Radiohead: A Retrospective
On Saturday the 19th of February, Radiohead’s long anticipated 8th album will be released – The King of Limbs.
As such, I thought it appropriate to showcase a track from each of their albums. And as I’m doing this properly, yes, I’ll even include Pablo Honey. It won’t be easy to pick the tracks, but it’s something to blog about, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.
So, without further ado…
Pablo Honey – “Blow Out”
As a general rule of thumb, Pablo Honey is ignored by most fans when discussing Radiohead. That’s because most of the people who enjoy Pablo Honey adore “Creep”, and in comparison to the rest of Radiohead’s work, “Creep” really isn’t very good.
That said, I find closer “Blow Out” to be quite nice. I heard an acoustic rendition which sounded particularly cool as well (you can find it here), but for the sake of keeping things simple, I’ll focus on the album version. Featuring numerous blasting guitar fills, and a really laid back opening riff, “Blow Out” feels like one of the best tracks on the album. A sign of the type of work to follow on The Bends – plain, but top quality rock. Nothing experimental and weird, but everything a typically great set of songs need.
The Bends – “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
This one wasn’t particularly hard to pick. Not because The Bends is bad, but because “Street Spirit” is just such an evocative and brilliant song. The cathartic build-up throughout the song culminates in Thom singing “Immerse your soul in love”, and it closes the album perfectly. It’s really quite a moving piece, especially after listening to the album in full.
If you have a bit of spare time, read about the song on Wikipedia here. It’s interesting to read Thom’s thoughts on fans’ reactions to the song. The meaning behind “Street Spirit” is very dark indeed.
OK Computer – “Paranoid Android”
I’ll admit, this was a tough one to pick. OK Computer is full of great tracks, and to not pick some like “Climbing Up The Walls” or “Let Down” seems criminal. Ultimately, I went with “Paranoid Android” because it manages to do everything a great song should do. It sets a high benchmark for bands everywhere. From the cryptic lyrics to the brilliant guitar melodies at the start, the song moves to the melancholic “rain down” section, and manages to pick it all up at the end with a rush of guitars. The movement in this song showcases Radiohead’s skill at creating something more than just a simple song – “Paranoid Android” feels like it could be three songs stuck together, yet also feels like neither part would work without the others.
Kid A – “Idioteque”
Again, like OK Computer, this was no easy decision. Mainly because the material on Kid A is so diverse, yet most of it is very strong. I, however, have a public confession: I don’t like “Motion Picture Soundtrack” that much. I love the lyrics but there’s something about it I just can’t connect with.
Anyway, back to “Idioteque”. The pace and rhythms in this song make it really stand out as something so insanely primal. Thom’s relatively fast vocal lines evoke a sense of urgency and that’s what really drives the song forward. Like most of their albums, Kid A really is very good, and brings something different to the table, but “Idioteque” really stands out for me.
Amnesiac – “Pyramid Song”
Amnesiac is like the twin to Kid A, but slightly more experimental. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s definitely an album worth listening to as a whole, and when you’re in the mood for it.
The live version of “Like Spinning Plates” is particularly beautiful, but as it’s not on the full length album, I’m going to go with the equally awesome “Pyramid Song”. The difficult-to-catch piano rhythms are, well at the risk of repeating myself – beautiful. This is one song I can connect with on an emotional level, and it’s hard to not sense the feeling running through Yorke’s lyrics.
“And we all went to heaven in a little row boat / There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.”
Hail to the Thief – “Go to Sleep (Little Man being Erased.)”
Hail to the Thief has its ups and downs. It feels like a mix between some of the darker elements of Amnesiac and a more refined, left of center version of the rock on The Bends, thrown in with some electronic influences.
“Go to Sleep” focuses on a little acoustic riff that repeats, building up to include the full band, complete with Jonny’s fills and all. It brings HttT back from it’s electronic influences onto firmer ground, and stands incredibly well on its own. A top song from a pretty good album.
In Rainbows – “Videotape”
And here we are – at possibly the hardest decision for me personally. In Rainbows is my favourite album by Radiohead – everything just works. With the exception of “House of Cards”, which seems just a notch below everything else (although it is a very tiny notch), I can’t imagine the album being any better.
I want to stress that In Rainbows should be listened to as a whole. I’ve picked “Videotape” because I believe it to be one of the best album closers I’ve ever heard. About death and life as a whole, it some how captures the beauty and relief of accepting life as it is, especially in the final lines.
“No matter what happens next, you shouldn’t be afraid / Because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen.”
The descending piano patterns, and the syncopated drumming rhythms near the end of the song bring it to life and give it a sense of finality. Best heard after listening to In Rainbows as a whole, but none-the-less, an incredibly beautiful song on its own. This is one of Radiohead’s tracks that never fails to pull at me emotionally (yeah I’m a sook, shut up).
So, there you have it. My favourite track from each Radiohead album. That might change every now and then, but these tracks listed will always be up there in my favourites.
I’ll leave you with a stand out b-side of theirs. It’s called “Gagging Order” and is a little acoustic number. It’s very subtle, but the instrumentation and lyrics make it one of their best in my opinion. You can tell a band is good when even their b-sides are brilliant. Another b-side that you should check out is “True Love Waits”, but I’ll leave that up to you.