Tag Archive: Radiohead


the-bends

“Anyone can play guitar and they won’t be a nothing anymore” – T. Yorke

It was the spring of 1994 and I had just finished seeing my first real rock and roll show (at least since coming of age).  It was Pearl Jam at the Cleveland State Convocation Center and the story of that life changing event will be told in full when (and if) I ever get to the entry for PJ’s Ten.  But I was there with the Artistic One, and immediately we ran into Lord Bacchus and Lightning 101 inside the arena, and after the show was over and we had all purchased our black bootleg concert T-shirts in the parking lot and had a slice at a nearby establishment, the Artistic One and I jumped in his mother’s blue Chevy Lumina mini-van (his family used to call it the Lumi), and we proceeded to have an experience not unlike the movie Judgement Night (a movie whose soundtrack is more memorable than the movie itself), minus Jeremy Piven of course (nobody died).  But we got lost driving around the east side of the Land for about two hours, which is especially idiotic of us since the freeway ramp to route 90 is literally a block from CSU campus.  But oh well, we were young and dumb and indestructible (and directionally challenged).

So we had a case full of CDs that we had just gotten from BMG and a cassette-adaptor that plugged into the tape deck and a portable CD player powered by the lighter jack, so at least we had music on this impromptu journey (C-town radio is sketchy at best).  By that point we were pretty much PJ’d out (we had listened to them all day, and then they essentially played every track off Ten and Vs plus all the b-sides at the show), and so we decided to branch out into some new material.  And the two albums I remember playing as we wound our way through the boarded up houses and abandoned factories were the Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, which is typically remembered as their best release, and Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, which was generally regarded as their worst album up until TKoL was released.  But at the time, I remember liking Pablo, even if it wasn’t that great.  It still had some really teen angsty defiance (“I am not a vegetable, I will not control myself!”) mixed with a keen sarcastic bite (“I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be Jim Morrison!”).  And I remember quipping that they need some original song titles, as Stone Temple Pilots (ugh) already had a hit with a song called “Creep” and Candlebox had a song called “You” on the charts (oh, the irony!).  But the main problem was Pablo is just kind of noisy.  Radiohead’s “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) essentially had strings ringing all over the place, and even though there was some Nirvanaesque crunch, it lacked Cobain’s precision.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Lord Bacchus and I had both moved down to the Bus to pursue our higher edumacations and as so often happened, we were spinning some tunes while we threw a few back on the weekend.  He was prolly living in the Briar Patch at the time.  Anyway, at some point he was like “you gotta check this out” and he put on the new Radiohead album (how he always got new tunes first, even before the days of digital file sharing, I still don’t understand).  But he put on The Bends and I just remember being blown away by the whole album.  It was totally unexepected…the little one-hit wonder Britpop band who had largely been overshadowed by Oasis and Blur had suddenly grown up and released one of the best albums I had ever heard.  The songwriting was light years ahead of where it had been on Pablo Honey, and while the lyrics were still pretty angsty, they weren’t teen angsty.  In fact, it resonated pretty well with the college life.  But I think the main thing was that the “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) had been refined with Thom playing acoustic rhythm, Ed playing electric rhythm, and Jonny doing leads and effects.  The ringing strings and general dissonance had been replaced (mostly) by just very focused and driven guitar work.  I liked it so much, Lord Bacchus dubbed it onto a tape for me (hey, I was a poor college student and I only bought CDs when I found them used) so I could listen to it back in my dorm room.

Eventually I must have bought it, and I must have bought it new because my copy doesn’t have a sticker on it anywhere.  And actually, there is some residue on the case from those stupid long white stickers they still put along the top spine of a new CD.  But regardless, it has remained a treasured album in my collection for 20+ years.  Personally, it is my 2nd favorite Radiohead album (most of the time, but from time to time In Rainbows sneaks up into that #2 spot) and I go back and listen to it quite frequently.  I even have the Collector’s Edition (I pretty much hate all the money grabbing re-releases aimed at my g-g-generation these days), and there are some pretty awesome b-sides and live performances on it.  And the My Iron Lung EP bears mentioning, as it also has some pretty awesome non-album tracks (and also starts the tradition of every Radiohead album having a companion EP).  Only OK Computer eclipses this album in my mind in the Radiohead catalogue, and even then the two are pretty close.  Ironically, The Bends wasn’t a commercial hit, and it didn’t have a hit single nearly as popular as “Creep”, but it’s a true masterpiece and it established Radiohead as a post-grunge force to be reckoned with.

Other lists: “Fake Plastic Trees” is #385 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  The Bends also clocks in at #21 on the list of the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties (even though it is above most of the top 20 on this list…way to be consistent Rolling Stone!).

Ch-ch-changes: The fan favorite vs. the critical darling!  Even Radiohead is affected by their own success, this album falling one spot from its original position at #110 due to the critics pushing Kid A up to #67.

My favourite track: “Just”

Honorable mention: “Fake Plastic Trees”

Show: “Street Spirit [Fade Out]”

Quote 1: “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts is you do it to yourself, just you, you and no-one else.  You do it to yourself.”

Quote 2: “He used to do surgery for girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins, and it wears him out.”

Quote 3: “Blame it on the black star”

Quote 4: “Nice dream.”

 

 

#67: “Kid A” by Radiohead

Kid A

 

Radiohead is my favorite band.  But this is not my favorite Radiohead album.  Actually, I rank it 6th out of the 8 studio albums (only Pablo Honey and The King of Limbs rank lower).  But that’s not to say that Kid A is bad.  Quite the opposite, and I think that being the 6th best Radiohead album still makes it better than 99.9% of the best albums by any other band.  Kid A is Radiohead at their most experimental, which is probably why it’s the critical favorite. The complete lack of song structure and total free form approach, not to mention the movement away from guitar-rock, came as quite a shock after their previous three guitar-driven records.  But Radiohead collectively decided to take a new approach in the 2000s, and this was the jumping-off point.  More than anything else, the band decided to create textures and tone paintings on most of these songs.  Vocally, Thom Yorke because an integral part of that texture by turning his voice into an instrument and making the sound of his voice more important than the content of the lyrics.

I can honestly say I’ve been with Radiohead since the beginning.  Well, maybe not all the way back to the Drill EP (although I do own a CD copy of that Hail Grail to Radiohead collectors) or the On A Friday demos, but I can say that I was one of the few people I knew who bought the “Creep” single (on cassette, no less!) when it came out and then took a chance on Pablo Honey.  And actually, I really liked Pablo Honey, and I thought it had several really good songs on it and some great teenage rebellion lyrics (“I am not a vegetable, I will not control myself!”).  I remember at the time saying that other bands had songs with the same titles as Radiohead songs (Stone Temple Pilots had a huge hit with their “Creep” and Candlebox had a song called “You”), but the Radiohead songs were better.  And I remember that after seeing my very first rock show, Pearl Jam at the Cleveland State Convocation Center, the Artistic One and were blasting some Pablo Honey through the ghettos of Cleveland while we were having out “Judgement Night” experience while trying to find the 0n-ramp for Route 90 in his mom’s blue mini-van.

So fast-forward to college, and Lord Bacchus was the first one to get The Bends.  I remember hearing it at his place and thinking that these guys had really taken a step forward.  The guitars on that album were tighter and the songwriting was miles ahead of where they had been on Pablo.  Even so, I wasn’t at all prepared for OK Computer, which totally blew my mind when it came out in 1997.  A space-rock masterpiece, to this day I still consider that record to be my favorite Radiohead album.

Then this record came out in October of 2000.  I remember buying it new at the Target at the Lennox Town Center (I have an early copy with the hidden lyric/art book under the CD tray).  It was a strange point in my life, and I was in the midst of several major transitions.  I had just started teaching in Columbus after a year of teaching in Newark, and to be honest I hated my new job and was having serious doubts about my desire to teach.  I had spent the summer dating the Art Therapist, but she had moved to Cleveland at the end of August to start graduate school, and even though we were still seeing each other on the weekends, we had already agreed that the distance thing just wasn’t going to work.  And on top of that, I had just moved from a spacious apartment on the northeast side of town to a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Victorian Village so I could be closer to my new job (I stayed at the job and at the apartment for the next 7 years).  And I remember going on long evening walks exploring the Victorian Village and the Harrison West district while listening to this album (and Moby’s “Play”) on my headphones (with a Sony CD Walkman…no MP3 players or Ipods yet!).  And I remember this album being the perfect soundtrack for those long walks, as it made everything seem surreal and shapeless…the lights, the trees, the old Victorian houses all just seemed to blend together into a beautiful autumn picture.  Those walks helped me to think through everything that was going on in my life and helped me to make sense of it all.

I stayed with Radiohead for the remainder of the 2000s and into the 2010s, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them 5 times live.  Four of those shows have been at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls (the greatest music venue on the planet) and one was down at Riverbend in Cinci.  Three of those shows were with Lord Bacchus (one time Black Cloud tagged along and managed to spill a roadie in the back seat of Bacchus’ new car), one was with the Princess, and the other was with the Conspiracy Theorist.  All of them have been awesome and the first three rank among the greatest concerts I have ever seen.  To me, what makes them special is they manage to recreate every sound live…even the stuff that sounds like electronica on the albums.  So on stuff from this album like “Everything In Its Right Place”, Thom Yorke actually records the loops live and mixes them on the spot.  All the drums are live, and it’s not uncommon for Jonny Greenwood to put his guitar down and play other percussion instruments like a xylophone (for “No Surprises”) or extra toms (for “There There).  Actually, Radiohead is one of the few bands from the 90s to stay together without any line-up changes  (sorry Pearl Jam, but 5 different drummers is just a tad too many), and I think that contributes to their musicality as a band…they have been playing together for so long that they just seem to always click.  And some of the songs on this album and its sister release “Amnesiac” are a whole lot better live…especially the version of “Idioteque” on the I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings EP.

Other Lists: Radiohead is #73 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Thom Yorke is #66 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and Jonny Greenwood is #48 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  Rolling Stone also lists Kid A as the #1 album of the 2000s.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up a whopping 361 spots from it’s original position of #428 on the 2003 list.  In all fairness, it hadn’t been out very long when the original list was released, which is probably why it wasn’t ranked very high back then.

My favourite track: “Everything In Its Right Place”

Honourable mention: “How to Disappear Completely”

A word from the Princess: “Radiohead?  That’s who this is?”

Quote 1: “If you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough”

Quote 2: “I’m not here.  This isn’t happening.”

 

Trout Mask Replica

 

I remember a Glee Club trip back in college when we went up to sing in the Cleveland area.  A bunch of us were staying overnight at this house in Medina, and I remember all of the guys crowding into the living room to watch David Lynch’s “Eraserhead”.  And I remember feeling left out because I just didn’t get it.  Of course, it didn’t help that my chin was bleeding profusely from an injury I had sustained playing driveway basketball in the sub-zero northeast Ohio temperatures, but even so, I just couldn’t grasp what other people were seeing in that movie.  And pretty much the same thing had happened, minus the bleeding chin, when I had watched David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” with the Elusive One a few years prior, so maybe it’s a David Lynch thing.

But it’s also a Captain Beefheart thing, because I had the same feeling of being left out of the party when I was listening to this album.  I found it in the bin for $6.99 (minus my teacher discount) at the Half Price Books in Upper Arlington (where all the hippy-beatniks hang out), and its only the second record on this list after Love’s “Forever Changes” for which I had absolutely no preconceived notions.  But then I saw Frank Zappa’s name listed as producer, and well the only Zappa I have is his set with John and Yoko on the live disc of “Some Time in New York City” (“this song only has two words…SCUM-BAG!”), and I thought “oh no”.  And sadly, my worst fears were realized when I heard this 80 minute set of experimental, hippie-beatnik garbage.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I usually like experimental.  And I think I have talked several times on this blog about the experimental nature of my favorite band, Radiohead.  But while Radiohead experiments with song structure, they leave the rest of the elements of music intact: rhythm, pitch, harmony, etc.  This album completely disregards all of the above, leaving a completely free-form mess that is an extremely difficult listen (supposedly Captain Beefheart rehearsed the band obsessively for a month to get this?).  And I might even be able to forgive this disaster if the lyrics were any good, but the good Captain’s poetry is almost as bad as his musicianship.  At times he tries to be playful, almost like a beatnik Dr. Suess, but he falls far short of the good Dr.’s wit, charm, and social commentary (read the Sneetches if you want the best ever commentary on capitalist society!).  So what if the Mascara Snake is fast and bulbous?  Whatever dude.  It’s like going to see some awkward performance art/poetry slam in a tiny little theater in an abandoned warehouse with a bunch undergraduate English majors.  Blech.

Other lists: To my knowledge, this album and it’s songs do not appear on any other Rolling Stone lists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped two spots from #58 due to the rise of “Meet the Beatles!” and the addition of CCR’s “Chronicle”

My favorite track: “China Pig”

Honorable mention: “Moonlight on Vermont”

Quote: “She wears her past like a present”