Incredible. Life defining. Un-categorisable. Genre bashing, era smashing, generally mind-bendingly good. A Pink Floyd for our time. Spot the quote I nicked. This album doesn’t carry a health warning, but it should. “Radiohead can seriously damage your sanity, and should be listened to in overindulgent quantities”, or some such guff.
This disc is a mighty piece of art – not music, but ART. That’s right boys and girls, this is On A(nother) Plain (alright, I had to get Kurt Cobain in somewhere, he’s never gonna get on here otherwise!). We kick off with the slides and arpeggios of Airbag, a song which I had never heard, yet by the end had been with my entire life. This is the kind of thing one has to deal with, when listening to OK Computer. “In the next world war, in a jackknifed juggernaut/I am born again”: eerie, in some ways, but the beauty and simplicity of the images that evoke modern urban life, and dissatisfaction with poli(trick)s, is poetic and sublime. Dropping suddenly away into feedback and clanging distortion, four beeps herald a great moment in rock, the bursting forth of guitar heroics that is Paranoid Android. Ah, perfection. The gamut of dynamics, timbre and mood elevate this song to the levels of genius. Jonny Greenwood, now composer in residence at the BBC, melted faces with this track.
To go from that to Subterranean Homesick Alien (a Dylan dig, and a good one too) is a jump, but from the opening salvo, the softness of this quietly enveloping mini epic is disturbing, once one listens to the lyrics, which jar wonderfully with the sound and mood. Continuing with the driving theme, and the sometime-jangly guitars, they maintain a spacey mood which recalls the spirit of Pink Floyd, but not the sound – no mere copy artists, this lot.
Dark and Gothic, I’ve seen Exit Music (For A Film) described, and whilst I’m not au fait with the whole Gothic thang, it’s certainly Dark (deserves the capital) – OK, the first trio of tunes aren’t in any way jolly, but they certainly ain’t this. Acoustic guitars build to an electronic squelch, but one that fits the music, and still has a pretty organic drum pattern behind it – no Kid A/Amnesiac/Hail To The Thief electronic mayhem clattering my ears here. Could it get more depressing? Thankfully, not yet, as we have Let Down, which, like Subterranean… keeps the jangliness to the fore, and the sweetness of Thom Yorke’s vocals get an airing (unlike the squaking, screeching, angry Thom of Paranoid Android, or the strident rock Thom of Airbag). It’s a beauty, this track, and sets you up for the epic, well loved, incredible single, Karma Police. Piano, acoustics, voices, soft drums, some weird ass lyrics, yet still popular and catchy. It’s gotta be British.
Now the odd bit. Fitter Happier splits the album roughly in two, possibly thematically (I’ve finished Eng Lit, no more deep and meaningful lyrical insights, it’s not worth it; anyway, most journo’s get it wrong, and the artist usually wrote it about “some girl”, or “some girl’s cat”). Processed electronic voices and bleeps, samples and white noise herald a darker second half, kicked off by the reflection of Airbag, Electioneering. A killer riff (yes, a riff, not a melody line, or an atonal whimper, or a squelch, or sequence, but a RIFF, a fat, phat, dirty, electric, rocking RIFF) starts it, angry, obvious (for Radiohead) lyrics continue, headbanging ensued, and when I surfaced for air, Climbing Up The Walls was already scaring me. Enough said there, let’s get to No Surprises. A glockenspiel. Yeah, memories of music lessons freak me out, but if only we learned this in the third year instead of bloody Elvis. It’s pretty, it’s circular, it’s a rest from the fear and darkness of Climbing… and we have catharsis.
Then after the comedown is the kick in the stomach, Lucky. The album could end with No Surprises, and still have done the business, but Lucky, that insidious, moody song, with proper guitar solos, wailing, delay drenched, solos (do I hear a wah-wah?) does just scream Wish You Were Here. Oh, and it ends with The Tourist. You have to stay till the end, it’s just too damned good, it really is. Sums them up really.
“Idiot, slow down, slow down….”