Love them or hate them, you can’t deny the fact that these five men from Oxford had a massive influence on modern music. Constantly expanding their sound and reinventing themselves, Radiohead had been pushing boundaries since the early 90s. The band generated some polarizing opinions, with some accusing them of being overly pretentious and weird just for the sake of being weird. On the other hand, they have many dedicated fans who are willing to call literally anything the band releases era-defining masterpieces or other pompous nonsense like that. Here’s a little summary of what they have done so far, this time without numerical scores.
1993 – Pablo Honey
This is the one you can skip. Unlike many other bands from that era, Radiohead don’t sound impressive or unique on their debut. For most of the time it’s a very generic mix of britpop and grunge sounds, with loud guitars bursting from most of the tracks, but without any purpose or meaning. Sure, Anyone Can Play Guitar or Lurgee are quite nice songs, but there are many bands of that era who played that kind of music much, much better. This album is probably most known as the one with Creep, but that song is so overplayed I really can’t be bothered to listen to it anymore. Plus, it’s not really representative of the band’s career.
1995 – The Bends
It’s amazing how much progress was made within just two years. On this album, Radiohead take all the sounds that defined 90s rock and shape them to fit their own vision, creating hautingly beautiful soundscapes (Street Spirit, Fake Plastic Trees), frenetic, guitar-driven tracks bursting with creative ideas and showcasing Jonny Greenwood’s unique style (Just, My Iron Lung). It’s far from the optimistic spirit that defined British music in 1995. This record is a melancholic, anxious masterclass. And a teaser on things to come…
1997 – OK Computer
Many critics call this album the best of the 1990s or even the best of all time. While I think this is a great overstatement, I can’t deny the fact that this is one of the most visionary and conscious records I’ve ever heard. The tropes from The Bends are expanded here, and the band threw many more things into the mix. A monumental, multi-layered rock suite? Here’s Paranoid Android. A beatlesque ballad tingling with pessimism and alienation? Karma Police is here for you. These two singles, along with No Surprises are era-defining songs, and we’re just scratching the surface here. A brilliant mixture of noisy guitars, haunting vocals and influences ranging from classical music to ambient, it’s more than an album – it’s an experience.
2000 – Kid A
What do you do after you release one of the most acclaimed albums in music history? Most bands would try (and fail) to replicate that style until they fade into obscurity. Radiohead aren’t most bands though, and they followed up OK Computer with a record that marks one of the bravest and most adventurous stylistic changes in history of music. They switched guitars for synthesizers and other various electronic gizmos and recorded a cold, depressive experimental album. It’s probably the least accesible of Radiohead’s albums, but you should definitely give it a chance. While I can’t say I loved this album I feel a great amount of respect. It takes really huge balls to make a convincing stylistic change like that, and it’s wasn’t the last time Thom Yorke and company shocked the entertainment world.
2001 – Amnesiac
A sort of a sister album to Kid A, it feels like Amnesiac was overshadowed by its older sibling. While these two albums were recorded during the same recording sessions, and you can definitely hear the similarities, Amnesiac has a subtle jazz feel to it. It’s a difficult listen, for sure, but it proves to be rewarding too – it’s a sort of and underrated cult favourite of die-hard Radiohead fans. On the other hand, it serves as a perfect ammunition for people accusing the band of overcomplicating their music – for me it’s hard to really decide what to make of this album, but one thing’s for sure – it’s extremely intriguing.
2003 – Hail To The Thief
If you asked me to define Radiohead with one record this will be the one. The experimental nature of two previous albums stayed here, but this time recorded with a more traditional rock instrumentarium. The music is far from traditional though, as perfectly showcased by the opening 2+2=5. A moody intro just gets more and more intricate before an almost punk finale blasts through the speakers. Synths and electronica are still present though, cue the swirling synth riff of Myxomatosis. It’s also the most politically charged record of the band’s career, and constant switches between angry and moody songs excellently amplifies the message. It would be my favourite Radiohead album, but four years later they astonished the world again…
2007 – In Rainbows
This is it. THIS is the shit, the reason why I love this band. From the frenetic drum beat of 15 Step to the closing sounds of Videotape it is a perfect musical experience, creating a whole new, beautiful world. I don’t really like the term “art rock” but it just fits so good here. Jazz (15 Step), punk (Bodysnatchers), electronica, pop, you name it – so many tropes and inspriations here you can’t help but be impressed by the band’s musical knowledge and craft. One specific song that deserves to be mentioned is Weird Fishes/Arpeggi – stunning guitar work and spine-tingling vocal harmonies (EEEEEEEEED) – the definition of beauty in music. I promised there will be no numerical scores here, but this is a perfect 10 out of 10.
2011 – The King of Limbs
While initially praised by the media, it seems like it became the odd one out in Radiohead’s discography. The band kinda went too far in their electronic experimentation, and the musical quality suffered a lot. By no means is it a bad record, it just kinda… exists. Mellow and peaceful, it’s okay when it plays somewhere in the background, but when you really focus on it you can clearly hear the imperfections. It will probably be remembered as the record that spawned more memes (cue Thom’s dancing in the Lotus Flower video) than memorable songs.
2016 – A Moon Shaped Pool
I have a problem with this one. I don’t want to use the word “boring”, but… Okay, let’s use “melancholic” instead. While the lead single and opening track Burn the Witch is just excellent with its use of strings to create a feeling of suspense and danger, the rest of the album kinda feels flat and lackluster. Maybe it’s just one of these record that takes a long time to get used to and appreciate, but despite these songs being expertly and carefully crafted, it just fails to capture the listeners’ attention. Anyway, it’s worth listening to just for the sake of the beautiful closer, True Love Waits. Well, with the band members engaged in so many side projects it may be a while before we get any new album from Radiohead, so I have plenty of time to get used to this record.