Friday, October 29, 2010
I've been listening to a lot of British pop lately (old Take That CDs, new Wanted album and the new Robbie Williams greatest hits collection) I thought I'd try listening to something different: British rock. I've been busy working on my best albums of 1990s list for next year and I was looking up albums that critics generally considered to be the best of that decade and these two albums came up the most. The Bends and Ok Computer by experimental British band Radiohead.
I am familiar with Radiohead, I wouldn't call myself a fan but I am pretty fond of their work--I loved their fourth album Kid A (2000), which did earn a spot on my best of 2000s list last year and it was really the only album I'd really listened to by them vigorously--it's left-field blend of electronica, experimental warbling rock sounds, distorted chopped up vocal effects and soundscapes was fascinating. However, after listening to these two albums in particular over the last couple days I can see why Kid A is often ranked below these two.
They're experimental rock at its finest. The Bends sets the platform for is emotive mix of instrumental soundscapes, haunting melancholic melodies and cryptic lyrical outlooks ("Planet Telex") and Ok Computer capitalizes and kicks it up a notch--it's angrier, gritter, louder more complex guitar patterns ("Paranoid Android"), illustrating more elaborate imagery ("Climbing Up the Walls") and almost appealingly self-indulgent making it more than work.
They go perfectly hand in hand--almost the same way the first two Oasis albums Defiantly Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? do, one is the foundations that the follow-up is built on. Before I really got into Radiohead, these two records in particular, I didn't think they were overrated, but I did feel critic reviews (particularly on Ok Computer) were stretching a bit, Like when Entertainment Weekly said "taking Britpop to a heavenly new level" or Pitchford Media saying "brimming with genuine emotion, beautiful and complex imagery," I did think, well isn't this the same guitar-driven rock with moody soundscapes as every other '90s British rock band? But I do quite like albums, especially rock albums, that take a lot of unravelling to fully appreciate them.
While I am pretty much blown away by these two records and Kid A, there's still four more albums of their's I haven't quite gotten into to the same degree. Their first album Pablo Honey (1993) doesn't quite dismiss the guitar-driven rock theory I had about the band and from what I can tell the "music snobs" didn't quite like it either. Their last couple releases, especially In Rainbows (2008) is one I'm still unraveling. It's funny because they seem to get less and less accessible as the years go by.