Two years ago if anyone had asked me what I thought of Radiohead it would have been “moody grunge brit pop”. A year ago something changed when I gave them a chance and I have since been infatuated with them. I also would have to build a time machine to slap myself silly previously.
‘In Rainbows’ for me was there best album since ‘Kid A’. I obviously didn’t hear them when they were originally released due to being a much newer fan. I only really heard their back catalogue within the last year. About August 2010 I heard ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ and then in the September went out and bought ‘In Rainbows’ on CD. All the other albums I heard after ‘In Rainbows’, nevertheless ‘In Rainbows’ really seemed like a mature album compared to the others and really evoked a sense of imagination, ethos and various other senses that I had rarely discovered when listening to albums. (Not to say I haven’t enjoyed their other albums at all nevertheless personally In Rainbows is their strongest to date – a controversial suggestion to some fans, granted.)
Radiohead had hit a spark.
The surprising announcement of ‘The King of Limbs’ back in February caused a stir just like ‘In Rainbows’ had back in 2007. When ‘The King Of Limbs’ was announced I felt overjoyed that I would be able to participate, for once, as an impartial Radiohead fan. I’d be getting a first hand experience and not a reflective one. I’d be in the mist of the action. At the time I did, however this review is a combination of both, leaning towards the reflective. It took me a while to write the review because basically I only listened to the album and didn’t own it. Now I do. Anyway, to the review…
‘Bloom’ starts with a fade in (odd for an album) of a delay effected piano sequence. Slowly a variety of percussive beats, (both electronic and real) join the mix. The wildness of them are completely untroubled by the normal constraints of rhythm. An aural soundscape slowly unfurls (not to intentionally quote a lyric from Lotus Flower). An absolutely brilliant bass line kicks in which really highlights points to groove to. The snare work line (which I think is a sample on loop) happens to chug the song along smoothly. Thom’s voice is a blessing, a sort of murmuring trumpet in tone. It is evident immediately there isn’t as much guitar work as one might expect from Radiohead, but that has never stopped them. The flugelhorn brass work that kicks in around the 3 minute mark is a pleasant addition to the song. It accord to me a lot after that the the drum work kind of reminds me of Videotape. Maybe the fade in and everything is meant to fit on at the end of In Rainbows? (Add to the wild conspiracies! I checked, if you pitch either Videotape down or Bloom up 3 semitones it might work.)
Morning Mr Magpie has a very whiney Thom Yorke singing “You’ve got some nerve coming here!” Boy, do I now feel judged by him. The bitterness of it all is interesting but quite sluggish to listen to. The palm muted and varying guitar work carries the song through half way through the first verse but the bass line kicks in and instantly Colin Greenwood is showing that he wants to be taken seriously as a bassist. The screeching guitar work and drone like thing that repeats endlessly just really bothers. The whole sound of this generally does not do anything for me. This is the song that to me most fits on Thom’s solo effort. I think a vacuum cleaner can be heard at the end while someone left the mic on next to the window and recorded the wildlife fluttering by.
Little By Little features something so complex in it that I can only describe as being reggae. The guitar and vocal work through the chorus is enough to make any Radiohead fan squirm with joy. What this song does once again (which the whole album does) it make guitar work feel unnoticed and tricking the ears to assume it a different role. You just do not always notice that there is a guitar at first. It is a peculiar one to explain. It is the song that changes most in sense there are definite sections: Verse, Chorus, Bridge; where as the other songs seem to be an indefinite loop with things being brought in and out of the mix. The reverse guitar line towards the end gives a sitar like feel.
‘Feral’ continues with the obscure sounds of drums and follows a similar progression to Bloom in a way. As a track though it adds nothing to the album. It just annoys and aggravates me. It feels like it was a track that they were not quite sure what to do with and just stuck it on to give drummer Phil Selway a bit more to do live. Once again, pedal heavy guitars hidden as other instruments. Crazy lyric vocals hidden behind a mix of effects and delays. The first 1:30 really feel B Side like. The synth bass that comes in helps to give the song a slight edge over its neighbours but as a closer to “Side A” of the album it doesn’t do much except vaguely sums up the experimentation Side A attempts to deliver.
The single and music video released song ‘Lotus Flower’ is most obviously the changer within the entire album. It splits the album right down the middle. Everything else after is almost Thom doing his own thing, loosely I say that. The song itself is also easily the most obvious single on the album. It is catchy with a brilliant set of lyrics and chord movement. With two distinct sections, the synth and drum work is heavenly. This song to the album is what a crown is to a king or a leaf to a tree. Yes, subtle, thanks. Hand clapping and I think some uncredited brass, or at least a slowly attack brass synth. It is hard to separate the instruments on the mix which I think makes the track suffer… this due to certain ambitions and conventions of modern day music.
With a liquid piano spilling over the channels of your headphones, ‘Codex’ places Thom’s Yorke voice right in the middle of a brass choir as well as the telephonic strings section and proves once again why Thom can sing and hold a tune whilst creating an atmospheric violin section with his voice. More brass and flugelhorn work and string elements feature as the song hits the three quarter mark. I imagine to be floating in a golden field somewhere staring distraught at the smoking chimneys of the distant cities. The song closes with a peculiar audible element which when sped up on the recording becomes the sound of birds chirping. It ends Codex and starts…
‘Give Up The Ghost’ is a very angelic song with I believe just Thom and Johnny Greenwood on. It is built around an old drum machine keeping the tempo with vocals looped singing “Don’t hurt me” on continuum with more added throughout the song. Thom strums along pleasantly with some additional Johnny Greenwood guitar work. The song concludes as the guitars and vocal cedez and the drums moving in all directions, forwards and backwards play out on vamp.
‘Separator’ is a numb and “The Tourist” like song. It goes little anywhere, and once again closes the second half of the album rather poorly. A “heard before” kind of lyric features “Wake me up”. Unexciting and anticlimactic.
Overall, this album is an awful lot to take in. At first it is unrewarding, although if you open your arms to it, you slowly start feeling its warmth. Radiohead are pushing boundaries once again. Anyone who claims that they are repeating themselves with this album is a fool. The comparisons to ‘Hail To The Thief’ and ‘Kid A’ are almost ridiculous. However the comparisons to Thom Yorke’s solo effort ‘The Eraser’ are not far off in some ways. It does feel like a Thom Yorke album to me as well if I am brutally honest. However there are some clearly homed band qualities and decisions. If this was just a Thom Yorke effort it would not feel as brilliant as it does. It feels absolutely complete as an album; you couldn’t really put any other songs from the recording sessions to get the wholesomeness it protrudes.
It is most likely Radiohead’s most studio orientated sound but still feels like that are just playing this in the studio. However personally to get the absolute best version of this album listen to the In The Basement show (excluding Morning Mr Magpie, it sounds horrific on the show). How convenient, the video is below.
The album to me is a little too short and doesn’t finish on the strongest point. You can not fault the band’s attempt of experimentation.
- Tracks – Bloom, Little By Little, Lotus Flower, Codex, Give Up The Ghost
- Colin Greenwoods brilliant bass playing
- Drum and percussive grooves that have rarely been seen before
- Morning Mr Magpie
- Little By Little
- Lotus Flower
- Give Up The Ghost
Visit Radiohead’s Official Site at DeadAirSpace
The King Of Limbs From The Basement (Audio Only, click on the youtube video then follow the description to the full video)
Personally this show proves the excellence of Radiohead and how they are able to play the songs live when conventionally all sense say “this can’t be done live, it is a studio only thing!” (with a few slight variations and help). The Daily Mail is a great additional song, Staircase is obviously a King Of Limbs out take sort of song but it doesn’t really work on the album. Apparently another B Side called Supercollider was recorded for this broadcast but has yet to surface.