Ankai’s thought process: Hmmm…since practically no one responded to my previous two Artist Spotlights, maybe I should stop trying use the format to introduce musical acts to the Avocado and instead pick an act that members already have opinions on that they can share and discuss. Is that too cynical? Nah…so what act should I do? Oh, how about Radiohead? I read that they might be coming out with an album within the next couple of months. But why should I do it? If the band is so well-known, surely other people would know more about the band than I do and would dispute me on certain issues. Then again, I was selected to a moderator on a Radiohead fan messageboard for about a year. That was my first real introduction to online communities…and being called a fascist by a bunch of insufferable snobs. So why not me? Fine, I will take it. Gee, I hope that no one else has picked that group for an Artist Spotlight or else I might feel like a real ding dong. Now, which day is open on that schedule…how about Monday, the ninth of May? That sounds like a good date. I shall pick that one. The ninth of May. Maybe a few people might like to speculate about the upcoming album too or something…
Ankai’s thought process: uhhhhhhhh…
So…a few things happened during the past three weeks that affected how I typed this up…as well as that thing that happened yesterday. Ah, screw it; I am just gonna power through this. And, yes, I am posting this at 8:00 AM EST and risking it getting buried, just so that y’all need not wait another ten hours. True love, indeed.
In the mid-1980s, a group of students formed a band called On a Friday. They had a horn section. And then they didn’t have a horn section. Then they named themselves Shindig in 1990 (WHAT?) and recorded a song called Give It Up.
Give It Up—3:09
Well, it is quite obvious that the band was never averse to drum machines. I guess that this was that Madchester sound that was big at the time. In any case, the band went back to being On a Friday and then finally changed it again to a Talking Heads song in 1992. They could have split the difference by calling themselves Friday O’Hanlon or something. Anyways, the next year, they released an album called Pablo Honey. While Creep would be the breakout hit, this was the first song on the album.
Listen to that. It does away with any sort of chorus and flirts with unconventional time signatures by lopping off a beat at the end of certain phrases. Well, I like it. Perhaps it was because this album was seen as aping the grunge sound as opposed to the various Britpop scenes, but Pablo Honey is not rated very highly, and those who like it tend to feel the need to defend it. Maybe it was just too rough around the edges? Maybe it was that there were too many songs with “You” in the title. I don’t know. I think that it is fine, but I guess that I can see why it is not everyone’s favorite. Such qualifiers need not be used when talking about 1995’s The Bends. Glorious and atmospheric, it was seen as a…well…it was good.
Bulletproof (This Time, Baby, I’ll Be)—3:28 https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=Bgh72yzyXIs
I guess that this song is so pretty that disqus will not let me embed the video. Even with the noise in the beginning. Everything is in play here, with the dreamy ambience, the calm drums, and the melancholy guitar. It is like one is floating above the sea. It did take me a little bit to get into this particular song, but I so love it now.
Then in 1997 came the band’s magnum opus: OK Computer. A sonic…stuff, it was really good. And this is the song that kicked it all off.
Listen to all of those interlocking parts. The sliced up drum samples, the guitars and voice-like instrument overlapping melodies, the cello thingamee and other guitar overlapping melodies, the bassline that should have probably played a G sharp instead of a G, the synth choir, the nutty second guitar solo. This is so wonderful. Sure, there were a few songs that I never got into or thought were overrated, but I cannot fault the whole.
Now, this is the album that got me started on Radiohead back in the summer of 2000. And, while I had heard other Radiohead songs before, I had resisted for a while, since I really disliked Karma Police. Eventually, thanks to someone really gushing about the band, I gave it a chance. This is the first that I really listened to. And then I went back and listened to the other two. Because of this, I could feel a thread connecting all three albums. And maybe that short timeframe to become a big fan actually allowed me to be better prepared for what was to come: KID A.
Kid A—4:44 https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=eFU-WrWqlB4
Again with the embedding?? Fine.
This was the first album that I got to experience as it happened instead of years later. I wasn’t there to see how the previous ones were initially received, but this one was divisive. A lot of people at the time were upset that this was not a rock album, that there were no guitars, that it was so different from the others. Call me a noob, but I did not understand the complaints. Nor did I understand all of the articles that came before and after the release with all of the hyperbole about some strange new direction. Kid A seemed to me like a logical progression from what had come before. Yes, even including the title track, which I loved and love. It is like a pseudo-jazzy electronic lullaby that kind of ambles on, using repeated phrases and the occasional musical callback in place of a verse-chorus structure.
There were plenty of electronic elements in the previous album and white noise in the one before. And pianos. So it was pretty easy for me to enjoy this album and occasionally rate it even higher than the previous ones. Sure, the band could have gone in a different direction, but they would not have done OK Com2fer, as it seemed that many people wanted. And, to be honest, I liked this album more than the previous one at times; at the very least, I did not dislike any of the songs. All of this controversy may sound quaint to people now…it sounded quaint to me back then.
Boy, did I jump on the bandwagon at the right time. Just a few months later came Amnesiac. It was a little more disjointed-sounding than Kid A, which made a few people wonder if it was just a bunch of B-sides. But it was good in and of itself. Some pretty good songs there and some great ones.
Life in a Glass House—4:34
Hey, remember when I said that the old band had a horn section? Well, here is one; this sounds like some old New Orleans jazz number played when everyone is really tired. Could you imagine all Radiohead songs having horn sections?
In 2003…I took a plane to Manchester and London to see Radiohead with a group of people who I liked from that messageboard. I stayed in a cruddy hostel and sat out in the street overnight outside of one of the venues so that we could stand in the front row. And I saw Radiohead perform three times…and took some sweet pictures that I would lose a few years later. Since I had not yet heard the early released versions of the upcoming Hail to the Thief like pretty much everyone else, I was in for a treat. One of the biggest treats for me was Backdrifts.
Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)—6:25
I mean, how did he do that thing with the guitar, making it sound all backwards? So I was pumped to hear it on the album…along with the other new songs that I kind of got sort of. Unfortunately, the guitar stuff was not on the album version of Backdrifts, which turned it into an okay funktronic dance song with maybe more interesting percussion. The rest of the album was okay too, though a little overstuffed with filler. And I still don’t care for the ending song. And though others had in the past complained about Radiohead moving away from what they once were, I felt that the band was starting to spin its wheels. So while I had a great time seeing the band live, at this point, the sheen and shine was starting to rub off and I had started to move on to the Australian band Augie March as my favorite band. So, indeed, the honeymoon was over. But I still enjoyed Radiohead, and looked forward to their next album.
The next album, In Rainbows, came in 2007 and, perhaps hearing my complaints that the last album was too long, they brought this one back to Pablo Honey levels of short. Also, the production quality seems to be cut in parts, though that made it sound a bit more intimate and personal. And they goddamn puffed up Big Ideas. How could they do that?? They just needed to record one of the two existing live versions…whatever. There were bright spots, though. The album was good, but it seemed clear to me that the band had been growing up and mellowing out, which is what happens. At least they mellowed out fairly well instead of not well. And they did not need to prove themselves to anyone anymore, so they could sort of relax. That said, who complained that they didn’t still rock?
That song rocks, man. And the comparatively low-production works for it. I also love how the guitar and vocals play just before the beat, but it is impossible to tell until the beat comes in.
In 2011 came The King of Limbs. Not even 38 minutes? What are they, the Beatles? By now, I had moved onto enjoying more “accessible” acts like Bonnie Pink, and my expectations for new Radiohead music was more curiosity than anything. A lot of people disliked this album for whatever reason, but I liked it more than either Hail to the Thief or In Rainbows, even if it was still similar to them. And short. It seemed to have the same production quality as In Rainbowstoo. And, perhaps it was because it was so short, but I liked all of the songs on this one too. I think that this was my favorite song.
It sounds like a piano floating in a pond somewhere. And hey, another horn section playing on the other end of the pond. And then, birds.
And so, here we are. A Moon Shaped Pool, with its oddly punctuated title and suspiciously alphabetical tracklist, was released…EIGHTEEN HOURS AGO!!!! Actually, I got it a little earlier than that, but probably because someone goofed.
Yay! It is back to the 45-55 minute range. Also, it is definitely continuing the mellowed-out style of the previous albums, despite the somewhat tense opening track along with another song or two. Acoustic instruments get played with, cut-up, and sharing sonic space with electronic elements. A little like Zero 7 or Air in points. And, I don’t know how this version of True Love Waits is being received, but I vastly prefer it to the guitar version that had been played in concerts. So, the opposite of Big Ideas for me. I am really liking this album. Maybe it is because I am older and not as close to the band as I was fourteen years ago that allows me I to appreciate this for what it is as opposed to what I may have wished it to be. Given the inclusion of a few live staples, it has been theorized that this will be the final Radiohead album. I would hope that they could at least make a tenth, but this would be a fine parting gift. A few songs stand out to me, but I enjoy all of it so far. Yes, that is the level of insight that six listens of this has granted me.
The general consensus of this album is…I don’t know. It hasn’t even been a day. I would imagine that those who have been complaining since 2000 that Radiohead have stopped rocking should simply give it up. Up. Up.
Another pretty piano song, this time with electronic bells, synth melodies, vocal effects, strings, and an electric guitar that sounds like it is broken. So pretty…though that ending sounds a bit ominous.
So, that’s it. Oh, did I not include your favorite song? Maybe it is in here somewhere.