Radiohead fans are legion. They include a number of the most respected music critics and writers, and lots of other musicians, not all of them from the rock world. But it turns out that Radiohead haters are a surprisingly large bunch, too.
I guess this shouldn't be surprising – when a band is that visible, that influential, and that willing to take risks, you will inevitably find them to be a polarizing force. And here I must confess that I, too, have had my moments of doubt: a couple of years ago, listening to one of Radiohead's albums (I think it was Kid A) in its entirety – the way you should listen to a Radiohead album – I found myself thinking "what a tiresome band they can be."
Of course, I was horrified by this heretical thought as soon as it crossed my mind. I love Radiohead – they're smart and they know music and without the pretensions of the prog rock of the early 1970s, they're able to make smart, substantial music that says, "yeah, we know the music of Olivier Messiaen, and of Paul Lansky, but that doesn't mean we need to prove it to you."
But long-term, Radiohead can be a tiring business. This is not easy listening. Some people don't like to work when it comes to listening to music; you work hard at your job – why should you have to work hard to enjoy a band? I understand this; sometimes I wish Radiohead would come up with another simple rocker like their first hit, "Creep," whose rumbling electric guitar work was aimed not at the brain but the gut.
One of my favorite Radiohead tracks is "Pyramid Song," from Amnesiac. I studied its oddly spaced piano chords, and eventually satisfied myself that the chord sequence was in 11 – a 3+4+4 thing. But then Christopher O'Riley, the classical pianist whose album of Radiohead covers has become fairly popular, told me that it's actually just in basic, everyday 4/4 time. This claim has been seconded by several other musicians. I felt cheated. How could something so off-kilter actually be so simple and square? Then I was impressed: how could something so off-kilter actually be so simple and square?
Yes, Radiohead can be a polarizing band, but that wouldn't be the case if they were so easily heard, digested, and spat out again.