnotic power can't be denied.
Atmosphere alone cannot sustain an album. Fortunately, King Of Limbs contains two exceptional tracks that capture more sides of Radiohead than mere atmospherics. Morning Mr. Magpie rocks more than any other track on the album, bridging the ever-increasing gap between Radiohead and conventional rock music. The song is hardly a throwback to The Bends, remaining deeply entrenched in the minimalist sound of King Of Limbs, but it's a welcome diversion from the rock and roll dry-spell that afflicts the rest of the album.
Better still is Little By Little, a track that boasts the catchiest vocal melody on the entire album. On a CD where hooks are scarce, Little By Little is a breath of fresh air, a reminder of what Radiohead are capable of when they focus more on songwriting than song-structuring.
While Morning Mr. Magpie and Little By Little are catchy and memorable, they remain the exceptions to the rule when it comes to King Of Limbs. Most of the album suffers from a paucity of hooks and melodies, relying instead on mood and atmosphere. If one can come to terms with this dynamic, one will find a highly entertaining album, albeit not a terribly memorable one. If the arresting atmosphere of the album isn't enough, however, then one should look elsewhere in the band's catalogue. Every previous Radiohead album, save Pablo Honey, contains far more hooks and melodies than King Of Limbs. The album represents mood music at its finest, but one can be forgiven if that simply isn't to one's tastes.