With the release of the "King of Limbs", I thought I'd go through and revisit Radiohead's discography. I'm not a superfan like I used to be, but I still always get excited with their new releases, and make it a point to see them live if I can afford it. Many better writers have tackled this subject, so feel free to skip to the links. They're written as hxxp, so change that to http before pressing enter in your browser's location bar.
Pablo Honey - 7.0/10. I'll just come out and say it: It's not that bad. It's the black sheep of the band's discography, because 1) It has their most notable and highest charting single (Creep), 2) It sounds derivative
of other bands of the time period, and 3) It lacks the certain brilliance of their later albums, but if you're willing to judge it on its own merits you'll find a lot to like here. Blow Out is one of the band's best closers, and other tracks like You, I Can't, and Anyone Can Play Guitar tap into that sort of wistful, bright eyed 90s alternative rock sound. Better things will come after this, but it's interesting to look back and see where one of the more experimental bands in mainstream music started.
There's a collector's edition with a second disc of B-Sides, radio sessions and demos but I've yet to check it out. I sort of felt it wasn't essential like all the other ones.
The Bends - 9.5/10. A huge step forward for the band, all the rough edges of Pablo Honey are dealt away with and what's left is one of the best guitar albums of the mid 90s. It's still very accessible, with lots of classic ballads and soaring choruses but they've also carved out their own style here. Personal favorites are My Iron Lung, which shows an angular and surging guitar style that the band never seems to do enough, and Street Spirit, which despite my praise of Blow Out earlier, is the best closer they've ever written.
The second disc of the reissue contains lots of good tracks, with one of my favorites being "Permanent Daylight", which if memory serves, was their attempt at writing a Sonic Youth song.
OK Computer - 10/10. The best Radiohead album, and definitely in the conversation of best album of the 90s. It's another jump forward, this time into Pink Floyd style reverb and more guitar experimentation. It's this
album that seems to define Nigel Godrich's production style too; it's influenced his work with Pavement, Beck, and Travis, among others. Bright(est) spots include Subterranean Homesick Alien, Exit Music (For A Film), Let Down, and No Surprises.
This album benefits the most from a second disc, the airbag EP is on there which was mostly excellent, and there are some cool alternative mixes of Climbing Up The Walls.
Kid A - 9/10. Ahh, I still remember listening to this for the first time. Despite the large differences between Pablo Honey, The Bends, and OK Computer, they were still prominently guitar albums, but from the opening
bars of Everything In Its Right Place, the history becomes irrelevant. This is a different band now, influenced more by IDM and electronic music than the Pixies and U2 influences of the past. It's amazing how comfortable they sound in their new skin, however; there are no real awkward genre experiments here. Highlights include The National Anthem, which has an anchoring bass line that turns into a jazz breakdown, How To Disappear Completely which perfectly matches its title, and Idioteque, which is one of the creepiest dance songs I've ever heard.
The second disc is almost all alternate recordings/radio sessions, and as it normally goes, they're hit and miss. It does however contain "True Love Waits," which is a terrific and wonderfully simple acoustic song that seems like a huge outlier compared to the other tracks recorded during the same period. So I'd say it's worth it for that alone.
Amnesiac - 8.5/10. Although the tracks come from the same sessions, Amnesiac doesn't feel like an album of B-Sides. It has its own personality, and feels a little bit more off the cuff, and for lack of a less pretentious word, organic. Guitars return in I Might Be Wrong and Knives Out, and the album closes with Life in a Glass House, which is a brilliantly messy jazz song.
This second CD is mostly fantastic, with a the bulk of the studio recorded B-Sides from the Kid Amnesiac sessions.
Hail To The Thief - 7.5/10. Probably the most inconsistent Radiohead album. I know for a fact that these tracks are better live, but much of it comes off as a bit flat on the record. Not to say there aren't some classic
tracks here, because there are: Myxomatosis has an infectious and fuzzy keyboard riff that propels the song, and the album starts very well with the 1-2-3 punch of 2 + 2 = 5, Sit Down Stand Up and Sail To The Moon. It's just that the band had been on a roll recently and this was the first time it seemed like they didn't have a specific direction they were heading in.
The second disc is worth it for Gagging Order, I Am A Wicked Child, and the glitchy I Am Citizen Insane. There are also some solid live versions, like most of the other reissues.
In Rainbows - 9/10. For all the fuss that was made about its pay-your-own-price distribution model, the real story here was how fantastic the record was. After the quietly underwhelming HTTT (by their standards, anyway) this was a welcome return to form, where they sound comfortable and confident instead of a bit directionless. My favorites include Jigsaw Falling Into Place, which is a top 5 Radiohead song for me, Reckoner, which changed from its earlier racuous live version into a relaxed jam a la Knives Out, and All I Need, which burns into a very satisfying ending climax.
There's a second disc from the deluxe version of In Rainbows, but I don't really remember it being essential. Uploading it here anyway for completeness' sake
The King Of Limbs - 8.5/10. My opinion is subject to change as the album is still new, but so far I believe that it's sort of the continuation of Amnesiac. They aren't really treading any new ground, but they are
synthesizing the different elements of their past into something new. I tend to favor the first half, which is more upbeat, and electronic, but the album ends nicely with some downtempo tracks to contrast the earlier ruckus. There are rumours that there will be another half, as Separator is well, called separator, and it also includes the line "If you think this is the end, you're wrong." But who knows; even if this is it, it's a great effort from a band who's rarely taken a misstep since striking gold with the Bends nearly 16 years ago.