It’s rare that something I saw on a friend’s Facebook status would compel me so far as to write a post about it. The status in question, among other things, touched on whether or not people still care about Radiohead. Yes, that Radiohead. The one with the skipping, prancing, manic ball of ??? for a lead singer, the one with the spaced-out composer of a lead guitar player, not to mention an underrated drummer. While this is less a question about their earlier material, to what is the appropriate response to the band now that it really feels like there is nothing left.
I was at a wine tasting over the weekend. That sentence is a lot less cool than it sounded in my brain, but nevertheless, I was there. What I noticed as I walked around is that they were playing Radiohead, the song “All I Need,” to be specific. Really? Congratulations, Radiohead, you’re now a band that 50-somethings walk around and sample wines and cheeses to. You are now non-threatening, yet sonically interesting cheese eating music.
Take King of Limbs, for example. The most recent offering from Radiohead was bolstered by a quasi-hit single, “Lotus Flower,” which itself leaned on a bizarre dance LOOK AT HIM GO kind of video that went viral. The release of the album was with much less fanfare than In Rainbows, which was more an experiment in music’s worth than a highly anticipated release from a band that can seemingly do no wrong. It was released practically out of nowhere, and really plays like an EP rather than a full-length album.
The problem with King of Limbs is that it felt like filler material. One could argue that this isn’t the first time Radiohead’s done this. Their 2001 release, Amnesiac, had some critics up in arms that it was nothing more than B-sides from their groundbreaking album Kid A the year before. Whether or not it actually was didn’t seem to matter, as it was warmly received by a media likely still caught in the haze of a post-Kid A music landscape. I get that when a band releases albums considered to be all-time classics (OK Computer and Kid A) they are going to have critics on their side. That is the issue, in a nutshell. Objectivity of reporting is now skewed in favor of making sure the band doesn’t think you aren’t cool. Detractors of Radiohead generally fall into a three categories:
- Cynical jerks who don’t like anything
- People who don’t like music
- People Thom Yorke may have personal offended at one point
It is possible that Radiohead simply keeps releasing music that people can’t find anything to whine about. It is far more likely that people do not want to voice these complaints for fear of being labeled as someone who doesn’t get the band, or music as a whole.
The irony of the album being called “Amnesiac,” as the album likely couldn’t properly be judged unless all other previous knowledge of Radiohead could be forgotten. Would it stand up? Apply the same logic to King of Limbs. What would we say about it if we had no idea who these English weirdoes were? Because these days I feel like a lot of us are simply playing their music, nodding in agreement that YES THIS IS RADIOHEAD, THEREFORE IT IS GOOD. I am no different than this. I am a total mark for the band, and subscribe to the “this music totally changed my life, bro” meme that most people either associate with Phish or Pink Floyd. I really disliked King of Limbs when I first heard it, but I didn’t say anything to that point at all. I didn’t want to be THAT GUY. The longer a band continues to produce new material, the more inevitably it will be judged against their prior catalog. I absolutely hate the popular refrain of “Oh, their old stuff is way better,” regardless if it is true or not. I gave it the standard few listens I give any album, but it just wasn’t sticking. At a certain point, unless there’s a total reinvention (i.e.: Ok Computer to Kid A) I start wanting to listen to the older, more familiar material. If you aren’t going to bother writing anything that will inspire me to keep listening to the new material, I am more than ok with ignoring it. This is what happened with King of Limbs. While it would be foolish to dismiss anything else they may release in the future, I can’t say I particularly care what gloomy beats Thom Yorke will dance to next. Here’s hoping the rest of you still do.