So, in case you’ve been living under a rock the last week or so, Radiohead put out a new album on Friday. I have to admit I like the way these guys get things done. I remember a few months ago seeing somewhere that Phil Selway mentioned they might be recording soon. Then I heard nothing for a long time. All of a sudden, there’s a new Radiohead album.
That’s a good strategy for a band that seem to be a completely self-contained unit. I don’t think it’s possible for a band starting out to do a lot of the things Radiohead does. Lack of capital and artistic freedom inhibits most musicians, signed and unsigned.
But having capital and artistic freedom isn’t always the best thing. Sometimes it helps to have constraints that force you to write and perform differently. And here is the problem with Radiohead’s new record (in my mind).
I may shock you a bit, and lose all indie credibility I ever had, by saying that I’ve never been a huge Radiohead fan. I like them. I think Jonny Greenwood is a great musician (his soundtrack for There Will Be Blood is amazing), but I don’t think they’ve put out a really strong record since OK Computer.
Honestly, I feel like everything they’ve done since that album is pretty much the same. I don’t think I could tell if someone switched out Hail to the Thief for In Rainbows or The King of Limbs. The band seems to be stuck in a kind of funk that might be caused by the insular nature of the way they record.
Fans of the band feel differently, of course. Every time I hear of a Radiohead release I have fifty different people telling me fifty different reasons it’s great. How many times can you hear Thom Yorke’s nasally, dying-cat voice looped over the same drum-machine beat before it becomes old? Apparently the answer, for most people, is a great many times.
Thom Yorke and the others in Radiohead are good songwriters. That’s another issue I have with the band. Back when they were still making music that I enjoyed, the writing really stood out. It made songs like “High and Dry” and “Creep” great to sing along to. The music they’re making now makes me want to curl up and go to sleep, like Mazzy Starr’s “Fade Into You.”
It’s not all bad, though. I do like the way The King of Limbs opens. It’s all pretty, trippy keyboard synth and African drum beats. Then Yorke opens up his maw and ruins the mood. Same goes for track 2, which has kind of a videogame feeling throughout (Castlevania, I think).
I know I’m in the minority on Radiohead. Lord knows I’ll never be allowed to step into Pitchfork’s offices. But, that’s one of the things that makes music great. We don’t all have to agree all the time. Now let’s see how long it takes for me to get flamed in the Comments section.