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Spins: Radiohead

| September 30, 2009

Kid A/Amnesiac/Hail To The Thief


Where were you on October 3rd, 2000? Did you raise a glass to pop music as it tied a kerchief to a stick and set off down the tracks? Look around you now: Nothing has been the same since.

You’d have thought educated art-rock fans wouldn’t put such stock in doomsaying so shortly after the Y2K bug thud, but Radiohead were to have completely redefined rock music on Kid A (8), their fourth album. Capitol Records still seems to think it did, as it carved its Radiohead reissue campaign in half to underscore this catalog entry.

Some writers blame the British press for hitching their wagons to The Strokes, but, in hindsight, because its songs slip nicely into the context of their other albums the impact was less. The BBC sessions from 45 days after its release that kick off this reissue’s Disc Two show just how short of a jump it was from ’97’s OK Computer. “Everything In Its Right Place” cozies up with an electric piano’s warmth, and “How To Disappear Completely” relaxes to the strum of acoustic guitar. Nine years ago critics were stretching out their record collections: krautrock here, Aphex Twin there. Reality? Prog rock everywhere. The most abrasive part comes in “The National Anthem” – from a brass section. It’s the organics, stupidissimos. In fact, the extra disc brings only a bounty of live-r recordings, giving the package an almost bi-polar feel. (And almost unnecessary: Owning I Might Be Wrong essentially frees you of an obligation to buy this.)

Amnesiac (7) holds far more intrigue because its release almost felt like an afterthought given how soon it arrived and with the knowledge that it was recorded the same time as Kid A. It’s an album of paradoxes: treated as B-sides though it – not Kid A – spun off singles; downplayed for its frequent guitars but easily the more difficult of the two collections. Further still, its second disc is loaded with textures, less incisive splits between their traditional and pioneering spirits.

It makes it seem disingenuous to equate it with the same rating, but Hail To The Thief (7) is the album Radiohead needed to make at this point, a “this is Radiohead (and we read your thoughts)” reassessment that filtered their recent findings in both directions, if, perhaps, betraying them by unveiling a tendency to be conservative. “2 + 2 = 5” might have been their rockinist track since “Electioneering,” but it never feels like anything they couldn’t have done before this point. Maybe Radiohead understood that. They seemed to have all along.

— Steve Forstneger


Category: Columns, Features, Monthly

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