I may be the only person on this site that professes a dislike of Radiohead. Its not a hatred, though I may have stated it as such from time to time. I understand and appreciate their importance and weight in the development of modern alternative music. Heck, I like some of their songs. But, for one reason or another, I never listen to them on my personal time. If I were a betting man, Id put it down to not getting the same jolt that other people do from the band, then being confused and frustrated by the overwhelming fever that the world at large seems to have. But, to each their own.
Due to that frustration, I never sat down to the game-changing In Rainbows in its entirety. Id once sat down to a few tracks at a friends and walked out of the room, unimpressed. The pay-what-you-feel downloadable album is certainly innovative, but that didnt seem to carry over into the music. But, for the sake of exploring my seemingly unbelievable non-fandom, Ive decided to give the album another shot, from start to finish.
The distended, crunchy, effected synth-drum line that begins 15 Step is a little less pop than I remember it being when Id first heard it. The claustrophobic, spilling-out-of-his-mouth lyrics are nothing new for vocalist Thom Yorke, but they sound pretty apt paired with the electro-beat. Ive got to say, I was enjoying it. But, around 40 seconds in, slinky, Nintendo-synth-sounding guitars produce a goofy, neon-colored world that just doesnt make sense to me. Then, the guitars, keeping the same tonal qualities, move into a minor key, Yorkes vocals now an echoed moaning. This is the Radiohead I knew and didnt get: melancholy, big melodies, and sounds.
Bodysnatchers doesnt seem to sate my query for innovation in the music. The guitar riffage is pretty straightforward, the lyrics of alienation and full of vaguely creepy references. The songs structure isnt exactly traditional, but the washing crescendo structure isnt exactly new either. Its a rocker, to be sure, and the main guitar riff is pretty darn cool, but it doesnt seem all that different or special from other late 90’s alternative bands work. The choral vocal harmonies at the start of the very pretty Nude are more Grizzly Bear than Smashing Pumpkins, though, so theres that. The haunting, just off-center melody, aching strings and faltering warble of Yorkes voice make this track a winner. Its something I could see myself listening to, and I guess thats what this was all about.
Phil Selways snappy drumming begins Weird Fishes, followed by swooping and falling guitar arpeggios and Yorkes crooning about how hes stuck at the bottom of the ocean because hes in love, to put it simply. At this point, I begin to want to get up and walk around. I get it, Yorke, I say to myself. Life is tough. Youre frustrated and in love and not everything is perfect. Enough already! The music, though, is great. The big, driving build-up and spiraling guitars are great, but the song as a whole isnt doing it for me.
All I Need continues the trend. Electronic (probably) drumming, blooping, minor, bassy sounds and Yorke wallowing. The lyrics are in the trademarked Thom Yorke is Confused, Vague and Emotional school; case in point, the repeated Its all wrong, its all right at the end of the song. Its not bad music, but its just so much more of the same. Theyve changed their musical basis and song-writing structure: the traditional verse-chorus-verse of Pablo Honey is no longer, the rock guitar of Fake Plastic Trees and the like replaced by the weirdest electronic instruments money can buy. But the formula still adds up to much of the same result.
The lyrics to Faust Arp are vague enough that I cant confirm theyre about life/love being confusing. The finger-picked guitar and soaring string section have drawn comparisons to The Beatles, which is fitting. The songs a real gem, loopy (hows wakey wakey, rise and shine for an opening line) and sincere (the instrumentation is so deep and crushing) simultaneously, the track fuses the best parts of Radiohead without all of the moping. Reckoner returns to the cold, musically, complete with icy cymbals, chilled falsetto and frozen, repeated guitar lines. The less specific, more encompassing lyrics keep the coldness from overwhelming, though. The melody is a keeper, too, wafting around, fluid and beautiful.
The sappy ballad that is House of Cards follows, and I realize Im getting rather close to the end of the album. The ghostly, wordless harmonies in Jigsaw Falling Into Place are much more interesting than the boy meets girl, boy is confused lyrics, and they keep the song from falling into a straightforward trap. The good, but ham-fisted Videotape is one Ill come back to. Its charming in its sincerity and clarity: Yorke sings about his family and their hold on him, despite all the craziness and difficulty of life on the road. The sentiments arent new, but the music and lyrics are too heart-baring to ignore. It doesnt seem to mesh with the rest of the paranoid, claustrophobia throughout the album, but that doesnt matter when you produce something as shockingly simple and yet powerful as this.
All in all, I dont want to throw up. Ill be more likely to pick out a few songs to keep and scrap the rest of it, but the album isnt bad. Its just nowhere near as ground-breaking (musically, mind you) or amazing as Radiohead uber-fans would lead you to believe. I still dont like In Rainbows. There, Ive said it. I certainly give them credit for keeping fans happy, establishing a new way to sell music, and producing strong music. But I just dont love it.