An appreciation: Radiohead
Part two in an occasional series.
Like Oasis, Radiohead hit on a winning sound early. The difference is that Radiohead kept experimenting like their lives depended on it, and didn’t just get rich. In seven successive albums, they reinvented their sound and created something new, without losing the distinctive melodies, harmonies, falsettos and riffs that first defined them. Preachy lyrics about society’s decadence can grate, but good intentions often do; only Radiohead could write the line “kicking squealing Gucci little piggy” and plaster it on a T-shirt. Whether as a rock band that also plays electronica, in stitching together three separate songs into the six minutes 23 seconds of Paranoid Android, or in constructing the atonal score for Oscar-winning film There Will Be Blood, the band and its members mean something even to those who don’t like them. The drive to be different also led to a revolutionary business model. In Rainbows was initially released as a download, with listeners invited to pay whatever they felt it was worth, and The King of Limbs turned up when no one expected it (though admittedly if it hadn’t turned up at all, that might have been ok too). Singer Thom Yorke is the antithesis of the traditional rock n’ roll frontman but no less an intensely brilliant rock n’ roll frontman for it, and his candour about depression and writer’s block reflects the fragility and honesty of the music – all the more so when played live. In these miserable days of hangar venues, rubbish sound and money before music, there are few successful acts still worth seeing, but by fuck Radiohead are one of them.
This is an edited and updated version of a piece that first appeared in The Guardian.