A Guide to: Radiohead

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.

radiohead

1993 – Pablo Honey

MI0003078073

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

R-8655658-1466015287-5242.jpeg

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

cover_4410327122010

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

d5f833c64901ae52e3c3744133ab

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

01-313211

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

c70b99e7439f96d21a69006ff031

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

radiohead-the-king-of-limbs-art-400x400

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

5ff1a78149dbbd4ce818c15d9186

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.

Advertisements

A Guide to: Manic Street Preachers

Not many people have heard about this band, and many of those who did associate it with stadium rock or dad-rock genres. This is wrong on so many levels. The Manics are one of Britain’s most unique and captivating bands. Their sharp lyrics and colorful persona have gained them a relatively small, but very dedicated group of fans, and constant stylistical reinventions gave the Welsh band critics’ approval. This text will be an attempt to give a little insight to the band’s discography and (hopefully) give them some new fans.

Let’s begin, shall we?

manics140912w

The band was founded in 1986 in a small town called Blackwood in Wales by singing guitarist James Dean Bradfield, his cousin Sean Moore (drums), guitarist Nicky Wire and a bassist called Flicker. Flicker quit the band before they released any material and was replaced by guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards (With Wire taking on the bassist duties from now on). On the first three albums the music is credited to Bradfield and Moore, while the lyrics were written by the duo of Wire and Edwards. Following Richey’s mysterious dissapearance in 1995 almost all lyrics are written by Wire.

1992 – Generation Terrorists

cbd602b9402a979b625719576247

After a few messy, but inspired EPs and singles the Manics’ debut was a bold statement. First of all, it hit the runtime of 73 minutes – not many bands have the guts to do that on their first record. There were also various cocky appearances in the media – claiming they would “sell 16 million copies and split up”. A memorable accident happened during an interview with NME – following the accusation that the band wasn’t taking their music seriously, Richey carved “4REAL” into his arm with a razorblade. The band caused some controversy with stunts like that, but the album was far from a bestseller. Musically, it’s an energetic mixture of glam, punk and hard rock, featuring some brilliant riffs (Slash n’ Burn, Stay Beautiful and the fan favourite Motorcycle Emptiness) as well as some really agressive and passionate political statements (You Love Us, Repeat (UK)). To be expected though, there’s quite a bit of filler too – a single, 45-minute or so album would be much more memorable. Overall though, it’s a solid debut that feels youthful and honest

7/10

1993 – Gold Against The Soul

Gold-Against-The-Soul-CD1-cover

A great example that good songs don’t always make a good album. The band attempted to give their sound an extra, grungy flavour and experiment a bit, but the result feels rushed and rather dissappointing. The obvious highlights include From Despair to Where, as well as the marvellous La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh), one of the best songs of their career, but it can’t really save the album from being nothing much than a transition period.

5/10

1994 – The Holy Bible

manic-street-preachers-the-holy-bible

This is it. The very pinnacle of Manic’s discography, an album so dark, twisted and disturbing that it’s really more than an album – it’s a brutal, cleansing experience. Edwards took the majority of the lyrical duties, writing about the Holocaust, anorexia or suicide, while the sound is equally horryfing – raw post-punk where haunting basslines meet military drums and razor-sharp guitars. Bradfield’s vocal expression reaches its disturbing height too – sometimes it’s the devilish mumbling, sometimes it’s a shivering scream from the top of the lungs. It’s difficult to really name any highlights here, this album is a complete work of art – almost an hour of music that’s going to either repel you or make you return to this masterpiece constantly

10/10

1996 – Everything Must Go

461152580469657176b4472a8a461375837-4611525804

The dissapearance of Richey in February of 1995 might as well be and end for the band – the remaining three considered calling it quits before a sudden spark convinced them to continue as a trio. That spark was A Design For Life. A stunning, anthemic song, it quickly became beloved by fans, it also allowed them for a commercial succes. This album produced many hit singles (Kevin Carter, Australia, the title track), but it was far from being a sellout attempt. This is stadium rock at its most noble and honest, joyous and proud, one of the defining British albums of the 90s.

9/10

1998 – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

Manic-Street-Preachers-This-Is-My-Truth

Unfortunately, the Manics took it a bit too far. The follow-up to Everything Must Go fails to achive the delicate balance between rock and pop, leaning more towards the latter. The hit single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next is flawless, but that can’t be said about other promotional songs – The Everlasting and Tsunami seem rather bland and uninspired, despite their obvious catchiness. Some really nice moments here (Ready for Drowning, Nobody Loved You) but it’s hard to call this album essential in the context of their entire discography.

5/10

2001 – Know Your Enemy

39425

Quite possibly their most underrated effort. On the downside, it has a bit of filler (it clocks at 75 minutes), and it would do much better as a shorter, more cohesive album. On the other side it does an excellent job of mixing raw, noisy, distorted tracks with some surprising experiments like a genuine disco song (Miss Europa Disco Dancer) or an attempt to sound like Beach Boys (So Why So Sad). Overall though its led by agressive guitar tones and has a general lo-fi feel to it. A hidden gem in MSP catalogue, definitely worth your time.

8/10

2004 – Lifeblood

6628-lifeblood

This album nearly caused the band to split, was disowned by fans and critics alike, and the band refuses to play these songs live anymore. But is it really that bad? The biggest problem Lifeblood it’s that it doesn’t really sound like Manic Street Preachers. It’s smooth, cold, melancholic, with synth-driven sound that doesn’t fit the band’s aesthetic at all. On the other hand, songs like 1985 or A Song for Departure are truly amazing, not to mention the astonishing Empty Souls or Cardiff Afterlife (dedicated to Richey). Even the controversial lead single, The Love of Richard Nixon has some undeniably catchy hooks. I’m not sure what were the band thinking at the time, but after more than a decade Lifeblood seems so odd and out of place that it’s not a black sheep anymore – it’s so unique in its weirdness it’s became an asset.

6/10

2007 – Send Away The Tigers

01-365513

Apparently, the Manic Street Preachers way of dealing with crysis within the band is recording a postive, triumphant pop-rock album. It worked great in 1996 and proven to be effective in 2007 too. Basically, it’s a collection of 10 songs that mix power pop and hard rock in different proportions, mostly with good results. Hit singles Underdogs and Indian Summer provide the needed dose of catchiness, while Imperial Bodybags hits a little bit harder. Also, this album features one of the greatest moments in MSP career – Your Love Alone is Not Enough featuring a vocal duo with Nina Persson

7/10

2009 – Journal For Plague Lovers

eddb9e7f7ef7c2f2648369cd4a32a4e6.400x400x1

This one was made from lyrics Richey left behind just before he went missing. Don’t worry though, it’s not an overly-emotional tearjerker cash-grab. Instead, Journal… is the closest the band ever get to reprising The Holy Bible stylistic. It borrows heavily from post-punk, but with some modern elements and a few slower tracks in between. It sounds raw and fresh (Steve Albini was the producer). No single promoted this album, and it’s really hard to pick some highlights, it’s a cohesive work of art that’s meant to be enjoyed as a whole. Direct, but not simple music with an intellectual twist, emotional, but in a natural, poetic way.

9/10

2010 – Postcards From a Young Man

manics_review_1285247622

“One last shot at mass communication” as they described it, Postcards ain’t a bad record, it’s just nice, but forgettable pop-rock album with some nice moments. The title track is monumental and epic, (It’s not War) Just The End of Love is sweet and catchy and A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun brings some energy and passion. Not even near their best work, it’s more of an interesting album for die-hard fans rather than a must-listen staple of modern music

5/10

2013 – Rewind The Film

t91252356-gTcaqdkvnqoninyri6ce6mkaa7h4_s400

It’s the Manics at their most subtle and introspective. A mostly acoustic album, Rewind the Film is definitely a grower – it takes time to really appreciate this record. The opening track features vocals by the stunning Lucy Rose, other guests include Richard Hawley and Cate Le Bon (3 Ways to See Despair was apparently intended for Morrissey). Calm and reflective, it sticks out in the band’s back catalogue.

6/10

2014 – Futurology

61ee25034c738684c4ce08de5b68

Recorded during the same session as Rewind the Film, this album feels like the total opposite – brave and innovative. There are elements of new wave, electronica and even industrial on this thing, all fitted into the Manics own style. Again, there are some guests on this album, like Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on melodic Between the Clock and The Bed or Nina Hoss, who sings in a great, bilingual duet with James on Europa Geht Durch Micht. There are also two purely instrumental tracks that fit really well into the overall sound. Despite the band expanding their sound, they still can deliver a great melody – cue the title track, Let’s Go to War or Misguided Missile (which SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SINGLE, dammit!) You can’t really tell what to expect from the band after an album like that, but we’re gonna to find out soon enough – rumours say 2018 or even earlier.

7/10