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What To Do With Radiohead

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

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.

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Comments [4]

Dave

John,

I think they are overrated in comparison to other bands. Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols, Jesus and Mary Chain, Sigur Ros, Spaceman 3, and Spiritualized are just as good but have 1/20th of the fame. OK Computer was a strong record but their others are just OK.
It's odd at the end of the day who gets famous and who doesn't.

Dave

Dec. 02 2009 01:57 PM
carolann from PA

You can’t keep it brief when talking about Radiohead. In short, they are brilliant, and strike every cord within me emotionally and kinetically. And I'm not some tween gaga fan either. I'm a 53 year old woman who has been listening for a lifetime. I think they appeal to folks who are willing to think and feel deeply about everything. They speak and sing in voices that touch the untouchable within us. Are they hard to listen to at times? I think if you aren’t afraid to think and feel about the darkest places then no, they are not. Then again music is very mood dependant. I'm not a musician, but I know great music when I hear it. Their music is an integral part of most of my days and when I don’t hear it – something is clearly missing. I feel blessed to be able to appreciate Radiohead’s music – not listening is the hardest part. Someday – I will get to see them live – I hope they have the sense not to deprive us of that gift.

Dec. 01 2009 11:26 PM
Nabob from NYC

If you really want to say something heretical, say you want another overplayed hit like "creep." oh wait. you did.

Dec. 01 2009 04:38 PM
Derek

I'm in the "over-rated" camp--I think Johnny Greenwood is brilliant (loved "There Will Be Blood" music) but overall their music disappoints me. I, too, find the vocals incredibly tiring after about 1 and a half songs--but my biggest problem is with the drummer--very lame, boring contribution from that particular piece of the band. Listen to the life and innovation in the drumming in bands like The Who, The Police, etc...and then listen to a Radiohead record--no life, no energy. That's why their stuff all sounds the same to me. People that tend to think they are Gods were too young to hear better versions of this kind of band in their prime like U2 (when they were good). The Police and Bob Dylan.

Dec. 01 2009 03:01 PM

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