Sunday, September 16, 2012

Radiohead, Part 3

Radiohead - Complete Discography - Part 3

COM LAG (2plus2isfive) (EP) (2004)
Rating: 8
"You have not been paying attention"
Best Song: I Am a Wicked Child
Worst Song: Where Bluebirds Fly

       Hmmm....I adore the original album that all of these outtakes are from...but I sure can't make the connection between Hail to the Thief and this. Sure, there's a live version of "2 + 2 = 5", an alternate version of "I Will", and what appears to be an early version of "There There", but the rest sounds strangely Amnesiac-esque. And that's funny, too, because two of these tracks are remixes of songs from HttT. Both "Remyxomatosis" and "Skttrbrain" are nothing but directionless beats, a la "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors". Blech.
      "Where Bluebirds Fly" is another one that consists of not much more than boring blips and bloops, as is "I Am a Citizen Insane". "Citizen Insane" does have a bit more melodic know-how going on than "Bluebirds", though. I'm also not too crazy about the semi-similar "Paperbag Writer". (What a hilarious pun. Ha. Ha. Ha.) That one has a decent guitar line, as well as a decent melody, but those irritating strings don't fit in AT ALL and mostly serve to bring the song down. Take out the strings and it's decent, but with the strings....ugh.
      So why does COM LAG get the rating it does? Simple, the rest of the material's great. There's the aforementioned rip-roaring live version of "2 + 2 = 5" that's even more energetic than the original, the very pretty piano ballad "Fog", the even prettier acoustic ballad "Gagging Order", and an alternate take of "I Will" that stands alone much more effectively than the original, thanks to some percussion. However, the absolute best thing here is the slinking, snake-y "I Am a Wicked Child". I may be completely wrong here, but the almost tribal beat and uneasy feel lead me to believe that this is an early take of "There There"...but again, I'm just guessing. Heck, it's almost worth hearing if only to hear an incredibly cool, eerie harmonica on a Radiohead track. And that's forgetting the awesome vocal melody!
      So yeah, half the album's great and similar to Hail to the Thief, and half the album's mediocre and similar to Amnesiac. If you're a fan of either (or both) album(s), you could do a lot worse than pick this up. And "I Am a Wicked Child" is practically a must-own. 
In Rainbows (2007)
Rating: 11
"You are not to blame"
Best Song: Reckoner
Worst Song: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

       You know, I feel really bad giving this album an 11. There is some REALLY good stuff here. I mean, "Reckoner" is probably in my top 10 Radiohead songs, and "Bodysnatchers", "15 Step" and even "Nude" are up there in my top 20 - 30! So why does it only get an 11?
       Because there's a loooot of filler, that's why. Not BAD filler, per se, but it's just very...blah. And, to make matters worse, a lot of it sounds rather similar. It also doesn't help that most of the worst songs are all bunched together, but I'll get to that in a minute.
       The album starts off with one heck of a bang -- that's right, it's "15 Step"! A great vocal melody, cool blippedy-bloopedy electronic percussion, children screaming "Yay!", a nifty bass line -- this is one heck of a track and a great way to start the album. Score one Radiohead. "15 Step" is then followed up by an even better song, the rocking "Bodysnatchers", which is rather reminiscent of "2 + 2 = 5". It may not reach quite the same heights as that track, but it does indeed come mighty close. It's got a simply awesome riff, and Yorke's frenetic screams of "IIII HAVE NOOOO IDEAAAAAAA / WHAT YO' TAAAAALKIN' ABOOOUUUT!" always bring a smile to my face, if only for the frenetic energy that they bring to the song. I also dig how the melody completely changes halfway through the song, thus keeping the song from becoming repetitive. (They should have remembered this tactic a few songs later...)
       After that is the extremely pretty ballad, "Nude". Funny enough, this song was apparently written somewhere around the OK Computer era, but it still fits in perfectly here. It starts out as nothing more than a dreamy ballad, albeit a very good and melodic one. However, the song instantly elevates itself to "classic" status when it reaches its apex, that's right, when the instruments drop out and Thom sings "You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking". That's a major chill-bump moment for me.
       And after that amazing 3-song streak, we get the much less amazing 3-song streak of "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", "All I Need", and "Faust Arp". None of these songs are bad per se, but they are all very similar, in that every one of them is mid-tempo, and every one of them goes for a sort of....uh...dreamy mood? No, that's not's uh...a hazy mood? Uh...I dunno...yeah, they all have the same sort of mood. I can't tell you what it is, but if you've heard the songs then you know what I'm talking about. 
       My least favorite of the three is "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" which is also, coincidentally, one of the longest tracks on the album. Big. Mistake. The only real highlights of the song are the guitar arpeggios, which is rather fitting, being as the word "arpeggi" is in the title. Yorke's melody is rather mediocre, and it's also very repetitive. So, we get pretty guitar harmonies and a mediocre, repetitive vocal melody for 5 and a half minutes straight. Woo. 
      After the dreary lull of "Weird Fishes", the perfect thing for Radiohead to do would have been to follow it up with a rousing rocker, or some such. (Might I suggest "Bangers and Mash" from In Rainbows: Bonus Disc?) However, no, the boys then proceed to follow the song with yet ANOTHER song that forms the exact same, haze-y mood. However, this song, "All I Need" is somewhat better than "Weird Fishes", and if not directly following it, I'd probably like it quite a bit. Sadly, though, it DOES follow it, and this weakens the song greatly. That's not to say that the song doesn't have any positive qualities, though. The bass line, in particular, is amazing.
      After yet another sleepy, mid-tempo song (the short "Faust Arp"), we finally come to the album's centerpiece. That's right, it's "Reckoner". One of Radiohead's greatest ever tracks, "Reckoner" is certainly a force to be.....reckoned with.....hee hee. In all honesty though, this is one of those songs that I really love, and I think it's really great...but I can't really explain why. Well, first off, the melody's epic. But it's a Radiohead song, so that doesn't mean much, does it? Hmm...well, the a cappella section is breathtaking, the percussion is very interesting, and the Encio Morricone-esque strings that come in about halfway through the song are very, very cool. So there you go. That's why I love "Reckoner" so much.
      Following "Reckoner" up is the album's very longest track, "House of Cards". I'm not exactly thrilled with it, and it still kinda maintains that dreary mood, but I definitely enjoy it more than "Weird Fishes". The melody is very pleasant, particularly the "tonight" hook, and the mood is slightly more welcome coming after "Reckoner" than "Nude", or another track with the same mood. After that is "Jigsaw Falling Into Place", which is essentially the band creating an uptempo song, but still using the same, now-infamous mood that I've spoken of about 892 times. It's fine, and completely unoffensive, but again, I'm not too crazy about it.
      The album finishes off with (FINALLY) a somewhat strong track in "Videotape". It starts out as a stereotypical (but pretty!) Radiohead piano ballad. However, over the course of the song, subtle industrial loops are thrown into the track, making for a very interesting listen. 
      Is In Rainbows a good album? Most certainly. I give it a very high recommendation, and I think that "Reckoner", "Nude", "15 Step", and "Bodysnatchers" are among the greatest songs that Radiohead's ever done. The rest of the album's a bit more iffy, but it's still most definitely worth a purchase, if only for those four songs.

In Rainbows: Bonus Disc (2007)
Rating: 7
"Because down is the new up"
Best Song: Bangers and Mash
Worst Song: Anything other than Down is the New Up or Bangers and Mash

       Well, this is a bad outtakes collection. Okay, not bad, but most certainly bad for Radiohead. For anyone wondering, it's also my least favorite output by the band other than Pablo Honey. Yeah. Yikes.
       Let's see..."Bangers and Mash" is absolutely awesome, and is essentially what gives the album the 7. It's a rocker sorta like "Bodysnatchers", and it's really catchy, really fun, and overall a really great song. Heck, on the real album it'd be one of the best songs. "Down is the New Up" is also rather good, what with its neat melody and extremely dramatic strings.
      Sadly, everything else here is a completely melody-less, mid-tempo bore. And that's all I'm gonna say about this here outtakes collection.
The King of Limbs (2011)
Rating: 10
"If you think this is over / Then you're wrong"
Best Song: Morning Mr Magpie
Worst Song: Feral

      Hrm, interesting. That's what this album is. Not always pleasant, but most certainly always interesting, and it sounds nothing like anything else that the band has ever done before. What is the sound? Well, it's sorta like a darker, less catchy version of Talking Heads' Remain in Light. What do I mean? I mean that the songs are made primarily of loops, but unlike Amnesiac and others (and much like Remain in Light), all of these loops are made by real instruments, not computers.
      Of course, there are some electronic touches in here (mild synths and beats), but generally this album feels strangely (and simultaneously) earthy and mechanical at the same time. So that's pretty cool. But yeah, this album just doesn't click with me in quite the same way that most other Radiohead albums do, for whatever reason, and that's a little troublesome.

       But hey, that doesn't mean that it's not a darn fine album! Both "Little by Little" and "Morning Mr Magpie" are quite good. The former has a really neat acoustic guitar riff and some particularly inspired percussion, and "Magpie" has yet another great riff (this 'un's electric), as well as what is the album's greatest vocal melody. Great songs.
       "Codex" is a very pretty, space-y piano ballad that's extremely pleasant on the ears, as well. (Also of it just me, or is the piano chord progression remarkably similar to the progression from "Sultans of Swing"? Just a thought.) The trumpets that come in halfway through are very cool as well, and they add quite a bit to the track. 
       "Give Up the Ghost" is yet another pretty song, this one being an acoustic ballad rather than a piano ballad. The vocal melody isn't too special, but it's most certainly unoffending, and it works fine. The Kid A-esque vocal effects are a nice touch, too. "Seperator" also suffers from the problem of having a simply decent, forgettable vocal melody, but hey, at least it's got some cool guitar licks, hypnotizing vocal overdubs, a cool drum beat, and a nice bass line.
       Also having an awesome bass line (wow, there are a lot of segue-ways in this review) is the album's lead single, "Lotus Flower". Sure, the vocal melody is, yet again, pretty forgettable (but a little less so than the previous two songs I've discussed), and it goes on for a bit too long, but I must admit....that's one HECK of a drum/bass/synth-noise groove. 
       I'm not too big on the noise-fest "Feral", which I find ironic, as I like most of the noises therein. I just don't lime the way they're put together, AT ALL. It's just noisy randomness for noisy randomnesses sake, and I just can't dig that. Somewhat similar is the opening "Bloom", but at least there's a bit more sense put into placing the sounds in a coherent form on that one.
       I most certainly don't dislike this album (heck, I like large parts of it), but there's not enough stuff on here that makes me go "Wow!" for me to give it higher than a 10. Again, none of these songs are really BAD, per se, it's just that none of them are really that great, either. Still though, it's definitely worth a listen, especially if you're a fan. I'm just wondering what they'll do next....

Order of Accessibility
       Hey there, folks. So now you know what Radiohead's best and worst albums are. The question remains, what order should I purchase them? For that reason, here's my thoughts on Radiohead's order of accessibility. 

       So, first off, I need to ask you something -- are you more familiar with electronic music or rock? If you're more familiar with rock, start with The Bends. If you're more inclined to electronica, go ahead and spring for Hail to the Thief, which, in my opinion, is one of the more easily accessible later period Radiohead albums. (Also, if you started with The Bends, then proceed to HttT after that.) After you've experienced Hail, go onto OK Computer. (Alright, now the folks who started with Hail to the Thief can pick up The Bends) Follow that up with In Rainbows, or if you're one of those "I don't care about albums, I just want the best songs" types, just grab "Reckoner", "15 Step", "Bodysnatchers", and "Nude" from that album. Now, finally proceed to Kid A, and then follow that with Amnesiac and The King of Limbs, in that order. Now, you can begin the EP collection. This really depends on your favorite albums by the band. If you like The Bends, grab Itch and (especially) My Iron Lung. If you like OK Computer, grab the Airbag EP. And if you like Hail to the Thief, go for COM LAG. They're all pretty good.

       So basically, we end up with this:
1) The Bends
2) Hail to the Thief
3) OK Computer
4) In Rainbows (or simply the best four songs from In Rainbows)
5) Kid A
6) Amnesiac
7) The King of Limbs

1 comment:

  1. I'd actually recommend OK Computer before The Bends or Hail to the Thief. Sure, The Bends is good alt-rock, but it doesn't really give you an accurate portrait of the band's sound. With OK Computer, you can get a feel for both where they came from and where they were going. Hail to the Thief would probably be my number 2, followed by In Rainbows.