Sunday, September 16, 2012

Radiohead, Part 1

Radiohead - Complete Discography - Part 1

Album Ranking
1) Kid A
2) OK Computer
3) Hail to the Thief
4) In Rainbows
5) The Bends
6) Amnesiac
7) The King of Limbs
8) Pablo Honey

       I would love to hate this band. I could spit in the face and defy all of the mainstream critics -- "HA!  You idiots think this over-hyped indie band is good?!? What are you, crazy?!?" -- but alas, I love them about as much as everyone else. (I'll have to save that sentiment for when I review Nirvana... *snicker*snicker*) I think pretty much every album from The Bends to In Rainbows (12 years and 6 albums!!!!) is a must-own, and heck, a good case could be made for The King of Limbs to be required listening as well. What a group.

       For those that don't already know, I'll tell you the general arc of the band. They started out as a generic 90s alt-rock band, making generic 90s alt-rock. They then made what is quite possibly the greatest "pure 90s guitar rock" album ever, before taking that formula and sprinkling electronics, beauty, pretentiousness, and strong melodies over it. They then created what many consider to be the greatest album of the 90s. They then, very bravely, decided to veer as far as humanly possible away from the rock stylings of that album and created a purely electronic album that any uninitiated music listener would consider extremely difficult. Ironically, this became the band's first album to hit #1 on the Billboard Album Charts. The album then won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album. After releasing an outtakes collection, the band made a drastic switch back to the more rock-oriented stylings of their older material, but they still kept some of the lessons they had learned from their time as an electronic band. They recorded two albums in this vein. Those two were proceeded by an album that sort of returned to the old electronic style. However, the twist this time was that the synths and drum machines were replaced by guitars and drums, thus creating an album that SOUNDED like an electronic album, but was actually created primarily by regular instruments. 

     And that's as far as the band has come. As far as my thoughts on the individual albums go, check the individual reviews. Also to note, for some reason I decided to track down every little bitty EP the band has ever put out for review. YOU'RE WELCOME. Oh, and to check the band's order of accessibility, see the end of Part 3. 

Pablo Honey (1993)
Rating: 6
"I wish I was special"
Best Song: Creep
Worst Song: How Do You?

        Yeah, I'm not too crazy about this one. There are a few decent cuts on here, but I tell ya, this is about as generic as early 90s alt-rock gets. Yorke's voice is not nearly as cool or interesting as it would eventually get, the production is horrible (waaay too treble heavy), and generally the melodies are completely forgettable, and at times even ugly. 

        Some are alright, though. "Creep" is by far the most famous thing here, and with good reason. The melody is actually interesting, for once, and Yorke's voice sounds rather pretty and genuine. It also helps that for perhaps the only time in the Radiohead catalog, the lyrics seem downright confessional. No "Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon"'s here, no, on "Creep" we get a sad story of some poor loser who knows that he'll never get the girl of his dreams. Are the lyrics particularly inspired? No, but they are somewhat effective, and again, the fact that it seems that Thom has actually lived through the events being discussed adds another layer to the song. It's not in the very top tier of Radiohead songs, but it's definitely in the top tier of mid-tempo early 90s alt-rock songs, for what that's worth.

        Speaking of mid-tempo songs, now's a good time to say that pretty much every song on here that's at some level of decency is mid-tempo. All the rockers kinda suck. (This pattern would be completely reversed on The Bends, ironically enough) The only truly good rocker is "Ripcord". "Ripcord" sounds like what would happen if you mixed R.E.M. and "Bones" from the next album. In short, a jangly, uptempo rocker with a catchy melody and some squealing guitar licks. That chorus is particularly pleasant on the ears.

        My other favorite mid-tempo song is the great "Vegetable", which has a truly great melody and is downright pretty. The "I'm not a vegetable" line is an especially good hook. "Thinking About You" is a short, pretty acoustic number that's very pleasant, and "Stop Whispering" is another decent mid-tempo song....but it's pretty dull.

        Also dull are "Blow Out" and ESPECIALLY the horrible "Lurgee" which is three minutes of ballad-y boredom. On the rocker front, we have the uneventful "You", the anthemic and somewhat decent "Prove Yourself", the noisy and surprisingly pleasant "Anyone Can Play Guitar", and the god-awful, ugly "How Do You?" which needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. If that's not the most irritating Thom Yorke performance I've ever heard, I'm deaf.

        In short, it's a mediocre collection of early 90s alt-rock tunes. If you're a major, major fan of Radiohead, grab it. Otherwise, snatch up "Creep" and "Ripcord", and if you're interested, "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "Vegetable". Nothing on here is completely essential, not even "Creep", so don't feel obligated to get it, even if you like golden era Radiohead. It's not "the great lost Radiohead album"
or anything like that.

Itch (EP) (1994)
Rating: 8
"I'm not a vegetable"
Best Song: Faithless, the Wonder Boy
Worst Song: Killer Cars (Acoustic)

        Hey, now this is pretty good! Quite a bit better than the debut, and funny enough, it essentially consists of nothing more than alternate/live versions of songs from Pablo, or outtakes from it. Who knows how I can dislike that one so much and enjoy this one so much at the same time, but hey...I do!

        We start out with an alternate version of "Stop Whispering", that adds a much more majestic and pretty feel to the song (complete with strings!) that improves upon the original greatly. The soft, acoustic feel matches the melody much better than the more abrasive original. Good move.

        Speaking of completely shifting arrangements, the short, two minute acoustic ditty from the last album, "Thinking About You" is changed into a.....two minute punk song?!?! Seriously! This sounds like one of early Green Day's sweeter songs like, I dunno, "When I Come Around" or some such.'s actually good! I liked the original in this case, and the band actually improves upon it! Wow! What's next?

        Why, the best song of the album, that's what! "Faithless, the Wonder Boy" is an outtake from Pablo, and FOR THE LIFE OF ME, I cannot figure out why the band didn't include this on there! This version has a slightly unfinished feel, but that's okay, because the melody is AWESOME. Seriously, it's probably the best melody I've heard from a very early Radiohead song. It's kinda like an updated version of those classic, mid-60s Who singles, both in melody and lyrical content. And when I compare a melody to one from a mid-60s Who single, you should know that I think extremely highly of it. (Well, you wouldn't know, because I've never reviewed anything by The Who before. Don't worry, I'll get to that. I love The Who.)

        The next two aren't as great, but they're "Banana Co" would be completely unremarkable, if not for some neat-o guitar lines and a piano/synth part that sounds mysteriously like where the band would be in about 3 years. "Killer Cars" is fine, but still, a bit dull.

        After this, we get some live versions of two tracks from Pablo, "Vegetable" and "You". If you remember correctly, I quite enjoyed "Vegetable" and wasn't too crazy about "You". Well, for the live versions of these tracks, my opinion is the exact opposite. I love the live version of "You", which is far more exciting and rousing (Just listen to that riffage!!! Oh, and that vocal delivery!!! Awesome!) than the album version. "Vegetable" loses the succinct neatness of the album version and becomes a bit too sloppy for my tastes, even if I do enjoy Thom's interaction with the crowd (He's an actual person? Shock!) 

        We wrap the EP up with an live, acoustic version of "Creep" that consists of nothing more than Thom and an acoustic guitar. I don't enjoy it quite as much as the original, but the bare-boned-ness of the arrangement makes for a very gripping, honest read of the song. I like it.

        So yeah, I like the live/rarities EP better than the original album. If you really want to hear early Radiohead, this should be your first stop...if you can find it.
My Iron Lung (EP) (1994)
Rating: 9
"We are grateful for our iron lung"
Best Song: Permanent Daylight
Worst Song: Lewis (Mistreated)

        Hey, this is really good! Almost as good as The Bends, even! Yeah, you heard me. This short, small EP is nearly as good as the next album, to my ears, and I think you would agree with me if you gave it the chance. 

        Now, for sake of full disclosure, my copy doesn't have the live version of "My Iron Lung" that opens the album or the acoustic version of "Creep" that closes it, but I do indeed have all of the other tracks on here that you've probably never heard before, and that's all that matters, if you ask me. My copy kicks off with the very solid, very dark "The Trickster". It's got a really great riff, as well as some cool, early Flaming Lips-esque guitar noise that provides a very interesting contrast to the rest of the song. Yorke's vocal melody is also very good, particularly in the verses.

        Next is the punky "Lewis (Mistreated)", which is pretty decent, and following that is "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong" which sounds shockingly similar to "Subterranean Homesick Alien" from OK Computer. Seriously, check out that synth loop, those gentle, jazzy drums, the dreamy guitar -- it sounds nothing like the band's other material from this era. Also of note are the cool steel guitar swells.

        Another great one is the Sonic Youth-esque "Permanent Daylight". And when I say Sonic Youth-esque, I really, REALLY mean it, because this isn't too far away from being a redux of "Teenage Riot". That's not to say that it's a bad song in the slightest, however. It's got a cool melody, Thom is singing through a unique sounding filter, the guitar work is awesome -- a fantastic song.

        "Lozenge of Love" is an acoustic number that sounds like a perfect precursor to, believe it or not, In Rainbows! The melody reminds me of both "Bodysnatchers" and "Reckoner", and believe me, that's a very good thing. Both very pretty and very pleasant, "Lozenge" is yet another winner. 

       That's followed up by the short, sad "You Never Wash Up After Yourself", which has some nice, simplistic guitar picking, as well as yet another great melody. And that's the EP.....and it's a very, very good EP. In some ways, it sounds even more advanced than The Bends, funny enough. Also, the melodies are almost as great as they are on that album and there's no filler on this one. Of course, its short length keeps it from advancing beyond that one, but I have no regrets giving this one nearly the same rating. I can't tell you if the live version of "My Iron Lung" or the acoustic version of "Creep" would change my thoughts in anyway, but I highly doubt they would. Definitely worth a listen.

The Bends (1995)
Rating: 11
"You do it to yourself / Just you"
Best Song: Planet Telex
Worst Song: (Nice Dream)

        Do you like U2? Do you like Nirvana? Would you like it if both of those bands were smashed together? If so, buy The Bends. Seriously, that's the best description of this album I can think of. Still though, this is a big step up from Pablo by our boys, no doubt. Unlike that album, there are really no offensive tracks here. They all have some degree of decency. There's also loads of cool guitar textures and some pretty cool vocal melodies, but again....U2 and Nirvana. 

        And thus, I have the same problems with this album that I do with most of the music by both of those artists, particularly Nirvana. And that's just guitar rock with some decent melodies. There's really not a whole lot of depth here, I mean, it's just....guitar rock with some decent melodies. I suppose if you're an angsty teenager, you'll find some solace in these lyrics....but again, Nirvana waves hello. 

        For some reason, this album is praised immensely by critics. (Rolling Stone even put it AHEAD of OK Computer on its "Greatest Albums of All Time" list. Really?!?) Sure, like I said, the melodies are solid and there's some really neat guitar riffage going on here,  but that's...pretty much it. (And therein lies my problem with Nevermind

       I know what you're thinking: "Hey, didn't you give Cosmo's Factory a 14 mainly for its amazing melodies?" Yes, that is true. (Of course, "Long As I Can See the Light" affects me deeply as well, but that's beside the point.) But those melodies are absolutely CLASSIC. These?, these aren't THAT far beyond your average alt-rock song. But they are at least somewhat beyond that, so that's why it gets as high of a grade as it gets.

       Another thing that keeps this album from getting too high of a grade is its lack of variety. Pretty much everything here is either an anthemic rock song, a pretty ballad, or some combination therein. But again, these are very well put-together anthemic rock songs, and very pretty ballads, so there you have it. An 11.

       With all of that staggeringly long exposition out of the way, let's talk songs. The album kicks off with three total winners, one after the other. "Planet Telex" features the first prominent use of synth effects and innovative guitar noise on a Radiohead LP, and it works brilliantly. Also to note is that Yorke sounds absolutely awesome on this track, and it also has one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, early Radiohead melody. There's also loads of genius riffage going on here too, so's the best thing on the album.

       The next track, "The Bends", comes mighty close though. The sounds a bit more eh..."normal" than most Radiohead songs, but that doesn't bother me one bit. It's still great. "High and Dry" is also fantastic, with a much more gentle, acoustic feel than the previous two tracks. A great, simplistic guitar solo and some lyrics that I personally think are great ("You kill yourself for recognition") round out the track.

       Other highlights are the forward-sounding, creepy album-closer, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", the very catchy "Just", and the head-banging "Bones". I especially love Yorke's snide delivery in "Bones". However, all of the songs I've mentioned so far are what do I think of the ballads? Well,  "(Nice Dream)" is incredibly dull, and "Fake Plastic Trees" is pretty much the same, with the exception of that one verse near the end of the song where it sort of builds up into something sounding relatively OK Computer-y. "Black Star" is anthemic, but forgettable. "Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was" is pretty, but bland...yeah, I'm not too crazy about the ballads.

       But still, the awesomeness that is the rockers, and the relative inoffensiveness that is the ballads is enough to guarantee this album an 11. You should probably own this, and it's also pretty accessible. So, it might not be a bad first Radiohead album. Just know going in that there is a bit of filler.

OK Computer (1997)
Rating: 14
"No surprises, please"
Best Song: No Surprises
Worst Song: Climbing Up the Walls

        Well, here we are at what many consider to be the greatest album of the 90s, as well as Radiohead's crowning achievement. Now it very well may be the best album of the 90s, but I still consider Kid A to be Radiohead's greatest stride. However, even if Kid A is indeed better, OK Computer is still one heck of an album. This is an album with some seriously good tunes on it. 

       Now, apparently this is supposed to be a concept album...Yeah, I don't see it. Surrre, "Fitter Happier" makes perfect sense as a centerpiece to a rock opera of sorts, but...I don't see any other tracks that deal with this kind of thing. Not a single one. They all seem to be completely different lyrically, and while this doesn't bother me, it does make me roll my eyes whenever I see someone claim that they like this album because of the "concept". But I can totally see how someone could like it because of the songs. It's just flat-out full of great melodies and ideas. And I will say one thing about the concept -- all the tracks share a similar feel. No, not a lyrical idea, but a feel. An emotion. I always picture a cold winter morning whenever I hear these songs....kinda like the wintry looking cover, now that I'm thinking about it. They're all sort of chilly and sleek, but at their heart, they're actually warm-feeling. 

       OK, enough about "emotions" and such. Let's talk songs, shall we? You have they "Sexy Sadie" rewrite, "Karma Police", which starts out well enough but eventually builds into a giant wall of guitar effects and beautiful Thom Yorke wailings of "For a minute there, I lost myself". After reaching this apex, an awesome, unexplainable effect occurs, where the song essentially breaks down into computer-y gurgles that eventually segue straight into "Fitter Happier", which is a spoken word piece by, what else, a computer. The effect is genius.  


       Another great one is the shifty "Paranoid Android", which goes from a gentle, almost flamenco-esque acoustic guitar-driven melody, to a hard rocking guitar solo, to a creepy, gospel-ish "rain down" section, and then back to the awesome guitar solo....all in about six minutes. Also of note is the dark, moody "Exit Music (For a Film). It's a fine little acoustic ballad for a while, but when the distorted bass line and Selling England by the Pound-era Genesis-esque choirs (a mellotron, I think) come in about 3/4 of the way through the song, it's a major goose bump moment for me. Well done, gents. 

        You also get the heartbreakingly gorgeous "No Surprises" which is essentially a dreamy, gentle lullaby with a beautiful guitar line and some chilling xylophone parts. Oh, and did I mention that the song is about suicide, to boot? Yeah, it's a sad one. But oh so beautiful. My other favorite of the album, "Let Down" is quite similar. The whole "dreamy" effect is in full force here, and it, just like "No Surprises" is breathtakingly beautiful. The melody and instrumentation is what mostly grabs me, but I've gotta say...that little electronic breakdown in the bridge that lasts for about 7 seconds or so? Yeah, that blows my mind every time I hear it. Wow.

        The only "bad" track I can think of is the ugly "Climbing Up the Walls". I totally get that they're going for a dark, oppressive mood here, but they might just hit it a little too well, if you know what I mean. Also, it's a bit long, especially for this album. I suppose I could also say that perhaps "Electioneering" is a little uninspired and that "Subterranean Homesick Alien" gets a little boring in places, but eh?....I won't.

       So, there you have it. Is it overrated? ....I want to say "yes", but I just kinda have to agree with everyone on this one. It's probably my favorite album of the 90s, and I love it about as much as everyone else. It's a modern classic, and you need this in your library.

No Surprises/Running from Demons (EP) (1997)
Rating: 8
"I'll take a quiet life / A handshake of carbon monoxide"
Best Song: No Surprises
Worst Song: Melatonin

      Apparently there were also some rarities from OK Computer, and the band released these on this here (and the Airbag one, as well) EP. None of the songs are really bad, per se, but they're all kind of "blah", with the exception of the opener (the excellent "No Surprises", from the original album), "Pearly" (a neat number with a really great, albeit repetitive) vocal melody, and the "Subterranean Homesick Alien"-esque "A Reminder". The rest are mid-tempo and somewhat forgettable. It also doesn't help that they're all in a row, either.

       The best of these mid-tempo songs is "Bishop's Robes", which is quite pretty and has a very pleasant vocal melody. The worst of these is the boring "Melatonin", which is like all those short, pretty numbers yet to come from Radiohead ("Faust Arp", "I Will", "Fog", etc.), except really boring. "Meeting in the Aisle" is the band's very first instrumental, and I can really tell -- it's pretty directionless.

       So yeah, No Surprises/Running from Demons. It's not bad, but you can get nearly all these songs ('cept for "Bishop's Robes"), as well as much better ones, on the next EP.

Airbag / How Am I Driving? (EP) (1998)
Rating: 10 
"In an interstellar burst / I'm back to save the universe"
Best Song:
Worst Song: Melatonin

       Well, this is almost the same album as No Surprises/Running From Demons. There are a few minor differences, though. Instead of having "No Surprises" be the opening track, this one has "Airbag", and instead of having "Bishop's Robes" be one of the rarities, this one has the morphing "Polyethylene [Parts 1 & 2]" and the hard-rocking "Palo Alto". 

       So, which one's better? Well, "No Surprises" is a better song than "Airbag", but both "Polyethylene" and "Palo Alto" are at the very least equal to the pretty "Bishop's Robes", so overall, it's a more enjoyable EP than the other. Also, the version of "Pearly" here is the original version, not the remix. There isn't much difference between them.

       In short, if you have OK Computer and you want some more tracks like the ones on it, grab this one, not Running From Demons. It doesn't really matter that "No Surprises" is a better song than "Airbag", already have OK Computer. So yeah, grab this one.

Kid A (2000) 

Rating: 14

"This is really happening" 

Best Song: Idioteque 

Worst Song: Untitled (Yes, I took the easy way out) 

        Call me hipster, but I love this album. It takes a couple of listens to really hook you, but when it It's got you. And in all honesty, there's only one flaw with the album, and that's the fact that most of the songs only work within the context of the album. In other words, to enjoy the music of this album, you pretty much have to listen to it beginning to end. Other than's pretty much flawless.
         And yes, I like the ambient drone of "Treefingers", unlike a lot of people. But, to tell you the truth, I myself didn't really enjoy it for a while. No, it took until one day when I was sitting on the beaches of Destin, Florida, for me to enjoy it. I pulled out my lawn chair, sat under an umbrella, stuck my feet in the sand, and turned on the album in question. I enjoyed it immensely, as always, but when "Treefingers" finally came up, I was a bit disappointed. "Aw man," I thought, "now I've got to wait through 3 minutes of boringness to get to the fantastic 'Optimistic'. Crap." However, as I sat there, completely relaxed and staring at the waves crashing on the shore, the song began to affect me in a way I never thought possible. That was quite possibly the most relaxing three minutes of my life. And ever since then, I've loved "Treefingers". Yup.
        But of course, "Treefingers" isn't the only great song on the album. No, there's also the apocalyptic, free-form jazz (isn't that something if an oxymoron?) "The National Anthem", which has an extremely simple, but really effective bass groove. Also, the whole "horn section crescendoes and crashes in great fashion" thing is jaw-dropping. 

        I can totally see why someone would dislike the title track, but that little lullaby-esque keyboard riff is completely mesmerizing to me, as is the bouncy, shuffling rhythm. I also dig the random whale noises at the end. They're completely out of left field, but they work...somehow. Also of note are the cool, nagging synth noises that pop out all over the place. By the way, the vocoderized lyrics mean nothing. Don't even bother trying to decipher them. Please.
        "How to Disappear Completely" is an absolutely gorgeous ballad, and even if I don't like it quite as much as the closing "Motion Picture Soundtrack" (I'll get to it in a minute), it's still a great ballad. I especially like that those two notes that the guitar and orchestra keep repeating throughout the song are eventually sung beautifully by Thom in the outro, to great effect. Also, the sample of the cascading synthesized trumpet that pops up about halfway through the song is really, really cool to my ears. Lots of people don't like "In Limbo", and while I'm not the biggest fan of it myself, it works SO WELL as an introduction to "Idioteque", which is obviously the album's centerpiece, that I have no objections to its inclusion. The way that the wall of utter noise built up by the song's end completely subsides to make way for the stark, industrial beats of "Idioteque" never fails to give me chills.
        And that brings us to "Idioteque" itself. What a song. The samples used are simply brilliant, as are those haunting four chords played repetitively on the synth. Man, are those chords effective. That chorus just blows my mind every time I hear it. Thom's voice works PERFECTLY with the song, and he sings the lyrics with amazing conviction....even thought they mean nothing. And that's not to mention the chilling harmonies....that thar's a song, my brutha.
        Also of note is the closest thing this album has to a "Radiohead rocker", the guitar-driven "Optimistic". Not only is the riff great, the drumming on this track is simply fantastic, booming through the speakers with fantastic power. (Random thought: wouldn't a version of the entire song made in the style of that little bit at the end be awesome?) Speaking of awesome drumming, we have "Morning Bell", which has an extremely strange time signature (5/4), neat-o synth textures, and some very intense and minimalistic drumming. Also, isn't it extremely cool when the band finally breaks out after the "round and round" bit? Great track.
        The album then ends on a definite high note with "Motion Picture Soundtrack", a devastatingly mournful ballad. It works perfectly as a sort of "calm after the storm", following "Idioteque" and "Morning Bell", and yes, the melody is spectacular. After "Soundtrack", there's a short, hidden track which consists of a some synth noises being played for a minute or so.
        And that's Kid A. Oh, I didn't even mention the fantastic, rave-like "Everything In Its Right Place"!! OK, I just did. Anyway, this is definitely an album to get, definitely Radiohead's best, and PROBABLY the best album of the 2000s. Probably. I haven't heard 'em all. Still though, this is amazing, and you will be emotionally affected, I guarantee it! (Unless you're not emotionally affected, in which case I don't guarantee it.)

No comments:

Post a Comment