Radiohead Makes Complicated Music That's Starting to Annoy Me

Dear Radiohead,

Stop it.



I have been a Radiohead fan for a long time.  Even before Sally Oldham told me in study hall that she thought of me whenever she heard "Creep," I'd dubbed a copy of "Pablo Honey" from my friend, Rob.  While I enjoyed songs like the aforementioned "Creep," as well as "Stop Whispering," and "Lurgee,"  it didn't completely knock my socks off.  Radiohead was just another good alternative band.

Then came "The Bends."  I suppose in some circles, "The Bends" is probably a litmus test for Radiohead fans.  If you were to ask someone who has listened to Radiohead for a long time which album marked a turning point for the band, they would point you not to "OK Computer," but to "The Bends."  There might not be a more solid Radiohead album from start to finish.  And while it stands fantastically on its own, it shines even brighter when you see it as the evolution of a band from their first record to their second one.

And then everything went insane.  "OK Computer" was released and something was in the water.  Suddenly, Radiohead became the biggest band in the world.  I'll admit that I wasn't enamored with "OK Computer" when I first heard it.  I didn't dislike it, but I didn't love it.  This was entirely because of how much I loved "The Bends."  That's what I was expecting: more of "The Bends."  After all, that's what every other band in the world did -- they made consecutive records of music that generally sounded the same.  But it was clear that Radiohead wasn't going to do that.  It took me a little while, but eventually I was able to embrace "OK Computer" as the amazing album that it is.  And, yet again, it's even more amazing when you consider the progression from "Pablo Honey" to "The Bends" to "OK Computer."

As hard as it was to believe, Radiohead wasn't done yet.  "Kid A" was, yet again, the perfect next step in their progression as a band.  Sure, you could lay it down as something as simple as "Pablo Honey is full of guitars and Kid A is full of machines," but even the songwriting was different -- but not unnatural.  That was the beauty of following Radiohead: you felt like you were a part of their evolution, like you were getting to experience it first hand.  It made their music all the more exciting.

"Amnesiac" wasn't a particular departure from what Radiohead had done before, but with good reason: the songs were recorded at the same time as "Kid A."  It was more of a collection of b-sides than anything, which is a particularly nice way of looking at it if you're inclined to view things the same way that I do.  It also came out less than a year after "Kid A."  It's a wonderful album on it's own (particularly "Pyramid Song" and "Life in a Glass House") but was the first full length Radiohead album that didn't show any movement from the last one.

And that's when things started getting weird.

I liked "Hail to the Thief" well enough, but it felt insubstantial to me, like it wasn't important.  And it's easy to see why I would feel that way: it was stylistically redundant.  There was nothing on that record that could not have shown up on an earlier Radiohead album.  And while that's perfectly fine, it's not what I'd come to expect from this band; honestly, it took away a bit of their shine.

Then again, when was the last time we saw a band transform like that over time?  The fact that they put out an album that wasn't particularly breaking new ground for them could be forgiven; that's a pretty high standard to hold them to.

Four years later, we got "In Rainbows," an album whose quality was overshadowed by the way it was sold.  And while perhaps more focused on electronic music than "Hail to the Thief" had been it was, ultimately, more of the same from Radiohead.  Of course more of the same from Radiohead is generally better than more of the same from any other band, but you can see where I'm going with this.

And that leads us to their latest, "King of Limbs."  Internet hyperbole aside, "King of Limbs" is disappointing to me for one main reason: there's nothing new about it.  I feel like I can take the last 3 Radiohead albums and insert them into the albums that came before.  It seems like they've gotten complacent.

I miss not knowing what to expect from Radiohead.

I realize that it's unreasonable to expect a band to change from album to album, but Radiohead did that...and now they don't.  And that's kind of disappointing.