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Sometimes I get asked "what sort of music do you like then?" I usually pull a face and mumble some vague cliché about having diverse taste or liking "anything that's good". But I'm seriously considering preparing a stock answer which casually mentions Radiohead. Because I can think of no better example of a contemporary band who practically everyone has heard of, and embody so many of the things I like in music. Constantly pushing boundaries, but in aid of making strong, accessible music instead of innovating for its own sake. A love of music has kept them playing together like this for a decade and a half, and their latest sees them express their perfectionism in the form of a round ten-track, forty-minute album. They've transcended both stereotypes of their past works, OK Computer-ish pre-millennial pomp and Kid A-ish weirdness, simply sounding like themselves here.
And everything just clicks. Thom Yorke's supremely lyrical vocal lines (I can't fathom why so many find him grating), Jonny Greenwood's exciting though admirably simple guitar work, and bass and percussion lines which are always interesting enough to listen to by themselves. Each song has something new. An offbeat riff here, a distinctive pairing of sounds there, all unified by Thom's evocative self-deprecatory one-liners. Beginning spikily with the beat-driven "15 Step" and the jagged rocker "Bodysnatchers", it moves on to the long-awaited recording of live favourite "Nude". "Don't get any big ideas / They're not going to happen", croons Yorke as he's enveloped by curtains of warm melody and a delicate fingered bass. My own favourite track is the tangled and hypnotic "Weird Fishes / Arpeggii", though I've also great admiration for "All I Need". Perhaps Yorke's most heartbreaking melody here, lines like "I'm an animal / trapped in your hot car" are offset starkly against a sinister bassline, low piano and bell. "Faust Arp"'s surreal variant of Eleanor Rigby pastiche then leads to the reverb-heavy "Reckoner" and the cynical, guitar-seared "House of Cards". "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" is practically danceable, an acerbic description of a nightclub encounter. Finally on "Videotape" Yorke visualises his life being replayed to him at the pearly gates, while ruminating piano chords are mocked by increasingly-offbeat drum flams.
Its innovative distribution method got "In Rainbows" in the headlines, but people who were turned off Radiohead's music after "Kid A" should really give them another try. Then again, I've probably lost touch with what the public might or might not find "experimental". I don't know what makes a top 40 hit, but I can judge a great tune.
September 16, 2008
See blog entry: Mercury Prize (17 Sep, 2008)