KARMA KOMMANDERS, PART DEUX Radiohead

With albums three, four and five
– now, newly expanded and reissued – our heroes began chasing their
Rainbows.

 

BY JOHN DWORKIN

 

Radiohead has become a lightning rod in the music community. Jazz,
Rock, Creative Improvised, Post-Rock, Electro, Modern Classical, Film Music,
you name the circle and they’re being listened to or at least acknowledged and
occasionally referenced. They consistently spark passionate reaction from
critics, listeners, and musicians alike. Attitudes range from idolatry, to
derision, to intense mock indifference. And like any such known entity, it
often seems people have deep impressions (good or bad) based entirely on
others’ opinions without much real contact with the band’s actual music itself.

 

It’s like the phenomenon in which a politician is praised or condemned
by his/her constituents who know nothing of their actual policies but only what
they’ve been told about them by Fox News. Obama’s Health Care “Death Panels”
anyone? [The extreme irony of likening an aspect of Radiohead’s position to
that of a politician is duly acknowledged.] Or as Bob Dylan put it, some “just
want to just be on the side that’s winning,” while others hate on them simply
because they’ve been heaped with so much praise. They’re an easy target. Bjork
is the only other artist that seems comparable in all the above respects, and
she gets the business just as bad (worse?!). Radiohead is a singular rock band.

 

But none of that matters when you sit down to listen to Radiohead’s
music – or crank it up at a party/gathering. At their best, they’re completely
awe-inspiring, beautiful, disturbing, ass-kicking, and mysterious. And
as Albert Einstein wisely observed, “The most beautiful thing we can experience
is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art…”

 

Einstein would’ve dug Radiohead. As do artists from all over the
spectrum; for example, America’s best young film director P.T. Anderson
recruited guitarist Jonny Greenwood to score his Oscar winning epic There
Will Be Blood,
and both bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile and jazz master
pianist Brad Mehldau have covered Radiohead material.

 

EMI Records (let’s leave the issue of the inherent evils of behemoth
corporate conglomerate record companies and their dealings with bands like
Radiohead for another write-up…) has released their second trinity of 2CD,
Collector’s Edition Radiohead discs: 2000’s Kid A, 2001’s Amnesiac, and 2003’s Hail
To The Thief.
As with the first round of reissues – Pablo Honey, The Bends and Ok
Computer
, previously scrutinized in our “Karma Kommanders” feature – each
title includes the original release plus a bonus disc of radio sessions, live
recordings, and B-sides. “Special Collector’s Edition[s]” are also available
for each title that include an additional DVD of promo videos and/or live
performance footage. Although this is not necessarily hard to find material,
having it all collected together is sweet. And for many who aren’t rabid fans
but still love the band, much of the additional material will be as eye opening
and as exciting as the original releases.

 

The insular and textural masterpiece Kid A was the band’s
follow-up release to the universally hailed Ok Computer. With almost
every song a classic, revisiting Kid A is always illuminating. Lyrics
and music both become more abstracted, beckoning you to scrutinize them as they
simultaneously lean toward shutting you out. The frequent oddball electronic
instrumentation and impenetrable lyrics are only frustrating for those who need
their beds made perfectly in the morning before leaving the house. Thom Yorke
and the rest of the band are not spoon feeding the listener ideas. You’ve got
to bring something to the table. The bonus CD includes two versions of
“Everything In Its Right Place,” both of which include somewhat extended
looping, and near mash-ups, of Yorke’s vocals toward the end. Nearly the entire
original CD is reproduced live on the bonus disc. Especially sweet is the
intensely high energy performance of “Idioteque” from Later… With Jools
Holland
included on the bonus DVD.

 

Similarly to Kid A, Amnesiac is a classic recording and
tunes like “Pyramid Song” and “Knives Out” just get better and better. The
bonus CD materials on this one are more extensive including seven B-sides all
worthy of having been included on the original recording and seven live tracks.
It’s quite remarkable how much consistently fascinating material came from
these sessions. And the bonus DVD for Amnesiac is a goldmine. Live
performances from Top Of The Pops and Later… With Jools Holland are present as well as four promotional videos. Among them is director Johnny
Hardstaff’s avant-garde short film of “Push Pulk/Spinning Plates.” It’s some
type of Kubrick-influenced, dystopian horror short that feels like a vague yet
fervent warning meant to induce a palpable sense of free floating terror. (It
does.) The other videos are also hardly your typical MTV titillating marketing
tools, especially “Knives Out’s” David Lynchian, surrealist dreamscape logic
and frightfully black comic imagery. 

 

With Hail To The Thief a sort of fatigue syndrome seems to have
set in. Given the relentlessly high level of music coming one after the other
with their previous three releases, it’s inevitable people will expect a
bottoming out. This expectation may have clouded the reception of Hail To
The Thief
a bit, but it is nearly as fine as the band’s previous two
releases and continues on in a similar vein. The big guitar hooks, sweeping
melodies, cryptic words and killer grooves of “Go To Sleep,” “There There” and
many others are still present in spades. The bonus CD and DVD are similar to
the ones from Amnesiac in that there are intriguing B-sides, promo
videos and live performances. The highlight is certainly the intense live
performance of the anthemic rocker “Go To Sleep” from Later… With Jools
Holland
on the DVD with Jonny Greenwood’s wonderfully ape-shit guitar
fireworks toward the end. 

 

This, as a television or radio announcer might be inclined to put it,
concludes the EMI-hosted portion of the Radiohead program. As everyone
certainly knows, 2007’s self-released In
Rainbows
was just around the corner, accompanied by reams of pundit-spewed
commentary on the album’s game-changing marketing strategy. With these and the
previous three reissues, however, fans can get a clear sense of how the band
was paving its own path towards that very intriguing – and artistically
fruitful – next phase.

 

 

 

 

 

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