Week 10: Radiohead

The bends cover

The Bends

Probably the first album on my list that regularly features on all time best album lists, albums you should listen to before you die etc.  and just generally considered an all  time classic album.  To be fair it is a feckin great album or it wouldn’t be on my list.

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Although when I hear the name Radiohead my first thought is Father Ted.  The classic episode (I think all Father Ted episodes are considered classics at one time or another)  when Father Kevin who had been previously cured of his depression by listening to Isaac Hayes and the theme from Shaft but when returning home the bus driver puts on the radio and after a few mins of Radiohead’s Exit Music, from OK Computer, he’s back in his depression.   I’ve yet to get past that reference point.

I do still find it quite odd that Radiohead were regarded as a grunge band on their first album ‘Pablo Honey’ and were often described as Nirvana-lite.  I’ve listened to that album more than a few times and I really don’t see it.  The single Creep from that album was my introduction to the band.  I was a bit too long in the tooth to be impressed by the dropping of the F-bomb in a song but in the context of this particular song it worked perfectly and that little guitar buzz (sure there is a more technical name for it) just before the chorus just hooked me right in.  Pablo Honey is an ok debut but I rarely play it these days.

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The success of Creep allowed the band to tour the US but it had its down side as the band got bored playing the same songs every night and it almost pushed the band towards breaking point. It was the after effect of the success in an MTV led music world that helped spawn the much darker and reactionary album The Bends in 95.  It was preceded by The Iron Lung EP in 94 which contained 8 tracks a number of which were out takes from the Bends recording sessions.

The Bends album itself is a swirling cacophony of fuzz, feedback, over which the anguish of Thom Yorke’s mournful tortured voice provides the perfect accompaniment.  They just made a huge noise and it was just something totally different at a time when Britpop was catching most of the headlines.   Something I’ve noticed about a number of the albums I’ve been reviewing is the number of singles released.  The Bends is no different with 5 singles being released from it.  I doubt Radiohead will even bother releasing a single when their new album comes out.  Times have changed so much in what is a relatively short space of time.  Once upon a time it was a hit single which drove album sales which then got a band on tour to promote an album further.

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Now money is made by touring which has its advantages and disadvantages.  It means more bands are hitting the road more often and you get to see some acts that rarely if ever toured before or acts that have reformed to take advantage of the upturn in live music.  On the downside ticket prices are going through the roof and don’t get me started or I’ll start ranting about booking fees, secondary markets etc.

Just before I started to write this piece Radiohead announced a few dates at the Roundhouse in London which perfectly illustrates the problem with today’s ticket market.  Three dates sold out almost instantly and within seconds tickets appeared on the legalised touting sites like getmein, seatwave etc at vastly inflated prices.  These sites actively encourage people to buy tickets for gigs they have no intention of going to and real fans are either forced to pay way above face value or just miss out altogether.  There is something inherently wrong with this model.

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As for Radiohead after The Bends it was the more experimental OK Computer which in many people’s eyes is considered the best Radiohead album.  Not for me, although it had some great songs on it I felt it was the start of the descent into overly experimental stuff that alienated a lot of the fans who came on board with The Bends, me included.  Radiohead seemed to go out of their way to become difficult and hard to listen to which is their prerogative but it was a shame as The Bends had a really unique but accessible sound to it and it would have been interesting to see where they took that sound.  Thom Yorke in particular seemed incapable of coping with the new found star status and suffered a breakdown after OK Computer.  This might explain the route into the jazz, electronic style of follow on albums Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief.  An attempt to distance themselves from their most successful sound.  All it did for me was make them almost unlistenable.  I tried to ‘get it’ but gave up.  We’ll see what the new album brings.

Although I’ve never seen Radiohead live they are still one of the bands on my ever decreasing bucket list if they ever come near Glasgow.  I’ll put up with the jazz to hear a few classics from The Bends.

See you on week 11.

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2 thoughts on “Week 10: Radiohead

  1. The guitar section at the end of Planet Telex still gets the hair on the back of my neck sticking up even its this day. It must have been some moment in the studio when it all came together

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