So where do I begin? I guess it will have to be with Radiohead.
Radiohead have meant so much to me over the years. I was just the right age (~13) to be impressed by "Creep" when it first hit MTV and radio way back in '92 AND to be totally over them a few months later when I'd heard the track for the fifteen millionth time. It's incredible to consider that this band, that seemed bound for the buzz bin graveyard along with so many of their early 90's alternative nation counterparts, would become the preeminent avant-rock heroes of their generation.
It was OK Computer, which I bought on the day of its release in 1997, that solidified my eternal devotion. In fact, I'd like to think I am singlehandedly responsible for convincing the world that Radiohead wasn't just good, but Grrrreat! Yes, that's probably true.
Today, I consider Radiohead one of my favorite bands, and the last year or so has been a pretty big era for them, what with the release of the (pretty great) A Moon-Shaped Pool in 2016 and the victory lap of OKNOTOK just a few months ago (I got my copy, and the cassette is a gold mine). So for my very first post here on Beards of Kentucky, I am giving Radiohead's albums the preferential treatment. Here we go...
PABLO HONEY: It's not that Pablo Honey is bad or anything, it's just that it doesn't sound much like the Radiohead we'd all come to know and love. There are some really nice tunes here..."Blow Out", "Stop Whispering", "Lurgee"...but nothing that can keep me coming back on a regular basis. It's like the awkward Middle School photo you wish you could forget, or that at best you bring out when you need a chuckle. I have to imagine that if Thom and Co could delete this from the Radiohead catalog they would (or at least file it under a different name).
HAIL TO THE THIEF: HTTT suffers primarily from directness. There's the cover, which lacks the arresting strangeness of the band's best records; the production, which feels like a failed attempt to return to rockist form; and even the title, which finds Radiohead borrowing from contemporary political sloganeering. There are some great songs on HTTT..."There There" is undoubtedly one of their best...but unfortunately, for all of its rage against the machine, Thief sounds like a great band suffering from a mid-life crisis.
THE KING OF LIMBS: Though not a great record, TKOL is pretty good. I vastly prefer the quieter second half to the first, and I do wonder if the inclusion of non-album tracks released around this time (such as "The Daily Mail", "Supercollider" and "Staircase") would have made TKOL a classic on the level of IN RAINBOWS. "Codex" is one of the band's best later career cuts, and I do love "Give Up the Ghost" as well. Overall, I think there's a lot more going on with TKOL than it gets credit for...maybe more on that another time.
A MOON SHAPED POOL: Radiohead needed to make a record as good as A MOON SHAPED POOL in 2016. It had been 5 years since their last LP, and 9 years since their last classic. While I'm not comfortable labelling it a classic just yet, I could certainly see it achieving that status upon further reflection and a few years down the road. The songs are that good, from the instant classic "Burn the Witch" to the avant-rock masterpiece "Identikit" to the absolutely harrowing version of "True Love Waits". It will be fun to see how this one ages.
AMNESIAC: I do believe AMNESIAC and KID A are two sides of the same coin, and both have grown on me quite a bit over the years. One of these days I'll tell you in detail why I love what Radiohead did back at the turn of the millenium, but for now I'll just say that KID A is the definitive statement while AMNESIAC, though strong, feels less cohesive. I do like to imagine an alternate reality where we got one big double album called KID AMNESIAC. Might be fun to mess around with that tracklisting one of these days...
THE BENDS: Back in 1996, Radiohead were a distant memory, that band of whiny English guys that had a cool song a few years that got played way too much. No one I knew was waiting for the next Radiohead album, and if they were, they weren't going to admit it to anyone else. However, some kind of weird "word of mouth" process started happening when THE BENDS came out in 1995. Slowly people were waking up to the fact that that "Creep" band had made a really good ALBUM the second time around. THE BENDS is a classic, no doubt in my mind. It was Radiohead's Battle of Midway - not exactly pretty or graceful, but the decisive victory it needed at just the right time. Every track on it is a masterpiece, and in a more forgiving universe, it would be the band's debut LP.
KID A: Were you waiting for Radiohead LP4 in the late 90's? I was. It was all mattered. And when it finally arrived, I think my first reaction was "What the hell?!?" I'll write about that more at some other time, but let me just say that KID A is one of my favorite albums by any band. Even I have a hard time explaining why, but it just is. The things that seemed so weird once upon a time are the very things I love about this record today.
IN RAINBOWS: After HAIL TO THE THIEF, I was just about ready to give up on Radiohead. They had put out some great albums in their time, but I figured the creative vitality they had enjoyed since 1994 or so was now eluding them. It had been a great run. That's why IN RAINBOWS is such a delight. It's not just that it's a great record from start to finish, but it's the way it was sprung upon the world. In one moment, I not only had a great version of "Nude" (which I'd been wanting since first viewing MEETING PEOPLE IS EASY) but also the instant classic "Reckoner", which was not the "Reckoner" I'd heard on earlier bootlegs. IN RAINBOWS would easily be the best record in any other band's catalog. However, this ain't just any other band...
OK COMPUTER: When I am an old man, with my great-grandchildren bouncing on my knee, I will them about the day I walked into ear X-tacy, saw a new Radiohead album on display, and bought it based on the strength of The Bends alone. I will then tell them how, over the next few weeks, the world woke up to the fact that Radiohead were officially the greatest band of their generation, the ultimate band that mattered. At various times I've said other records were my favorite Radiohead records, but the recent release of OKNOTOK (including all the background material included on the white cassette) reminded me of just why I love this record so much. OK COMPUTER is the greatest album to happen to the world since 1997.