But It’s a Classic! (Looking back at Radiohead’s catalog)
As a teenager of the 90s interested in grunge that became an adult who liked more experimental sounds, Radiohead seems like they’d occupy that perfect space. While the 90s albums got a lot of play and I considered myself a big fan, my interest waned after Kid A (which I loved) to the point where I have not heard a Radiohead album since. For this edition of But It’s A Classic!, I spend two days listening straight through Radiohead’s 9 full length albums.
Pablo Honey (1993) – It’s been a solid decade or more since I’ve listened to Radiohead’s debut album which I enjoyed in the mid to late 90s but interest waned over time. There’s very tiny glimpse into future Radiohead but this album mostly sticks to quiet/loud 90s arena anthems (You or Anyone Can Play Guitar) and of the day Britpop (How Do You?). There’s a few great moments that flash (the huge ending of Blow Out) but overall my takeaway from this album is I’d be very happy to never hear Creep again.
The Bends (1995) – While The Bends is very much “rock” Radiohead, there is a noticeable giant shift in songwriting and sound. The hits still hold up (Fake Plastic Trees, Just, High And Dry) and there’s plenty of great deep cuts (The Bends, Bones). Street Spirit (Fade Out) is great closer which like Pablo Honey’s closer gives a little nod to the future in sound and vibe.
OK Computer (1997) – Another 2 years, another huge leap in sound. OK Computer definitely retains its classic status as it falls right between rock and electronic Radiohead while maintaining that songwriting high from The Bends. The guitars on Paranoid Android still shred. Fitter Happier is sort of a low point but you start to hear the experimentation you’ll be hearing a lot of soon.
Kid A (2000) – This album marks my exit point in the Radiohead catalog before now. In fact this is the last album I bought at a midnight CD sale back in the days of Tuesday release albums. Radiohead somehow again makes a giant leap ahead in sound while maintaining most everything great from their past. However almost right off the bat you’ll start to hear exactly the pointless experimentation that I was afraid would be the Radiohead sound of the future (Kid A the song). Overall really solid and unique. Idioteque still stands out as a top 5 Radiohead song of all time.
Amnesiac (2001) – Amnesiac was originally intended to be part of a double album with Kid A and it shows. The first album that doesn’t mark a giant leap in sound and a lot of these songs sound like Kid A castoffs. There’s of course some real big exceptions here like Pyramid Song (those drums sound so cool) and I Might Be Wrong (incredible that they took that riff and made it sound Radiohead) and a couple others but there’s far more songless experimentation which follows exactly my fears of where Radiohead was headed.
Hail To The Thief (2003) – Here’s where I start to realize I’m a bit wrong. Hail To The Thief is what I’d call a solid album. There’s nothing I’d call top all time Radiohead songs on this album but straight through it ranges from good to pretty good. A little long but really maintains quality straight through.
In Rainbows (2007) – In Rainbows indulges a little more rock impulse than Hail To The Thief so while I’d say both are good albums, In Rainbows seems to swing in quality a lot more from kinda boring but acceptable (there’s a few of them) to really good (Bodysnatchers comes to mind)
The King of Limbs (2011) – Thankfully this one is short because it’s not good. The King Of Limbs amplifies everything I feared Radiohead had become in sort of creating sounds and not bringing along the songwriting. The albums sounds cool of course but there’s nothing really there to hook me in. Sort of one big shrug.
A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) – Burn The Witch is a really good opening but this one like The King Of Limbs sort of drones on with nothing much to say. While there’s some better songs here and True Love Waits is a nice closer, the 52 minute runtime also makes you question if you’re ever gonna get there by the time you’re on Glass Eyes.
- The Bends
- OK Computer
- Hail To The Thief
- Kid A
- In Rainbows
- A Moon Shaped Pool
- The King of Limbs
- Pablo Honey
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