Like that icky surgery show you can't take your eyes from, a particularly fascinating car accident you pass slowly by (hmmm...what's that wet stuff on the pavement?), or a movie that's so bad you sit through it just to say that you did...Radiohead's music has me scratching my head, unable to walk away. I'm attracted to it for a shifting set of reasons. There also seem to be reasons that I can't quite put my finger on, but that's nothing new: do any of us know, completely, why we like a particular piece of music? To me there's some mystery there...and that's what keeps me interested.
I missed out on 'early' Radiohead. "Creep" flew under my radar. In fact, my first exposure was a segment about them on Terry Gross' "Fresh Air". Most of the talk centered on the meanings behind the music and lyrics of OK Computer. It all sounded so intriguing. After reading a bunch of articles about them, and despite some pretty wacky Amazon reviews ("...most important...", "...best rock band of all time...", etc), I caved and bought OK Computer.
My first reaction was something like "...are you people out of your freaking minds?!" After all the hyperbole (rabid at times) OK Computer struck me as low-rent King Crimson. While I can dig the whole alienation caused by technology thing, the music and York's voice...well, the whole package really just left me cold.
Then right around the time of Kid A, we get another barrage of media coverage. This time it's about how the boys have turned a corner...leaving rock behind them. I started to see descriptions like "post-rock", "experimental", and "eclectic". Hmmm.....now my nerdy side is interested again (despite the fact that I tend to think reviews employing "post-anything" are full of crap).
The nerdy side failed to win out right away. What happened was that one Sunday afternoon, during a drive through that amazing valley between Oneonta and Albany, New York, I heard a long piece of very interesting and spacey music. It turned out to be some Radiohead EP material that was only released to college radio stations (the College Karma EP maybe?) I don't know exactly which tunes I heard that day (the danged station faded out before they got to that) but the tunes just scratched the right place in the musial part of my brain.
So anyway, I ended up brushing that "OK Computer" chip off my shoulder and bought Kid A....and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a little weird...but not as out there as some folks had suggested. The same can be said for Amnesiac.
Radiohead's transition from a more-or-less straight ahead rock band to, well, whatever they are now...caused me to be more than a little interested in Hail To The Thief. Would it be a step back into the rock past or a leap forward into the nerdy and neurotic abyss? And...will I love it or hate it? Some of the media coverage at the time was just plain silly. Here's a quote from Spin magazine:
And this is what everyone seems to miss about him — and about Radiohead as a whole: They may make transcendent, fragile, pre-apocalyptic math rock for a generation of forward-thinking fans, but they're still just a bunch of guys.
I bought Hail To The Thief last week and have been slowly digesting it: on the way to work, on the way home, at work and, especially, very late at night after everyone else has gone to bed (where hopefully they're dreaming about something a little less disturbing than a pale, scruffy British guy repeating the phrase "the rain drops" over and over again). And so far it's going pretty well. No matter what you think of these guys, you have to give them credit for sticking to their vision (yeah, I suppose it does help that their vision also happens to be commercially successful).
My "music jury" can't put up with crazy things like "best rock band of all time" and the like. But I do like this stuff. It goes into the same bucket as Godspeed You Black Emperor, Tortoise, and Neu. A little spacy, a little intellectual, and a little weird.
Radiohead appears to be one of those bands that people tend to either love or hate. I guess I've done a little of both.
(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)