Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Day 292: Ranking Radiohead

Every music fan has a list of performers they'd like to see. Having caught the elusive PJ Harvey last April, I've now seen almost all the ones I really love. If the Verve or Talking Heads re-form, I need to make a point to catch them.

And then there's Radiohead...

My best two previous opportunities, both in Dallas, were botched. This will be corrected Sunday in Kansas City.

If you don't love Radiohead, might as well shut down this post now.

First, I'm going to rank my favorite studio releases in order. A tough task. Most of the hardcore fans like Mondier have all the EPs, special reissues, the live release and the remix as well, and Mondier has some awesome bootlegs as well. We're not gonna go there, because this is almost impossible with just these.

1. OK Computer: The masterpiece, still amazing, and even the quirky "Fitter, Happier" is interesting.
2. Kid A: At first I ranked this seventh, Then I thought, no, it's seventh? Then, I listened to it again and thought, "Seventh? Really? That's insane." This could easily be first. Chuck Klosterman has forever altered my feeling about this album, however, with his linking the disc to 9/11. Recommended reading, but haunting.
3. Amnesiac: Epic tracks like Pyramid Song and You and Whose Army? stand out, but the whole album is one that resonates with me. In a tough time in my life, this album helped me get through.
4. Hail to the Thief: "There There" might be the best song they ever released. Some fans welcomed this as a return to "normalcy" after Kid A and Amnesiac, but that view is simplistic. "A Punch-Up at a Wedding" and "Backdrifts" are highlights here.
5. The Bends: This album could be ranked as high as second, low as seventh. I go back and forth on it, because I love the experimental noodling on Kid A and Amnesiac sometimes more than I love the solidity of this second release. A lot of people like this over OK Computer.
6. In Rainbows: A very solid CD; many other bands have never come close to releasing something this good.
7. The King of Limbs: Probably underrated a little bit because of the subtleties. I listened to this one morning before dawn on a long drive and couldn't believe how perfect it was for 5 a.m.
8. Pablo Honey: The only easy choice. It's just not as good as the others.

Now let's go deeper into the albums.

* Pablo Honey, 1993: The essential songs are, in order, Creep, You and Stop Whispering. The rest of the album is kind of generic and gave NO clue as to the greatness that lay ahead. I hope to hear Creep at the show, but they've yet to play it in the first seven shows of this tour.
* The Bends, 1995: Readers of this blog may remember my lengthy take on this from June 15, 2011. The album is across-the-board great; the "hits" (High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, Just) are obvious, but disc-opener Planet Telex is just full of win. Would love to hear that live, but so far only Street Spirit is getting attention on Tour 2012.
* OK Computer, 1997: Seriously, anything they play from this will be cool for me. That said, I'd love if they went into some of the deeper cuts here -- Subterranean Homesick Alien, Let Down, Electioneering, Climbing Up the Walls or No Surprises would probably make me cry. They've played Climbing only once so far. Airbag (a fave) and Karma Police have been in three shows, Paranoid Android four. Obviously this tour they're playing the newer stuff.
* Kid A, 2000: Despite debuting at No. 1 and winning a ton of recognition, this album is probably the band's most polarizing release ever. Listening to it as I write this, its brilliance and groundbreaking anti-music still astonishes me. This is brave-ass music-making. Like any other amazing work of art, every exposure yields new discoveries and deeper appreciation. The balls it took to follow OK Computer with such a challenging effort is admirable. The band went down a very non-commercial rathole following their muse with this one... mad respect. A very Neil Young move. I'd love to hear Kid A but I don't think it's likely, although they've played it three times this tour already. Most of all I'd like to hear The National Anthem (performed twice so far) or Everything in its Right Place (five performances so far). This will be a treat.
* Amnesiac, 2001: So a lot of casual fans probably expected the band to return to its more traditional rock stylings after Kid A, but instead the band released kind of a "Kid A, the Sequel" with Amnesiac. It was only a few lines into the disc opener when Thom Yorke dispelled that idea by singing "I'm a reasonable man / Get off my case." Loved it. Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box, Pyramid Song, etc, etc, etc... only the third track misses. I will love hearing anything they play, but I'd be blown away by Dollars and Cents (or Like Spinning Plates). The album's not getting much rep on this tour so far (Pyramid/Army three plays each, nothing else) so getting something Sunday will be a pleasant surprise.
* Hail to the Thief, 2003: I bought this CD at a funky little record store in Columbia, S.C., and it took me a few plays before I got it. By this time, the band had become predictable for being unpredictable, so you just had to buckle up and take the ride. Well worth it. There There, the best song on the disc, has made every show so far. Kickass. The dark The Gloaming has made six shows, Mxyomatosis five. I don't love Myxomatosis; would really love to hear Sit Down/Stand Up, Punch-Up or Backdrifts. Or Go To Sleep. Or even the saddest song ever written, Where I End and You Begin. Whatever -- just make sure and play There There. And play it LOUD.
* In Rainbows, 2007: We bought this online when the band tried their direct release/pay what you want model. I think we paid $12 USD for it. But I also wound up buying the physical disc and when/if they come out with a nice reissure, I'll probably buy that too. Great album. Listening to it now makes me wonder how this could be any band's sixth-best release. Very few bands can face a similar quandary -- think Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Neil -- and that's really it. Seven of the 10 songs here would be great to hear, but I MUST hear Bodysnatchers. I'm gonna dance like a dork. It's made five of seven shows. Weird Fishes and Reckoner (YES!) have made every show thus far. Nude (five shows) and 15 Step (two) would be great to hear.
* The King of Limbs, 2011: Because it's relatively new, there are probably elements here I have yet to comprehend. In time this album will surely make it tougher to rank this low. There's a very spacey, almost aloof (but not inaccessible) quality to the eight songs here. Virtually every song on the album is making every show, with one exception: Codex has only made two shows. That would be a shame as it's one of the best songs on TKOL.

Rolling Stone reported that the band has a trove of 75 songs they are playing with on this tour. That's going to provide the potential for some real chestnuts and a few of these are really interesting to note. Of the odds they've played so far is an instrumental, Meeting in the Aisle, that I really like. They've played it twice. I'd love to hear it in KC. Guys, also welcome would be Palo Alto, True Love Waits and Gagging Order.

The band's also trying out some new songs on the tour.

OK writing this has taken a while. In the process I've been sampling the catalogue, and I'm now so worked up I can't stand it. Hurry Sunday.

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