Talk to most any longtime Radiohead fan, and they will tell you that the band's glory years came in the mid-to-late nineties with albums like The Bends and OK Computer — the latter of which has been hailed by many of those same Radiophiles as one of the greatest records ever made.
Me? I don't buy it. Not to take anything away from OK Computer — it's an amazing record to be sure. OK Computer is dense, complex, and full of really great songs like "Karma Police" and "Paranoid Android."
But it is also more than a little derivative in places, of late seventies prog-bands like King Crimson, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, and even Uriah Heep (something about that mellotron). Not to say that this is a bad thing, but I've still gotta' call it the way that I see it.
Great listening, yes. Innovative and ground-breaking? Not hardly — at least not in the same way that the Pitchfork crowd might lead you to believe. Sorry.
The fact is — for me anyway — Radiohead's most interesting, challenging music in fact came with their post-millennium work. That's right. I am a proud fan of Radiohead's "Ice Age." While there has never been anything even close to a Radiohead backlash on the same level as, say, there was with Coldplay — the albums Kid A and Amnesiac were still the place where more than a few fans got off of the hipsters bus.
In fact, it is with these two albums that I thought things first began to get really interesting. With Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead more or less rejected the idea of the big arena rock band wrapped in a post-grunge alternative package that they had become, in favor of something far more stripped down to the bone. And it made for some of the most interesting music of their career.
Critics of these records will often point towards the more experimental, ambient noodlings you'll find on each of them, and on the surface at least, I wouldn't entirely disagree. Songs like Kid A's "Idioteque" and "Everything In It's Right Place," and Amnesiac's "Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box" are more like ambient soundscapes than actual songs really.
In that respect, Radiohead's so-called "electronica" records have always reminded me a lot of David Bowie's "Berlin" period with Brian Eno on albums like Low and Heroes. Musically, everything is stripped to nothing but the barest essentials. Lyrically, it isn't that far of a stretch from Bowie's "Lately, I've been, breaking glass in your room again" to Thom Yorke's "Yesterday I woke up feeling like sucking a lemon."