Sunday, September 16, 2012

Radiohead, Part 2

Radiohead - Complete Discography - Part 2

Amnesiac (2001)
Rating: 10
"Catch the mouse"
Best Song: Knives Out
Worst Song: Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors

       In a decidedly un-Radiohead like fashion, the band decided to follow up their masterpiece with an....outtakes collection?!? That's right, kiddies, an outtakes collection! And no, our boys didn't go to any lengths to try and mask this fact by, like...I dunno...linking the tracks together or...uh...actually FINISHING the tracks, on some occasions. But still, as far as outtakes collections go, this one isn't bad. (Metamorphosis, this ain't) However, being as all the songs are outtakes from one of the greatest albums ever, that should be expected.

       That's not to say that that all the tracks are great, however. By no means is that the case. The absolute worst thing here, and probably my least favorite Radiohead song of all time is the ugly, pointless "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors". There's an irritating percussion loop, and Thom speaks through an annoying high-pitched filter.  That's all there is to the song. And it lasts, like, 4 minutes. WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS?!?

       Lots of people hate on the track "Hunting Bears", and I can most certainly see why. I personally don't mind it, simply because it's so short, but the whole idea of taking a guitar lick (however cool it may be) and repeating it for 2 minutes with no variation is a bit ridiculous. I'm not too crazy about the first half of "Pyramid Song", either, but once the strings come in, it completely redeems itself. I feel the same way about "Dollars & Cents", I.E., the melody itself isn't anything too special, but the orchestral arrangement is so beautiful and dramatic that I end up liking the song. 

       There's also an alternate version of "Morning Bell" from Kid A, and while I may not like it quite as much as the's still great. It takes out pretty much all of the electronic flourishes from the original and replaces them with creepy choirs, pianos, and an acoustic guitar. Very cool. Also, Thom sounds much more gripping here in his vocal delivery, for whatever reason. It's particularly noticeable in the "Cut the kids in half" section. 

       On the "hey, I actually like these songs with no reservations!" front, we have the western-y rocker "I Might Be Wrong" (which might be just a tad too repetitive...but ah, who cares?), the very melodic and pretty "You and Whose Army", the big-band closer "Life In A Glasshouse", and last but not least, my personal favorite -- "Knives Out". 

      "Knives" is a pretty mid-tempo ballad that's rather reminiscent of Radiohead from years earlier. It's got a great melody, a cool, creepy mood...yeah, it's the best thing here, and one of Radiohead's best ever songs -- period. "Like Spinning Plates" is also very least while Thom's singing. It's got a cool vocal melody, but when he's not singing, there's nothing left but a boring synth loop and reversed drums that are very reminiscent of Can's "Oh Yeah". Blah.

      If you like Kid A and OK Computer, get this. It's got elements of both albums, and there are some seriously good tunes on here. Of course, there's also some seriously weird filler on here, but hey, there's not much, and even the worst stuff is....interesting. So yeah. It's a good album.

I Might Be Wrong - Live Recordings (2001)
Rating: 12
"Women and children first"
Best Song: Idioteque
Worst Song: True Love Waits

       Ooooo, a live album...interesting. Oh, and it's actually good! Like, really good! It's comprised of nothing but songs from Kid A and Amnesiac (and one rarity), but hey, I love both of those albums, so that doesn't bother me at all. It's also rather short, and I'm really not sure if it's supposed to be an EP, or what, but it's long enough where I decided to classify it as a regular album. 

       One thing I find interesting about this album is that the two albums whose material it is drawing from are just so studio-heavy. I mean, the entire point of those albums, particularly Kid A, was to capture the feeling of depression and isolation via endless-sounding aural landscapes that are virtually impossible to reproduce live. Thus, all of these songs sound very different than their studio counterparts, and that makes this album much easier to recommend than lots of other live albums, whose songs sound virtually identical to the original version.

      The album kicks off with "The National Anthem", and while this version doesn't have the awesome horns of the original, Thom gives a much more enthusiastic vocal performance, and the bass is much cooler sounding and more distorted. Also, the band is smart enough to end the song about a minute earlier than the studio version. So yeah, it's about equal to the original, surprisingly. 

      Also equally as good as the original version is "Everything in Its Right Place", which runs for nearly 8 minutes long! The synth chords and drums are much more alive sounding than in the original cut (Well, duh, it's a live album!), and this improves the song greatly. Also, over the course of the song, samples of Thom's voice are gradually spliced in over the proceedings until the entire song is nothing but a wall of Yorke wailings. Sure, it could afford to be a little shorter, but it's so awesome that I really don't feel the need to complain.

      Representing Amnesiac are "I Might Be Wrong", "Dollars and Cents", and "Like Spinning Plates". The worst of these is most certainly "Dollars and Cents", because if you remember correctly, back in the Amnesiac review I said that the only thing that made me like the original version were the cool, dramatic orchestral swells. Well, now the orchestral swells are gone, leaving us with nothing but the generally boring melody.

       The other two, however, are far better. "I Might Be Wrong" rocks harder and more convincingly than the original, and "Like Spinning Plates" sounds completely different. It's actually something of a pretty piano ballad, as opposed to an ugly, industrial Can-esque track. Cool.

        None of this, though, compares to their rendition of "Idioteque". It absolutely blows my mind every time I hear it. It feels, again, much more loose and, well, live than the original, but that's not what makes it so great. No, it's Thom's absolutely insane, manic delivery that pushes this rendition of the song into classic status. He sings the meaningless lyrics with so gosh-darn much CONVICTION that it absolutely blows my mind. Great, great rendition of a classic song.

       If you're a fan of Kid A and Amnesiac, there is absolutely no reason for you to not get this. The only weak links I can find are the slightly boring "Dollars and Cents" and the bland acoustic ballad "True Love Waits". Everything else is AT LEAST as good as its studio counterpart. Heck, I like it more than Amnesiac.

Hail to the Thief (2003)
Rating: 13
"We are accidents waiting to happen"
Best Song: There There. (The Boney King of Nowhere.)
Worst Song: We Suck Young Blood. (Your Time is Up.)

       After the extreme electronic overload that was Amnesiac, the band decided to strip their sound back down to something that sounds simultaneously just like OK Computer and completely different than OK Computer. The sound is very acoustic-driven, but there are still quite a few synths and drum machines being used. However, these elements are used much more as...finishing touches to the songs, rather than being predominant features. This definitely needed to be done, as one more radically electronic Radiohead album may have been just a bit too much.

      Also of note is the fact that unlike Kid A, OK Computer, and to some degree, Amnesiac, this album really doesn't have a flow or a predominant mood. It's just a collection of songs. Very, very good songs, but still, it is a bit odd to hear a Radiohead album where you think, "You know, if I just put my iPod on shuffle and listened to this, it'd be just as good!". 

      There is one 3-song stretch, however, where the songs really work together excellently. I am speaking, of course, of the tracks "There There", "I Will", and "A Punchup at A Wedding". All three are fantastic, and all three work perfectly in a row. Heck, "I Will" even fades into "A Punchup", ever so slightly.

      The first of the three, "There There", is the best of the trio. Heck, it's the best song on the album! It begins with some cool, pseudo-tribal drumming. Eventually, a guitar comes in, and I've gotta tell you, this track has what is quite likely the best riffing since "Paranoid Android". Really. Anyway, after the awesome riff begins, Thom begins singing an absolutely amazing vocal melody, and it gets even BETTER when the background vocals kick in. Wow. This all keeps gradually building until it finally reaches its climax, the end-song chorus. And man, is it a doozy. Thom screams "We are accidents waiting to happen" like he's singing for his life, and the whole thing is just unexplainably amazing. Wow.

     The tribal uneasiness of "There There" is then followed up by the short, eerie "I Will" which works PERFECTLY coming right after "There". The slightly creepy mood of the former is completely fulfilled by this little ballad, and it is absolutely effective. "I Will" then goes directly into the funky "A Punchup at A Wedding"....okay, maybe not really funky, but it's as funky as Radiohead's gonna get, eh? (Sorta like LCD Soundsystem, now that I think about it) Anyway, you have this catchy, kinda-funky electronic beat that leads into the track. This is then joined by some really cool piano chords and a fantastic Yorke melody, and the whole thing eventually falls out amid some cool synth bloops. Great track. 

    Also great are the "hey, I'm like "Pyramid Song", except I actually have a decent melody" "Sail to the Moon", the acoustic grower "Go to Sleep", and the hard-rocking "2 + 2 = 5". That one's probably my second favorite track of the album. It starts out as a relatively straightforward Radiohead track, but it eventually transforms into an epic that rocks harder than about anything Radiohead's ever done. Sure, it could go a bit longer (one more repetition of the "You have not been paying attention" section would work wonders), but hey...beggars can't be choosers. And if I wanted to hear more of it that badly, I could just start it over again, right?

    Sadly, there are a handful of tracks I really don't care for. "Scatterbrain" is essentially a "Knives Out" remake, except this time there's no melody. "Myxomatosis" has a distorted bass line that's simultaneous cool and irritating, but the real problem here is, again, the melody. It's completely unmemorable. Also not too great is "We Suck Young Blood", which is like a...creepy...vampire...torch ballad...or something. Anyway, it's cool for about one minute, but it goes on for four, and it does the same thing for all four of those minutes, so I just cannot approve. 

    Much better is the blackmail tale (I think?), "A Wolf at the Door". It features Thom doing a sort of pseudo-rap, and I've gotta say -- it's probably my favorite Yorke vocal delivery EVER. It's almost stream-of-consciousness-esque, and yes, Thom Yorke doing "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-esque stream-of-consciousness is as awesome as you would think it would be. Not to mention that the melody itself is catchy as heck.

     So yeah, I like it better than both Amnesiac and The Bends. I kind of like to think of this as Radiohead's White Album, their Blonde on Blonde. It's not as good as either of those albums, but the general idea is the same -- a culmination of all sides of an artist, allowed to fully stretch out without any boundaries. No concept, no theme, no mood -- the band just wanted to create a collection of good songs, and that they did. Great album.

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