Radiohead is one of those bands, you know what I mean? That band that you like to tell people can do no wrong, meanwhile they have released 3 albums that, at the very least, underwhelmed.
Before I continue, this is less a review of the career of this band and more of a personal reflection. If you could not tell from the intro paragraph, I am biased. There are some fantastic documentaries about parts of their career (Meeting People is Easy is a personal favourite) so I won’t even pretend that I could do such a monumental task even the mildest justice.
The first album (Pablo Honey) came out in 1993. I love parts of this album, and couldn’t care less about others. The Bends (released 1995) is pretty well the same tale. I would say that I like more of this album, but it still just seems to be holding onto the early ’90s grunge aesthetic. I am not complaining for that reason, but more that I came in much later into their career and therefore had certain unfair expectations.
OK Computer from 1997 was life-changing for me. It was the first exposure to the band that I had, and I hated it upon first listen. Looking back, I hated it because I couldn’t understand it. It took about 2 years from its debut for me to actually grasp some (not all) of the nuance and beauty that this album held. The complexity of Johnny Greenwood’s guitar riffs in contrast to the simplicity of Phillip Selway’s drum patterns did not make any sense to me before I was about to enter high school.
Kid A and Amnesiac (from the year 2000 and 2001 respectively) changed everything for me. I finally understood OK Computer, then I watched the video for Pyramid Song. I loved that I didn’t understand it. I didn’t find out the time signature for at least five more years. They started to experiment with a more digital production, using computers and drum machines in addition to more contemporary instruments. The juxtaposition was astounding to me.
Hail to the Thief came out in 2003. I first heard it when I borrowed the album from a good friend of mine, and HATED it. I found it arrogant and winey. Well, I did the first time through it. I went to give it back, she forced it back into my hands and told me that I just need to give it another chance.
Thank you, Cristine. Your forcing me to listen to it has secured it into the pantheon of albums that I will never be rid of.
I fell in love with it simply for the first song, 2+2=5. When I actually gave it the chance it deserved, that song blew everything I thought about music out of the water, and left me weeping uncontrollably while I clutched my copy of 1984 in my left hand and wrote my will with my right.
Melodramatic? Might I remind you that I was a senior in high school at the time? I never took drama, but I deserved an award for being one of the most dramatic people that ever lived. Hell, if I knew who I was back then now, I would actively avoid me.
I digress. I was a certified Radiohead fan by the time In Rainbows came out in 2007. I was playing in a grunge/punk/metal band called All Cut Up, and we were all fans of any sort of music that would change the way we looked at life. I distinctly remember this album coming out because my guitar player and I got it release day then avoided each other for 24 hours to digest what we just purchased.
It was amazing. Even the slower songs (like Videotape) had enough depth to keep our little minds attentive.
That’s where I think Radiohead should have ended. I know of one more released, call A Moon Shaped Pool (2016), and I hated it. It was boring.
While writing this, I have been listening to random tracks from random Radiohead albums. I can still remember where I was when I first heard every single one of them. Either in my parents activity room, on a school bus, or organizing stock at work.
I just stuck to the main releases. There are many singles and EPs that have importance, but they deviate so heavily from the overall narrative that the albums create. I cannot say I recommend all of them, but definitely give Talk Show Host a listen.