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Radiohead

Radiohead


Any group with three guitarists, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien, is off to a good start. Along with bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway, Radiohead formed in '91 in Oxford, England. Their initial name was On A Friday but finding that unsuitable they adopted the title of a Talking Heads song.

Radiohead's '93 debut "Pablo Honey" contained their breakthrough song "Creep." Recorded in one take, the song had Yorke's angst powered vocals ("I 'm a Creep, I'm a weirdo") and blasting/piercing guitars.

"The Bends" followed in '95 and showed significant development. However, the crowning Art Rock achievement was yet to come. "OK Computer" also released in ' 95 featured "Paranoid Android" and the haunting "Karma Police."



"Kid A" could easily be lumped into the "artistic statement" category. Most critics loved it. Never a good sign. Radiohead went even further down the pretentious non-Rock road with the disjointed "Amnesiac" released in '01. Once again, critics fell over themselves but there wasn't a Rocker on the 2 CD set. "Hail To The Thief," released in '03, mined the "OK Computer" vein.

Yorke released a low-key solo album, "The Eraser," in '06. This diffuse effort was still more cohesive than a large part of the Radiohead catalog.

After a group has a successful run, whether they were finished or not, their label usually issues a 'best of' or 'greatest hits' package. Radiohead went a different route in '07. Their "Limited Deluxe Edition" box set landed with all six of the band's U.K. studio albums and the live '01 release, "I Might Be Wrong."

Radiohead tossed the music industry a curve in late '07 when they released "In Rainbows" exclusively as a digital download. If that wasn't enough, they allowed fans to pay-what-they-want for the album.

"It was an experiment that felt worth trying, really… (and) it's fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth," said Greenwood. According the band's management there were over one million album downloads - though most people opted to pay nothing. No matter, the download was meant to promote the CD which was released 1/1/08.

To ring in the New Year, a taped performance of "In Rainbows" aired in its entirety during a multimedia special shown on the Current TV cable channel and webcast simultaneously at Current.com.

Yorke made news in '09 when he performed solo. His back-up band, for the two L.A. shows, consisted of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea, former R.E.M. live drummer Joey Waronker and Brazilian musician Mauro Refosco. The opening concert featured Yorke's "The Eraser" performed in its entirety.

Later in the year, Radiohead and MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) won the Asia-Pacific Child Rights Award for the band's "All I Need" video. "{The song has} two parallel stories running, one of a little boy in the West and one of a little boy in a sweatshop in the East, and the boy [in the West] ends up buying the shoes from the sweatshop," explained Yorke. The award is granted annually to "best television program on children's rights produced in the Asia-Pacific region."

Next, global warming got Yorke hot under the collar. He crashed the '09 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen by pretending to be a member of the press. "Do you imagine they'd let me in otherwise," he asked. Yorke later criticized the conference, which was also attended by U.S. President Barack Obama, as ineffective.

Radiohead's social involvement continued. Taking a break from recording, they played a one-off concert at Hollywood's Henry Fonda Theatre to raise money for Haiti's earthquake victims. The January, '10, show garnered $572,000 for Oxfam's Haiti relief efforts. It also marked the first time Radiohead performed the song "Lotus Flower" as a group.

Taking a step outside the band, Selway issued "Familial" in '10. It is relatively rare a drummer puts out a solo effort, and when they do it's usually centered around percussion. Not Selway. "Familial" leaned toward Folk-oriented acoustic songs.

Greenwood had his own side projects. One was an appearance at composer David Arnold's Concert For Care at London's Royal Albert Hall. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played music from popular contemporary films to raise money for Care International. Greenwood's composer credits included the orchestral soundtrack for the film There Will Be Blood. Proceeds from the event went to fight global poverty and deliver emergency aid to survivors of war and natural disasters.

And the side projects kept coming. Yorke surprised fans in '14 with the release of "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes," a solo album available exclusively at BitTorrent for the pay-gated price of $6.00. On the heels of Yorke's set, Selway took a more conventional approach issuing his sophomore solo album, "Weatherhouse."


Radiohead Discography

Albums:

1993 Pablo Honey
1995 The Bends
1997 OK Computer
2000 Kid A
2001 Amnesiac
2003 Hail To The Thief
2007 In Rainbows
2011 The King Of Limbs

After splashing on the mid-90s music scene as "just another Grunge" group, Radiohead, perhaps wisely (from a marketing perspective only), adopted an "Emperor's New Clothes" approach to music. Critics fell over themselves praising the group based on the simple premise that if they (who breath the rarified air of stunning musical appreciation) can't understand it, the work must be brilliant. The game was on.

Soon the public got mercilessly sucked in. Radiohead scored with the intellectually shallow (wading pool depth) and conquered the over-extended, "never thought I'd have to really work for success" types. With that in mind, "OK Computer" is Radiohead's best work as they left Rock. The songs are generally good ("Karma Police") and the arrangements can soar. "The Bends" the CD that preceded "OK Computer" is also strong. "Kid A" shows Radiohead's Art Rock tendencies in full bloom which is not a good thing.

All great artists come to the realization, sooner or later, that not everything they create is brilliant. Some things the public doesn't need hear until either the artist is dead and it doesn't matter, or they can finally figure out what to do with those half-baked ideas. Radiohead's Thom Yorke is not there yet. In interviews Yorke mentions that he isn't certain Radiohead is a Rock group anymore. No kidding. "Amnesiac" is definitely not a Rock album. But regardless of genre or classification, it's not a good album either. It's a collection of world-weary pap like "Packt Like Sardines In A Crushed Tin Box" and aimless Blues-oriented drivel like "You And Whose Army?" To foist this on the public as some artistic creation is the very definition of hype. Recorded at the same time as "Kid A," "Amnesiac" could be easily seen as outtakes, rejects and unfinished music from those sessions. And it's not like "Kid A" is all that wonderful. At least it's not a three CD set.

Some groups cast themselves adrift only to quickly return to the shore and safety. Radiohead has made a career rolling amongst the flotsam and jetsam picking up whatever suits them. They are best listened to with eyes closed. The music turns within as Yorke transverses an uncertain landscape in a dreamlike yet anxious state. They inhabit a world filled with whirring ethereal sounds. While "Hail To The Thief" might be hailed as a return to the "OK Computer" mode, they are still a long way from the howling early-90s Rock that made them famous. Most of the tracks are ballads. "2 + 2 = 5" starts the album with discordant harmonies before morphing into a brilliant Rocker. Two songs, "There, There" and "Scatterbrain" have some punch to them and are also standouts. The dreamy "Sail To The Moon" has gorgeous harmonies and "We suck Young Blood" has a certain hypnotic charm. The acoustic laden "Go To Sleep" could have been lifted from the King Crimson songbook while the poly-rhythmic "Where I End and You Begin" has some vocal drive and cohesion to it that's sorely missing elsewhere.

To their credit Radiohead has outlasted nearly all of their early '90s contemporaries. Their use of a wide array of loops, sustained guitar notes and other effects along with ambiguous lyrics has maintained a faithful audience. One might suspect that a group with such an innovative marketing scheme would have a little more positive outlook. Interestingly, the concept of "judge, jury and executioner" appears here and on Metallica's "St. Anger." In Metallica's world they are the "judge, jury and executioner." In Radiohead/Yorke's, they're the victim of a "judge, jury and executioner." A telling perception. Fans of introspective (naval gazing) lyrics where hours, if not days, can be spent savoring the nuances and letting emotions get swept away in jagged, spectral sounds, "Hail To The Thief" is another high-water mark.

Critics generally gave "In Rainbows" high marks and the album gets points for being an innovative. But marketing aside, it's a dreamy collection of often pleasant songs.

 

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