For all their laurels, Radioheadâ€™s kind of like the Pope â€“ zealots claim infallibility, rationals know better. If youâ€™re not in on the inside concept (or only had your elder brotherâ€™s Brother Word Processor 10 years ago), OK Computer is a cold, confusing mess. And Kid A and Amnesiac – both stellar portraits of a rock band at witâ€™s end with the genre – wouldâ€™ve been tied for best double album since Royal Truxâ€™s Twin Infinitives and the Pumpkinsâ€™ Mellon Collie. Moreover, Hail to the Thief (a.k.a. The Gloaming) was only slightly better than the Blair/Bush blundering Iâ€™d like to think it admonishes. But no matter what bit rate itâ€™s encoded at or how much you actually paid for it (thatâ€™s between you and Benedict XVI my fellow sinner), Radioheadâ€™s newest jaunt is their best foot forward since The Bends blew the balls off Pablo Honey back in â€™95.
As with Fight Club and that time you came home from college unannounced only to stumble in on your parents scrogginâ€™ to Tommy James and The Shondellsâ€™s â€œCrystal Blue Persuasion,â€ letâ€™s not talk about Pablo Honey. In a way, itâ€™s that groupâ€™s Mistrial or Kill Uncle â€“ an embarrassing acne scar on an otherwise pretty fucking remarkable visage. And for those privileged enough to catch said visage live in concert, the 10 tracks on display here are hardly brand new bags.
Take the leadoff hitter â€œ15 Stepâ€ for example. This 5/4 metered IDM flirtation has been a show staple for the Oxfordshire quintet since May of last year. And just like The Stonesâ€™s â€œYou Canâ€™t Always Get What You Want,â€ a good song becomes great as soon as the blossoming childrenâ€™s choir flitters in from the left channel.
Though as every pot needs a chicken, every incredible rock album needs an equally awesome anthem. The aptly titled â€œBodysnatchersâ€ is indeed that track. Itâ€™s a raucous, nasty, borderline subversive one for sure, but true rock anthems should never sound like â€œO Canada.â€ Iâ€™ve long given up on trying to identify whatever the hell instrument Jonny Greenwoodâ€™s using; you should too.
Warning: what follows next may kill you. â€œNudeâ€ has been part of the Radiohead canon since the late â€˜90s. You might know it as â€œFailure To Receive Payment Will Put Your House At Riskâ€ from Grant Geeâ€™s excellent documentary of the band, but itâ€™s soul stealing malaise is anything but an excellent adventure. Itâ€™s a bogus existential journey actually, like watching Elliot Smith in a Beckett play directed by Antonioni. Couplet for one of Alexanderâ€™s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days: â€œDonâ€™t get any big ideas/Theyâ€™re not gonna happen.â€
The jingly noodles of â€œWeird Fishes/Arpeggiâ€ isnâ€™t all that substantial, especially when itâ€™s eclipsed five minutes later by my new favorite Radiohead tune â€œAll I Need.â€ Sandwiched between a low end synth rumble and piezo-popping glockenspiel, when Thom Yorke coos the title phrase, itâ€™s every bit low maintenance promise and high brow artâ€¦even at 160 kbps. Nigel Godrichâ€™s perpetually couture makeover makes this one beautiful on the outside; the stylized sound of rockâ€™s most restless band finally content keeps it real where it counts.
Likewise, the aphoristic brevity of â€œFaust Arpâ€ is but a foretaste of the divine glory of â€œReckoner.â€ Phil Selwayâ€™s drums have never sounded so spacious, sounding as if Phil Spector recorded them in the bathroom of an airport hangar. Jonny Greenwoodâ€™s definitely playing a kick-ass guitar on this one, and while I often have no frickinâ€™ clue what words are coming out of Yorkeâ€™s mouth, when his falsetto soars â€œDedicated to all you,â€ in my heart I just know heâ€™s talking to me.
Cut eightâ€™s â€œHouse of Cardsâ€ will never crumble in my lifetime at least – â€œa thing of beauty is a joy forever,â€ right Mr. Keats? – and â€œJigsaw Falling Into Placeâ€ is in fact four minutes and nine seconds of what Kid A would deem â€œeverything in its right place.â€
Most rock tunes donâ€™t know when to end. Contrary to pop music belief, a fadeout does not imply that the song goes on forever, eventually seeped up into the ether of infinity. Masters of the closing track, Radiohead bring it all back home – sans fade – with the abso-tively, posi-lutely stunning â€œVideotape.â€ Itâ€™s a classically perfect piano passacaglia, along the lines of Bach or Purcell. Closing argument for the best paean to sex and celluloid since Steven Soderbergh: â€œYou are my centre/When I slip away/Out of control/On videotape.â€