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The Rockologist: Is It Radiohead Or Wilco?

Okay, it's a weird question I know.

But tonight I got to thinking, who really is the best modern day rock band out there? Coldplay? White Stripes? Kings of Leon?

I mean let's face it, we really haven't got that many really great candidates waiting in the wings to assume the throne right now. There certainly isn't any Beatles, Stones, or Who standing in waiting and ready to step up to the plate — to say nothing of a future Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd.

As far as songwriters go, I likewise can't see the next Dylan, Springsteen, Brian Wilson, or Neil Young anywhere out there on the horizon — as much as I would really like to. I mean, I like Conor Oberst as much as the next guy, but honestly speaking I just don't see him filling the shoes of Bob or Bruce.

These are different times than the sixties or the seventies were, and I understand that. Believe me, I do. But the question is where to look for that sort of greatness now? In other words, to quote the great Pete Townshend, "Who's next?"

Fleet Foxes? Great harmonies, but they still need work in the way of a writing a nice concise song that runs less then six minutes. Say it, don't spray it right?

Porcupine Tree? Great band, with one of the most underrated songwriter/musicians around in Steven Wilson. But still way, way too obscure at this point to make any kind of a dent in the international subconscious.

TV On the Radio? As much as the critics love to jizz all over these guys, I'll bet you dollars to donuts that nobody will remember them two years from now. Again, it comes down to that whole thing of having memorable songs here. Business aside, we still need actual songs that people will remember. No offense guys.

So as I was thinking about all of these weighty matters (and yes, I confess that this means I need a life), it came down to two bands for me.

Radiohead and Wilco.

For my money, these are the two most prominent bands out there that stand the best chance of being remembered years from now.

So I thought it would be fun to break these two bands down by category.

Let's start with songwriting:

Wilco's Jeff Tweedy wins this one hands down.

I mean Radiohead haven't really written actual songs since OK Computer have they? What they write is more like soundscapes, and they are without a doubt mostly beautiful ones at that. But they are still more about ambiance and atmosphere than they are about actual songcraft.

Wilco on the other hand write these really great songs, with actual real characters populating them that you can relate to. Although they may be wrapped in a more exotic package, they still communicate basic timeless emotions like love and all that sort of thing. Where Jeff Tweedy writes about the Sky Blue Sky and trying to break your heart, Thom Yorke's thing is about how he woke up yesterday sucking a lemon.

Edge: Wilco

Musicianship:

Since Wilco added guitarist extraordinaire Nels Cline to the mix, this has become a much tougher call to make. Cline basically completes the Wilco package and is an absolutely monster guitarist. Just listen to his solos on "Impossible Germany" or "Bull Black Nova" (from the upcoming Wilco: The Album) if you doubt me there.

But one of the things that makes Radiohead such a great band is their willingness, and in fact their eagerness to experiment with new sounds. In Rainbows is an amazing album, and what Jonny Greenwood does with all of his effect boxes and the like is a big part of why that is. The rest of the band are likewise not exactly slouches in the musical department either.

Edge: Radiohead

Live Show:

Radiohead wins this one pretty much hands down, although again the addition of Nels Cline to the Wilco lineup makes it a slightly tougher call.

The thing about Wilco is they pretty much play it straight down the line. As in no frills, just the music. The thing is that the music is so good that it works. Radiohead on the other hand have some of the best lighting effects in the business, and the way they use it to such dramatic effect is a big part of what makes their live shows so special.

Edge: Radiohead

Vocals:

Thom Yorke. I mean my God, is there a more haunting voice anywhere out there? The more atmospheric Radiohead's music gets, the better Yorke's otherworldly voice suits it. Jeff Tweedy is cut more from the Neil Young school (as is Yorke actually), and I have to say that for what Wilco do, his voice is equally suited. But again, that voice of Yorke's is an instrument unto itself.

Edge: Radiohead

So for now, I guess Radiohead still wins. But only by a hair…

Wilco is creeping up on me by leaps and bounds. Their new album, which comes out next month, is an easy album of the year candidate which is making me rethink my thoughts by the minute.

"Bull Black Nova" is a great Kraftwerk meets Neil Young sort of successor to "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," and "You Never Know" marries a great Marc Bolan-esque vocal with the always amazing Nels Cline conjuring the spirit of George Harrison on guitar.

Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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One comment

  1. Radiohead are the best band to ever exist. And are WAY better than Zepp or Beatles (influence aside) by Miles. Nobody had 9 perfect albums. And 0 less than perfect albums. Nobody. With that said, Wilco is up there with the Beatles, etc. In terms of their music, and it’s hard Choosing Radiohead over them, however, if Radiohead is in a matchup, Radiohead wins with no questions asked.