The truth is, Radiohead does what no other artist—except maybe the Beatles—has done in rock music. They have reinvented themselves countless times yet remain immensely popular, brilliant and on the cutting edge with every record, with the exception of their mediocre debut, Pablo Honey. But hey, everyone needs a bit of time to mature. Even the Beatles.
Their sophomore release, The Bends stands as one of the best alternative rock albums of the 1990s. Songs like “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Black Star” contain a certain emotional power that makes contemporaries like Oasis and Weezer, look, well…silly. The band’s next offering, OK Computer is the album that many music critics thought would save rock ‘n’ roll. Today, alternative music is essentially divided into two eras: pre-OK Computer and post-OK Computer. Just about everything has been said about that 1997 album, so I won’t blather on. It’s a sonic experience that and contrary to what might be assumed from the record’s title, the album is much better than OK. It’s an inspiration.
The Oxford quintet’s next album was the one that Rolling Stone and Pitchfork (possibly the two most influential critical publications in existence) deemed the best of the last ten years. If OK Computer was supposed to save rock music, the follow-up, the year 2000’s Kid A, was the one that would turn the genre upside down. Filled with electronic sounds and other abstract experimentations, the band’s fourth release was one recorded amidst band turmoil but comes out sounding like a focused, revolutionary piece of art. From the spooky “Everything In It’s Right Place” all the way to the ethereal “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, the album Kid A sounds like post-modernism had its first child.
The next seven years saw the release of Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows, three albums that made fellow British bands like Muse and Coldplay cry softly while continuing to crank out lesser works. I love certain songs by the aforementioned bands but competing with Radiohead is like playing one-on-one with LeBron James. It ain’t gonna happen.
Part of what makes Radiohead so remarkable is the fact that they reach a level of musical depth that is usually reserved for only the finest classical composers, far removed from the low-browness of—gasp!—pop music. Thom Yorke, Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway and Ed O’Brien combine to create music that hardly fits any genre, assuming that idyllic rock is not a recognizable term yet. There should be a new album released within the next year, though little information is known. If this decade is anything like the last two, Radiohead will rule the roost.
Also, on an unrelated note, check out my recent Belle and Sebastian review.