In a recent interview, English alternative band Radiohead’s lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood had some interesting things to say, specifically that the critically-acclaimed and internationally-lauded band would be getting back together to record new material as a follow-up to 2011’s project “The King of Limbs.” Personally, I had never listened to Radiohead until about April of this year, but I finally got around to buying some albums and found that from the first tumbling chords of “OK Computer” to the haunting vocals of “In Rainbows,” I was completely hooked. With the news of a new album approaching, it seems now is as good a time as any to come up with a guide for Radiohead’s many Magnum Opuses. Magnum Opii? Really good albums.
OK Computer (1997)
“OK Computer” was my first exposure to Radiohead after hearing from different people that this band had been a major part of their lives, from having been a good driving soundtrack to “OK Computer” being one of the first albums they remembers buying in 1997. “OK Computer”-era Radiohead is a vastly different beast than the Radiohead we have today, which took a sharp left turn away from indie rock and ended up in the median, recording post-ambient post-rock wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff:
“OK Computer” is a much more conventional and accessible album, which makes it a great place to start for anyone interested. Standout tracks from this release are “Airbag,” “Electioneering” and “Karma Police.”
Kid A (2000)
“Kid A” is where things got weird. Abandoning most conventional instrumentation and incorporating a more ambient style of production, “Kid A” is widely regarded as being a massive step out of the comfort zone that Radiohead had established on their three previous LPs, “Pablo Honey,” “The Bends” and “OK Computer.” “Kid A” is a landmark record in Radiohead’s discography because it marks the point when electronica and jazz influences became more overt and were given more of a front seat in Radiohead’s songwriting process. Standout tracks from this release were “The National Anthem,” “How to Disappear Completely” and “Optimistic.”
If you’ve given “Kid A” a few listens, then your first trek through 2001’s “Amnesiac” will likely be a bit rough, specifically because of Thom Yorke’s affinity for remixes. “Amnesiac” is, for all intents and purposes, a collection of b-sides from the “Kid A” recording and songwriting period, which is not to say this record is any worse than “Kid A,” but just that it didn’t really follow Radiohead’s unwritten creed of only releasing genre-defining albums. One of the more interesting pieces of “Amnesiac” was the track “Pyramid Song” which featured the use of the Ondes Martenot that provided the ethereal, almost extraterrestrial-sounding high-register layer of the track. Other standout tracks from this release were, “You and Whose Army?” and “I Might be Wrong.”
In Rainbows (2007)
This is by far Radiohead’s most upbeat post-“Kid A” record. In the conversations I’ve had about Radiohead in the past, I’ve always heard their previous releases described as depressing and populated with slow heart-wrenching ballads — I’m looking at you, “Kid A” — but that’s more difficult to say for “In Rainbows.” The first track, “15 Step,” is an ode to IDM that makes it difficult for your foot not to tap along in agreement with the fast tempo and hand claps. The following track, “Bodysnatchers,” is one of the more accessible tracks, featuring more tangible instrumentation and less doctored vocals. Other standout tracks from this release were “All I Need,” “House of Cards” and “Reckoner.”
Radiohead are debatably the most popular and acclaimed indie rock band from the last twenty years, right alongside Pavement and Neutral Milk Hotel. They have sold tens of millions of records worldwide, and rightfully so. Radiohead have proven they have the capability of producing genre-defining pieces, evident throughout their discography.
Have a fantastic Tuesday.