Friday, September 22, 2017
Radiohead excavated the buried treasure of their true gift at the end of sophomore album, The Bends: the ability to convey despair. Since they pulled this musical feeling from the pit of their hearts, they've little deviated from it, even as their sound changes in leaps and bounds.
From the first notes of Radiohead's junior effort, OK Computer, the music espouses a certain feeling tragedy like everything in the world is irrevocably wrong. As, I said above, this feeling would dominate the next ten years of Radiohead's work, until In Rainbows let in just a little light. I find all four of the albums Radiohead released between 1997-2003, despite their aural differences, to be thematically and emotionally interconnected--as singular as OK Computer is, taken as a part of a greater whole, it is even more magnificent. Musically, OK Computer takes the instruments from the previous guitar-driven rock work of the band's first two albums, and hands them to ghosts. This music sounds like it was recorded by the spectres of humanity after the apocalypse, and sent back as a haunting to their formerly living selves. Kid A, which I'll get to next, sounds like it takes place in the rubble of this apocalypse (that I am creating as my own narrative because 500,000 think pieces have been written in the last few months in support of OK Computer's 20th year anniversary, and if I'm going to add a 500,001st, I might as well make it my own...otherwise, why add to the noise?).
The band achieved OK Computer's spectral sound by heavily experimenting with effects pedals and electronics, while beefing up and giving greater prominence to their rhythm section. At the same time, it is clear that each of the players have greatly increased in talent and experience--these songs never start to blur together to me the way The Bends' do after a while. Vocalist/lyricist, Thom Yorke, has mastered the finer facets of his voice, and uses it to the emotional hilt, fully exercising his shrill, yet enjoyable falsetto at moments of peak feeling--something that The Nicsperiment, who can only sing on pitch in his falsetto, greatly appreciates.
Yorke's lyrics have morphed here from straightforward declarations of personal feeling, to metaphorical, metaphysical cultural commentary. He strongly excels at this...actually, the entire band strongly excel at everything they attempt here, giving Gen X their own Dark Side of the Moon, or whatever Baby Boomer rock album you think wildly and trippily experiments, while putting a hat on the alienating feelings of the time.
Critics have broken down these songs on a technical level to such a vast degree, it is nearly pointless for me to do the same, so the only thing that seems relevant is attempting to convey my own emotional reaction to OK Computer. The funny thing is that, living and attending high school in a rural town, with only the local college radio station to let me know what was considered cool, my initial contact with OK Computer was limited. I didn't really get into the band until they released Kid A, and honestly, seeing the artwork at the record store intrigued me to purchase that album as much as the music did. The random songs I did hear from OK Computer, like for instance, "Karma Police," or "No Surprises," didn't really tickle my fancy. It was not until a few years later, after Kid A, that I heard OK Computer in sequence, and experienced those songs true, monstrous power. So in that spirit, in sequence, how about I list the tracks side by side with a corresponding feeling.
1. "Airbag" "From an interstellar burst, I am back to save the universe..." The task of this tragic, cosmic hero feels full of despairing futility, on an epic, universal stage.
2. "Paranoid Android" The despair becomes earthbound, hyperkinetic.
3. "Subterranean Homesick Alien" And suddenly things are chill, and a bit wistful, staring at the stars over tall pines.
4. "Exit Music (For a Film)" Until the quiet hate of this song, with "We hope that you choke" never sung so softly, and yet with such veracity, burns that forest down.
5. "Let Down" Total depression, so damn beautiful in its twinkly chimes like a wake-up call to the reality of fruitless striving, but it takes "Everything Meaningless" to such a monumental, universal level, that it's infinitely crushing, "Let down and hanging around, crushed like a bug in the ground," the rhythm section a boot, stomping you down. Makes me think of the album cover more than any song here. My favorite song from OK Computer, analogous to the "American Radiohead," Appleseed Cast's "Rooms and Gardens." Let me go sob despondently for a moment.
6. "Karma Police" This song is like you drop out of the last song into a quiet, brown-grey street, and are immediately and nonsensically arrested.
7. "Fitter Happier" The automated spoken word of this song might be more depressing than "Let Down." This album, by this point, would be the hugest downer ever recorded, if not for the singular artistry on display.
8. "Electioneering" Suddenly, things get wild and fun, out of control, even though it feels just a little wrong, like things are going off the rails.
9. "Climbing Up the Walls" They don't want to choke you anymore, they want to creep up behind you and, in a moment of supreme terror, bash your skull in.
10. "No Surprises" Well after all that, as you lie half-dead in the gutter, things might as well get a little twinkly again.
11. "Lucky" Another thing that draws the thin line demarcating this album in the masterpiece quadrant, and out of the depressing drag one--the inexplicably positive lyrics of this song, like "I feel my luck could change."
12. "The Tourist" There's some bizarre closure to this song that makes it feel like it could go on forever in its demands, "Hey man, slow down. Idiot! Slow down!" infinity being the very opposite of closure. This album is perfect. On to the apocalypse. After the following rabbit-trail:
If you've never suffered from depression, just imagine this song as your mindset every waking second. You can't move. And just like the middle of a depressive episode, it feels like there's no end or hope in sight. Of course, there is, but when you're in the middle of it, that doesn't even seem like an option or possibility. "Let Down" thoroughly encapsulates these feelings better than any other piece of music I've heard.
Sorry for this digression, but I'd be remiss to review this album, say I'm getting personal, and then not mention this. Thankfully, if your life is this song, there are ways out. From someone who's been there--and in the sense that this is something that must be actively fought for a lifetime, even if I feel fine right now, is there--there's no shame in finding help.
1. Airbag 4:44
2. Paranoid Android 6:23
3. Subterranean Homesick Alien 4:27
4. Exit Music (For a Film) 4:24
5. Let Down 4:59
6. Karma Police 4:21
7. Fitter Happier 1:57
8. Electioneering 3:50
9. Climbing Up the Walls 4:45
10. No Surprises 3:48
11. Lucky 4:19
12. The Tourist 5:24
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
I didn't get into Radiohead until Kid A and Amnesiac, which came out, respectively, when I was in college. I loved the experimentation and atmosphere of those two albums, but was amused by comments from many long-term fans, and several fellow college DJ's who wished Radiohead "would get back to the three-guitar rock of The Bends." Surely, I thought, The Bends can't be as good as Kid A and Amnesiac.
I won't bury the lead: I do not think The Bends is as good as 2000's Kid A and 2001's Amnesiac. My favorite albums flow organically as albums, don't drag on too long, and finish exactly when they should. The Bends is a really good album. It is full of great alternative rock songs, with some great singing from Thom Yorke, who uses his falsetto to full affect. The band utilizes three guitars, and while the multiple guitar parts aren't always distinct, they form a warm, full sound, amplified by Johnny Greenwood's pursuit of interesting effects. The rhythm section are solid, though firmly relegated to supporting players, though this would become less and less true with each subsequent album. The songwriting is solid, and each track sounds like it could be coming out of a football stadium's speakers. Yorke, in particular here, really has a flair for the dramatic, as songs like the weepy ballad, "Fake Plastic Trees," feature impressive levels of emotion. In fact, you can easily visualize a hyper-emotional late 90's British tele-drama starring a young James McAvoy, as he stares out a rainy dorm room window, sulking about a girl, while many of these songs are playing--and I don't mean that as a negative. The Bends does go on too long, though, and I do mean that as a negative--somewhere around "Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was," The Bends' ninth track, I generally check out. Checking out would be a mistake, though, as album closer, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" is one of the band's greatest songs, and an all-time great song, period. It is an unbelievably stark portrait of despair, and it hints at what's to come from this great band.
However, at the end of the day, Radiohead's subsequent albums feature a culturally transcendent, timeless quality, and The Bends, outside of "Street Spirit," is just a great bit of fun.
1. Planet Telex 4:19
2. The Bends 4:06
3. High and Dry 4:17
4. Fake Plastic Trees 4:50
5. Bones 3:09
6. (Nice Dream) 3:53
7. Just 3:54
8. My Iron Lung 4:36
9. Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was 3:28
10. Black Star 4:07
11. Sulk 3:42
12. Street Spirit (Fade Out) 4:12
Thursday, September 14, 2017
"Inauspicious." Radiohead's debut album, Pablo Honey, borders on this classification. Radiohead, known for pushing borders just years later, began their career as a fairly generic mid-90's alt-rock band. I posited a theory three years ago that several nations have produced their own equivalent of a Radiohead. The Appleseed Cast in America (this is not a rogue opinion). Kent in Sweden. Kashmir in Denmark. All four pushed the rock music format into startling new territories, but not before kicking off their careers with non-noteworthy, yet enjoyable debuts. Radiohead's does feature a bona fide hit, though, in "Creep," a song from which the band have spent most of their career distancing themselves. "Creep" features a certain pop-chorus, belt-it-at-the-bar feeling none of the band's other songs inhabit, even on this album. However, "Creep" isn't the only departure from later Radiohead.
Through the entirety of Pablo Honey, vocalist, Thom Yorke, lyricises with more transparency than on any of the band's later work, singing nakedly about romantic relationships as his mates plug away at the aforementioned generic alt-rock sound. The music does begin to yield fruit as the album jangles along, particularly in its latter moments, with the emotive guitar of "Lurgee," and the extended psychedelic freak out of a closer, "Blow Out," a harbinger for the anxiety-laden atmosphere Radiohead would soon explore in full. While Pablo Honey might not blow anyone's mind, as debuts go, you could do a lot worse. Radiohead have nothing to be ashamed of here.
Radiohead - Blow Out [Pablo Honey] from faustidioteque on Vimeo.
1. You 3:29
2. Creep 3:56
3. How Do You? 2:12
4. Stop Whispering 5:26
5. Thinking About You 2:41
6. Anyone Can Play Guitar 3:38
7. Ripcord 3:10
8. Vegetable 3:13
9. Prove Yourself 2:25
10. I Can't 4:13
11. Lurgee 3:08
12. Blow Out 4:40
Monday, September 11, 2017
Cool cache for hipsters who can't even comprehend them. The band who changed how music is sold. Musical interpreters of the modern age. In all the talk about cultural impact, marketplace impact, aesthetic impact, blah, blah, blah, something about Radiohead is generally lost in the mix: they are a great band who has created incredible music.
Coming up soon: The Nicsperiment breaks down every Radiohead album...while also focusing on all that other crap, too. How lucky for you, gentle reader. It's like you followed the rainbow and these reviews were in the pot of gold.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
P, you nearly killed me. Well, not you, but somebody nearly killed me while I was writing you. And my wife had major surgery. And my son caught pneumonia. And that is all in the last month. But then again, now I have a new vehicle I like immeasurably more than the last one. My wife and son are well. And you, P, are finished. On to Q. Wait, do I even have any Q's? Wait...none? Not even like a Queens of the Stone Age album or anything? Not even Queen? Nothing? Oh, well. On to R...starting with one of my favorite bands of all time...after these brief messages from our sponsors!
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Beware the accolades of ancient hipsters.
Public Image, Ltd.'s 1979 release, Second Edition, is one of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all times. It's a: Post-punk masterpiece! Avant-garde epic!
Public Image, Ltd.'s Second Edition is a landmark album only in that they got a major label to somehow release it. Some great basic ingredients are here. Jah Wobble (Google how he got this name, it's hilarious) is an excellent bassist for a beginner, and he lays down the bedrock of every track in a sort of punk-reggae-dub hybrid groove. If you buy this album, you'll be buying it for that. The drums are sometimes an excellent complement to the bass, and sometimes just barely passable--multiple people, some not drummers--played the drums on Second Edition. Then we get to the problems. The guitar playing, presaging new wave, and to some extent, the tone of U2's Edge, is sometimes great. Then, without warning, the guitarist will start playing bad notes. I don't know why. Is it some kind of cultural commentary--I could play beautifully...but instead I play badly...just like society?! I love the combination of dominant bass and drums with minimalist, atmosphere-painting guitar, so this could have been right up my alley. I guess my alley ain't dank enough.
Why sabotage your own songs? How can you call this album a classic when it isn't even listenable? Even the odd keyboard touches do little to help. Oh, yeah, and Johnny Rotten on vocals.
Maybe you've heard of the Sex Pistols--Rotten, nee Lydon, fronted that band, too. . In person, Lydon, though he can't sing to save his life, is a force of nature. His off key, off time vocals are a lot easier to accept when his trippy, spiked visage is blurring in and out of your vision. I really enjoy the below live performance, to be honest. I think it presages bands like Radiohead ("Idioteque" comes to mind).
But on record, Lydon's constant wailing is a lot harder to take, as is the entire arrangement.
There are few musical acts I don't enjoy that I wish I did as much as this one. The visual aesthetic and idea of Public Image Ltd. are something I should really love on paper. But yikes, in reality, I don't! What an apt name!
1. Albatross 10:34
2. Memories 5:05
3. Swan Lake 4:11
4. Poptones 7:46
5. Careering 4:32
6. Socialist 3:09
7. Graveyard 3:07
8. The Suit 3:29
9. Bad Baby 4:30
10. No Birds 4:41
11. Chant 5:01
12. Radio 4 4:2