Radiohead reshapes sound

By Michael Kazanjian
November 9, 2000

by Michael A. Kazanjian
assistant a&e editor

If rock had died, Radiohead didn’t attend the funeral, for Radiohead are the saviors. Cut and dry. ThomYorke (vocals,guitar), JohnnyGreenwood (guitar,keyboards), Colin Greenwood(bass), Ed O’Brien(guitar) and Phil Selway(drums) met each other while attending school in Abingdon, England. Originally going by the name “On a Friday,” since that was the only day that they could practice, the band was a moderate success in the local Oxford music scene, getting their current name from a “Talking Heads” song Radiohead was about to break.

Back in 1993 Radiohead’s first single “Creep” flew up the charts and dominated airtime on MTV. Fans and critics alike were ready to dismiss Radiohead as another one-hit wonder mixed in with the rest of the Nirvana wannabes. In essence that’s what they really are. Not since “Creep” has Radiohead had nearly as much airplay. In fact it was the only song by the band to enter the top 10. Instead they rose to new hights, winning over critics of all kinds and being unanimously declared the future of rock. What a journey it’s been up to now and it’s only started.

Radiohead’s first album “Pablo Honey” was released in ’93 with moderate success. With the exception of “Creep” all of the songs went unheard on the radio. It earned fair-to-good reviews and sold a modest amount of copies. On “Pablo Honey” Radiohead fit the stereotypical mark of a rock band. This meant they were loud, obnoxious and full of unbridled energy, only some of which would follow to their sophomore effort “The Bends” released in 1995.

“The Bends” was a bit of a departure. Instead of straightforward power chord rock, Radiohead began to flesh out their style in new ways. The acoustic guitar found its way onto a strong number of tracks and the melodies now soared high above an even tighter band. While no single took to the air like “Creep” many songs are known either through soundtracks or brief appearances on the then important MTV. “The Bends” was showered with praise from critics and fans and quickly made its way onto majority of top 10 lists of the year.

Radiohead now had a following, cult though it may have been, that was eagerly awaiting their next effort. Radiohead, however, wasn’t about to stick to the same formula and sell the same album over and over, which is what most bands nowadays focus on doing. Instead Radiohead was ready for incarnation number three.

“OK Computer” was released in early ’97 making Radiohead a staple in the music industry. Just as “The Bends” differed from “Pablo Honey,” “OK Computer” was of yet another breed. One of the only recently released “theme albums” in recent years, “OK Computer” was an anthem of alienation. “Paranoid Android” was the first single released. With a running time over six minutes it was not very radio friendly. What was surprising though was that the song hit MTV like a thunderbolt. Spending several weeks in MTV’s top 10, “OK Computer” was quickly becoming Radiohead’s most successful album to date.

“OK Computer” was the album of the `90s. Earning the number 2 spot only behind The Beatles “Revolver” album on Q Magazines top 100 British albums of all time, Radiohead was making history. Their shows have become the hottest ticket on the market, drawing in the likes of Brad Pitt and Michael Stipe who said, “Radiohead are so good they scare me.” A ticket on Ebay at this time would be somewhere in the $10,000 range.

Again Radiohead wasn’t satisfied and were ready to reshape themselves . A follow up to what was regarded as one of the great musical achievements in recent years was a difficult task. Radiohead didn’t blink. Going back into the studio in late ’98, Radiohead began work on their fourth studio release. Expectations were extremely high. The band could care less. They write for themselves. Their follow up, the newly released “Kid A,” proves it in every way imaginable. Thom Yorke in a recent interview for “Spin” magazine was asked what he thought about “Kid A” being such a departure from their recent works and what he thought about the realization that it may not sell as well. Yorke replied: “We do not sit down and write a song or a piece of music considering any of these things-if we did I would have left the group a long time ago. You have a sound in your head, or a melody or a word or a rhythm and you need to get it out. You get it out because you need to give it to other human beings, otherwise you crumple up and disappear.”

“Kid A” is not a rock album by any stretch of the margin. In fact it’s quite hard to describe. Listening to “Kid A” for the first time you’re bombarded by sound. Piercing through your speakers and trying to push its way into your head, “Kid” is an experience. Loaded with layered electronic effects and out-of-key horns you’re not really sure what it is you’re hearing, yet you start to enjoy it. It may not be what you expected or even like on a whole, but you can’t disregard its honesty and integrity. They’re not trying to sell you on an idea or a concept, they’re just selling themselves.

The album, despite some harsh reviews from close-minded critics, hit the top of the charts much to the band’s surprise. Radiohead has chosen not to tour for “Kid A” and is instead concentrating on releasing their next album due out in early 2001. One can only speculate what it’s going to sound like and chances are they’d be wrong. Radiohead is a band best left an enigma. Don’t try to figure them out and take what they give you in stride. The future awaits and in this future a sound is playing, an indiscernible sound, drawing us in, little by little.

Michael Kazanjian

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