Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The 2nd Greatest Band from Britain (Because you already know who the first is)

Like the aforementioned greatest band thats ever come out of Britain, Radiohead started out as a simple pop/grunge band. They wrote good songs but they didn't mean a whole lot (also like the greatest band to ever come out of Britain-oh who am I kidding? I'll just call them the greatest band ever because its easier and its true). This is a run-down of their history and discography and of their transformation into the amazing band they are today.

Pablo Honey: Pablo Honey was Radiohead's first album and for a first album, its pretty good-at least better than most band's first albums. The songs sway back and forth between pop and grunge (being that it was '93, grunge was the only kind of music anyone really listened to at the time) and some combine both at the same time. This combination of pop and grunge is epitomized in the song "Creep", Radiohead's first radio single that catapulted them to superstardom. It starts out slow with simple arpeggio-guitar playing and a soft melody over the top until the song comes to the chorus when out of nowhere, a crunching distorted guitar slices right through the middle of the song. It was the perfect mix of pop and grunge as well as the beginning of Radiohead's experiments with different sounds that would become vital to their later career. However, Pablo Honey will always be remembered as Radiohead's worst album, not because it is bad, but because it is bad compared to everything they did after the album. See the video for "Creep" below.

The Bends: The Bends begins Radiohead's ascent as one of the greatest bands ever. Hailed by critics, the album was on many top ten lists for 1995 (this also begins Radiohead's curious habit of being on every critics top ten lists for every album that comes out from them from this point forth). The album shows that Radiohead has left pop and grunge for a more alternative sound though there are still flashes of their old sound throughout the record. Above all, however, one can see them really starting to experiment with sound whether its the synthesizer in "Fake Plastic Trees" or the empty atmosphere they create in "Bulletproof (I Wish I Was)". But the highlight of the record (the video of which I posted below) was "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" which closes the album. The song shows Thom Yorke's (lead singer) great vocal ability and furthers their experiment of sound as Yorke's layered vocals end the song in a howling cry of desperation.

OK Computer: This album secured Radiohead's spot in rock history and topped most of those top ten lists of critics when it hit shelves in 1997. To this day, many critics claim this to be their best album ever (though not this critic) and still others claim it to be a perfect album. It is this album that Radiohead's early experiments in sound come full force. For many people, Yorke's lyrics of emptiness and desperation defined how many people were feeling at the time when technology was really starting to take off and more and more people were climbing into the corporate world. Yorke's lyrics are not against these things but they always seem to be saddened by them. The highlight of the album is "Paranoid Android" which to date is the most epic song they have ever written. The run time for the song is about 8 and a half minutes and goes through many different phases. However, a song that truly captures the feel of the album is "No Surprises" (which I have posted below). The song captures Yorke's feelings of helplessness and desperation in a world that was becoming too neat and pre-packaged. OK Computer was a huge album especially in the UK and the US. Many thought it was a perfect album.

Kid A: How do you follow a perfect album? You do the only thing you can do. That is to do the exact opposite of what everyone expects you to do. And that is just what Kid A is. Radiohead knew that anything they did after OK Computer wouldn't be as good so by doing the exact opposite of what everyone expected them to do was the only move they could have made. If they did another album that had the same alternative songs of emptiness, everyone would have simply passed it off as an okay album but not as good as the first. By doing the exact opposite, however, it allowed them to be seen as bold artists who were pushing music in new directions. In Kid A, they don't merely dabble in experimentation as they did on previous albums, the album IS experimentation. Right from the get-go, Radiohead establishes that this is not the same Radiohead you have heard before. "Everything in its Right Place" (the album opener) is filled with keyboard, bass and drums with synthesizers in the back and over-the-top whereas Radiohead had always been a band with three guitars, bass and drums. "National Anthem" is filled with a booming bass line and a horn section that blasts bursts of discordant sounds and adds to the creepy feel of the album. The album continues on to "Idioteque" (which is pronounced idiotic and which I have posted below) which plays with an electronic dance beat that would be fitting in a techno song but which Radiohead form into (in my opinion) the best song on the album. A much better music critic than this one, Chuck Klosterman, once wrote that though Kid A was made in 2000, the entire album reflects the entire September 11th attacks. He makes a valid argument. There is something almost eerie about how well the album matches the feeling of people before the attacks, during the attacks and after the attacks. But this aside, Kid A is an amazing album by itself (and is not only this critics favorite album by Radiohead but is also the 2nd best album ever, in my opinion).

Amneisiac: Amneisiac is not a bad album but after Pablo Honey, many people feel that this is Radiohead's 2nd worst album. The reason is because when the band was recording Kid A, they wrote about 23 or 24 songs. Only 10 made it on to Kid A and then Radiohead put the rest on to Amneisiac and released it in 2001. It is for this reason that the album does not flow as easily as Kid A had before it but it still has some great tracks. It also shows a bit of jazz influence like in the drum beat to "Pyramid Song" or the horn section to "Life in a Glass House".

Hail to the Thief: Radiohead continue their experimentation in this album but it is more controlled. The songs aren't as bold in trying to break new ground (not that this is a bad thing) and the band is beginning to lay down their synthesizers and pick up their guitars again. It is this album that they prove that they can still rock like in the opener "2+2=5" or in "Myxomatosis" where they use synthesizers to rock rather than to add to the atmosphere of a song. The highlight here though is "There There" which two of the band members (not including the drummer) play huge bass drums to drive the song until the song picks up in the middle (and they pick up their guitars) and rock out.

In Rainbows: Just when everyone was starting to think that Radiohead was finished, that they had done all they could do to push music in new directions, they release this album last year and throw the whole music industry upside-down. The reason is because of how it was released. The band decided to put their album on their website for anyone to download for whatever they felt like paying. Yes, whatever they felt like paying. If you wanted to pay 100 pounds then you could. You could pay 1000. You could pay 0. It didn't matter to Radiohead. The album was released in October although they promised to release an actual disc in January that people could buy in the store. Most people paid 1 pound (including this critic although I would have paid more but I knew I was going to buy the real copy in January) which is about 3 US dollars. You would think that from this system, Radiohead would not make squat. You'd be wrong. When it was all said and done, Radiohead had taken in roughly 30 million pounds (although I can't at the moment remember where I heard this number so I could be a little off). When the album came out in retail stores, it went to number 1 on the billboard charts in both the UK and the US despite coming out for free on their website four months earlier. But they have started something new and exciting with free digital downloads as loads and loads of artists have already begun to replicate it from bands like Coldplay to bands like Nine Inch Nails.
And all this before I even talk about the music. In Rainbows is an absolutely beautiful album. There is a tenderness to the album that goes throughout every song. No one had ever heard Yorke sing so often about love as almost every song on the album is about love or the absence one feels when they do not have love. It is Radiohead at their most vulnerable. The song that most captures this feeling is "All I Need" which is more about the absence one feels without love than with it (though I must credit this sentence to because I think I just quoted it verbatim). This album was on most critics top ten lists of 2007, topping the lists of some and being in the top 5 for most others (it is also quickly becoming one of this critics favorite albums of all time).

Well, thats about it. That is Radiohead's history to this point. They have released a greatest hits compilation today as well as DVD of all their music videos (which inspired me to write this history). And at this point, they are one of the hottest bands in the world and I can't wait to see what else they have in store for us as they are already planning to return to the recording studio to work on a new album in October which is only a year since they finished their last. Though they may be 2nd greatest to the greatest band ever, I suppose from where they're standing, 2nd place ain't too bad.


Stace-Ghost said...

I absolutely love Radiohead. My favorite albums would have to be OK Computer and In Rainbows. They are so original and their songs are so beautiful. To be honest, after listening to Pablo Honey I probably never would have thought that I would like them as much as I do. It's just awesome to see them change and grow with each album.
P.S. Street Spirit is such an awesome video!!

Delirious said...

By the way, have you ever seen the video, "New York Dolls"? If you haven't seen it, you should rent it. It's a documentary, but very interesting.