"We're not scaremongering, this is really happening"

Years active: Genres: Related artists:
1985 - present Alternative Rock, Art Rock n/a

Line-up: Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, keyboards, laptops, et cetera), Jonny Greenwood (guitars, every synth known to man, orchestral arrangements), Ed O'Brien (guitar, backing vocals, miscellaneous gizmos), Colin Greenwood (bass), Phil Selway (drums, percussion).

While big words are usually reserved for the 1960s-1970s rock dinosaurs, I would hope that by this point in time in the 2020s we can earnestly consider Radiohead as one of the most important acts in rock history, as pompous as that might sound. They are unironically The Beatles of the millennial generation, who via their back-to-back trilogy of The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A completely reconfigured the way rock music sounded like from thereon in and which have caused ripples in their wake where the effects are still seen decades later. Later on down the line they had a humongous hand in taking music distribution to the digital age through the way In Rainbows (and to a lesser extent The King of Limbs) was released, and they wrote new chapters in the rulebook that are now such an everyday part of music consumption that people have started to forget someone was there to take the leap to begin with. Even their debut - the one that everyone tends to dismiss - has become synonymous for underachieving debut releases which bear no resemblance to the artist's future works. It's absolutely bewildering just how much Radiohead have achieved in the course of their career; their name is spoken with the kind of reverence that only very few acts are greeted by, and thanks to their sparse but decisive way of approaching recording albums - never willing to release albums just for the sake of it and preferring to take a unique approach to each one - they've never been in a position where they'd have risked tarnishing that reputation with hasty reheats clogging up the discography. There's definitely a certain kind of over-reverence towards them in certain circles, but honestly? It also makes sense why they have such a devoted following.

But naturally, I couldn't stand them when I first heard them. Before the sheer impact of Radiohead's legacy could be really assessed or observed, in some circles they had the less glowing reputation of being try-hard arthouse weirdos, and that was the impression I had too when I first started getting into music on a deeper level. The little pieces and songs I heard were either too far away from my comfort zone, or I was repelled by Yorke's characteristic voice which often sounded practically alien-like - and in hindsight the Kid A / Amnesiac period probably wasn't the best one for first impressions. For a good amount of time I actively avoided Radiohead, but all it took was hearing "No Surprises" randomly on a television program to crack me; I stood in the center of the living room transfixed to watching the music video, and immediately afterwards went to download a few of their albums. "No Surprises" is to date one of my favourite Radiohead songs and while it's far from one of their most unique songs, it was that "normality" that did it for me - hearing just how beautiful and clear their music could be, how strong Yorke could be as a vocalist, both aspects completely removed from my preconceived notions. And from there, the door opened up for me to step in and to leave my misconceptions outside - though ironically Kid A became one of the key releases in converting me to a fan.

I'm not quite as devoted to them as many others - no real reason, just preference - but it's hard not to appreciate just what a great band they are as far as the music goes, and what a truly phenomenal act they are to dive deep into. Their back catalogue may not be the widest but with each release they've brought in something completely new and often unexpected which makes it a treasure to traverse, and there's a lot of additional material to shift through after you've become familiar with the main records (though given how particular they've always been about what they've included on their albums, the flipside is that when you go beyond them things start getting a lot more hit or miss). If you are technically inclined, there's so much to absorb from a musical theory perspective, often in conjunction with their experiments with technology - even a big dumb-dumb like me can detect that from the surface level alone, and having read and heard plenty of detailed analysis going into these aspects nitty-gritty, it's bewildering just how complex even the smallest areas of their work can be. Theirs is a dense discography begging to be observed in close detail, but the human element is also always there to ensure that whatever they release remains emotionally resonant. Not just in a sadsack way either, even though most people tend to use words like "depressing" or "nightmarish" to describe much of their work: the more familiar you become with their back catalogue, the more you realise just how much charm and humour there is, often on account of Yorke's lyricism which is frequently almost conversational and ripe with casual expressions and mannerisms rather than poetic intricacy.

You could argue that there are levels to appreciating Radiohead and you can only reach some of those by genuinely putting some effort in and learning about the background of the music and context around it. So much of their discography can be viewed in completely different ways depending on whether you approach it as just songs to listen to, or if you learn the place of those songs in the wider timeline - it can take years and multiple album cycles between a song being written and finally seeing the light of day on a record, and knowing that journey can sometimes really open them to new interpretations, giving insight to not just Yorke's lyrics but even to the arrangement decisions made. All that makes them the perfect band for music nerds and at this stage I can't even tell anymore how much I appreciated them without knowing any of that. You don't need to do academic reviews, the songs are incredible as they are - but I have ended up falling down that rabbit hole of Radiohead research and the reviews below have been written with that in mind. Sometimes it can be a little awkward, cramming all that information in, but by this stage it feels essential and practically exciting. I think learning about the context behind the music is essential anyway, but I feel like Radiohead are one of the few acts where I feel like my love for them is just as rooted in the "analytical" aspects of it all as it is in, well, how much the music slaps. Maybe that's why they've never ascended to the highest echelon for me, because I approach them in such a "scholarly" fashion?

Pretentious, I know. But you could say the same for the band too, and many do - I used to as well. But it's hard to think of many discographies that are as historically important as they are actually still relevant, having not aged a bit in all these decades even after everyone else took their formulas forward and ran with it. Radiohead still sound original and fresh, their music timeless.

Main chronology:

Other releases:

Side projects:

Thom Yorke:


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1993 6 "You", "Creep", "Stop Whispering"

1) You; 2) Creep; 3) How Do You?; 4) Stop Whispering; 5) Thinking About You; 6) Anyone Can Play Guitar; 7) Ripcord; 8) Vegetable; 9) Prove Yourself; 10) I Can’t; 11) Lurgee; 12) Blow Out

If you stop thinking of this as a Radiohead Moment and just as a slice of 90s emo rock, you're all set for a reasonably enjoyable if unoriginal experience.

Honestly, this isn’t as bad as people say. But then that's probably not surprising.

Given Radiohead’s stylistic evolution and the band’s legacy since, Pablo Honey has long ago stopped being just a slightly underdone debut album. Radiohead were most definitely not a band who arrived fully formed into the world and the clash between their early days and their most famous works is so jarring that Pablo Honey has undergone a cultural transformation. Its name has become the catch-all reference for debut albums that bear no resemblance to the artist's later works, used as a comparison point for any beginnings considered to be either a forgettable throwaway or downright bad (and just to confess, I’ve been guilty of that as well - I’m trying to stop, honest!). These days you tend to just assume Pablo Honey is not a good album. The continuing cultural relevance of “Creep” probably doesn’t help - that the band who have become a sacred cow for so many people is only known in public for a somewhat unintentionally cheesy, extremely 90s angst anthem to end all angst anthemsis arguably a thorn in the side that gets a lot of people a little annoyed.

It shouldn't be too much of a shock then that Pablo Honey is not actually the worst thing ever, but it might be a minor revelation how it's much more competent than expected. Fair enough, it’s hardly as interesting to listen to as the later albums, none of the band members have developed their trademark styles and the musical influences are so openly on display it leans close to being a tribute. You also can’t shake the feeling how much Pablo Honey sounds like a typical 90s example of a one-hit wonder album, the kind that gets relegated to countless discount bins and car boot sales after a single big song: "Creep" simply has such an overwhelming presence over it. But still, none of that makes it a bad listen and in fact, it’s actually close to being rather good. There’s a lot of truth in the common argument that the band didn't exactly have the most inspired sound here and the cheap production certainly doesn't do it any favours, but it’s obvious that even at this stage they had a clue about what makes a good song. “Creep” may be a little worn out but it’s a perfect example of this, with its lingering guitar riff, effectively built quiet/loud mechanics, the delicate addition of a piano to guide the song to its end and the incredibly effective ear worm of a hook that is the famous guitar crunch - all very big, important dynamic moments. There are a lot more similar moments of inspiration scattered throughout the album and plenty of surprisingly strong melodic work slyly hiding underneath. “You”, the opener, in particular is a genuinely great song full of power and volume, straddling between Pixies and Jeff Buckley and its placement as the start of the album is a crucial one - it strips you from all the preconceptions you might go into the album with by greeting you with a genuine keeper.

Just to clarify - it’s not that Pablo Honey is a great album either, per se. Every single flaw listed above between the lines is still valid - its production is pretty dire, the music is derivative, and the whole deal is a bit rough around the edges and unrefined. “Anyone Can Play Guitar” is more unintentionally amusing than legitimately good and there’s a few more obvious duds like “Prove Yourself” where the songs just aren’t up to scratch. But it still manages to shine a little regardless. It’s a scattering of good melodies, great rock parts and memorable Yorke-isms, thrown a little all over the place but frequently enough to keep the ride steady. The only genuine stand-out songs are limited to “You” and “Creep” admittedly, with the atmospheric closer “Blow Out” and bizarrely U2-esque “Stop Whispering” getting a honourable mention, but the majority of the rest of the lot is still captivating. Yorke and the gang already come across convincingly and they have the charisma to sell the songs, turning an otherwise fairly rote set of anxiety rock into a reasonably engaging experience. You can’t really overstate the effect Yorke’s voice plays on this, the young tone already hinting at what is one of the most strangely commanding voices of his generation.

The nutshell summary of it all then is that Pablo Honey is actually a pretty decent album in itself. Radiohead went onto have such a great and fascinating career that they ended up completely undermining where they started from in the process, but that’s not really Pablo Honey’s fault. While it’s pretty obviously the weakest part of Radiohead’s discography, it’s got more charm to it than it’s commonly given credit for - to the point in fact that if they had decided to make a life out of going further along this path, they still probably would have turned out to be a great band, just a very different one. It's the blatantly awkward first steps and a reminder that you shouldn't always start chronologically when checking out interesting artists, but it's got enough to give credit for it that even a 6/10 review ends up sounding positively glowing.

Physically: A standard, simple early 1990s jewel case with a small booklet primarily full of photos, no lyrics.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1995 7 "The Bends", "Fake Plastic Trees", "Street Spirit (Fade Out)"

1) Planet Telex; 2) The Bends; 3) High and Dry; 4) Fake Plastic Trees; 5) Bones; 6) (Nice Dream); 7) Just; 8) My Iron Lung; 9) Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was; 10) Black Star; 11) Sulk; 12) Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Talk about a growth spurt.

Radiohead are traditionally seen as a band who are not bothered by the expectations of others and thus they fearlessly do exactly whatever it is they want at any given time. This is for the most part completely true (and it's why most of their albums sound completely unexpected), with the exception of The Bends. At this stage the band were dealing with critics who had already labelled them a one hit wonder after "Creep", audiences who only wanted to hear "Creep" and a record label who really, really wanted them to record more "Creeps", and so there was an incredible amount of pressure on the band for their sophomore. What made things worse is Radiohead had never been too keen on their sudden smash hit to begin with (the signature guitar disruptions were an attempt to sabotage the song, which backfired spectacularly) and thanks to its runaway fame, they had already began to despise the song they felt had became an anchor around their necks - the first informal taster for The Bends was "My Iron Lung" which was a very unsubtle dismissal of "Creep". Rather than cave in to the pressure of the follow-up, Radiohead's motivation for their second album became the need to demonstrate to the world that there was more to them than just one song and that whatever they released needed to shut up any doubters who were dismissing the band as already-has-beens.

So The Bends is all about Radiohead proving their worth and it does it with flying colours. While it’s a clear continuation from the grunge-era guitar walls Pablo Honey rather than a radical shake-up, Radiohead are not just showing a whole lot more ambition and range here but they're also not so subtly showing it off and flexing their capabilities. There’s a wider range of tones and moods than Pablo Honey ever had and running through the album is constant and obvious experimentation with production choices, arrangements and atypical song structures; even Yorke has stepped up with his lyrics, starting to develop his own characteristic voice. "Planet Telex" is a very intentional starting point for the album because it demonstrates from the lift-off that this isn't the same Radiohead who made their humble appearance a few years ago, its spacey atmospherics, loop-like drums and electric piano distancing the band as far as they can from the previous album's limited soundworld. Though "Planet Telex" is the furthest out there that The Bends goes, much of the album sounds like Radiohead challenging themselves to do something new with every song like each track began as a songwriting exercise to write something in X sound or style. It's never predictable where the album goes and just when you think you've figured The Bends out, it throws another curveball or sidestep to a different style and sound with the next song.

That's much of the album and not all, and thanks to that it becomes ridiculously obvious what the lowlights are. The Bends is a classic by its reputation and due to its importance in the wider Radiohead timeline, but it's not a classic wholly on its songs - otherwise we wouldn't have "Sulk", "Black Star" or "Bones" cluttering the tracklist. They're so close to Pablo Honey that their inclusion here was either the band throwing an uncharacteristic bone to the past audiences or they simply didn't have as much new material as they thought they did and thus some b-roll material was thrown in to fill the album. It's the only way to explain the gap between their middle-of-the-road rock antics and the rest of the album: if The Bends is about looking forward, then these three songs inexplicably revert back to the past. On Pablo Honey they may have stood out more positively but in the new company they're in they're sticks in a mud and almost haplessly straightforward compared to everything else going on.

That "everything else" meanwhile really is one of music's great and unexpected level-ups. Half the album was released as singles in one way or another and they're largely all incredible and miles ahead of anything on the last album. "Planet Telex" soars with its space-age textures, "High and Dry" is a rare glimpse of Radiohead in an unabashed pop mode in a way they'd these days rather forget about even though songs like this demonstrate how brilliant they were at it, "Fake Plastic Trees" launched a thousand other British rock ballads draped in strings and none of them ever bettered the earnest emotional power of the original, "My Iron Lung" is a noisy and unpredictable kiss-off that gets more delightfully sassy as it goes while bridging this and the last album together in a very natural manner, and "Street Spirit" as the closing chapter points the way forward to the next, previewing the anxiety and depression of OK Computer as it submerges itself into a gorgeous, haunting darkness that's scarily blissful towards the vocal runs of the end (a sentiment like "immerse your soul in love" has never sounded more foreboding). The direct guitar anthem "Just" is the only one that's never particularly grabbed me and it's for no real reason why that I could point out (great video though!), but I do find that the borderline joyously bouncy "The Bends" actually does everything it does but better, and in my imaginary timeline these would have swapped their single and deep cut statuses; "The Bends" also very powerfully brings the album back to earth after the shock cold open of "Planet Telex" which further adds to its impact. "Nice Dream" and "Bullet Proof" in-between are both slow and atmospheric, too gentle to jump out but beautifully serene enough to sink into, showcasing the band's growing desire to build and sustain moods rather than simply go out loud at all times; plus, the sudden wake-up call of "Nice Dream"'s ending is the most memorable structural whiplash thrown at the listener on the record.

The thing is, The Bends is clearly a transitional album: not only for Radiohead themselves whose story would start in earnest with OK Computer (as most people would attest to), but also for British rock as a whole as you can easily point to specific songs here that acted as launchpads for the entire careers of other groups. That's a ridiculous amount of accolade and cultural importance which can easily obstruct that at the end of the day this is still an album by a band caught in the middle of a more significant development phase. Therefore, all the usual hallmarks of transitional albums apply here too despite The Bends' significance in the Radiohead biography: it's one foot in the future and the other still stuck in the past, moments of brilliance and exciting peeks in future directions interspersed with old ways still lingering around and hints of change that have yet to be fully realised. A good half of this album is inarguably brilliant and still stands strong with the rest of the band's discography even if they undoubtedly became a much more exciting band later down the line, and though the other half of the tracklist is more hit and miss there is a rush of excitement in hearing the band figuring out who they are with such vivid ambition. Often that energy and ambition also translates to genuinely excellent pieces of 90s guitar crunch. Over the years I've gone back and forth and back and forth with The Bends (in RYM it's probably one of the albums I've most changed the rating to), from early indifference to various honeymoon phases when it cracked through my defenses and then wild pendulum motions depending on which aspect of the band resonates with me more at any given moment. It probably tells as much about me as a listener as it does about The Bends' nature as an album in-between phases and while I've now landed somewhere between "good" and "really good" with it, don't let the comparatively "low" (pft) personal rating fool you. This is still an essential 1990s rock album for its influence alone.

Physically: Jewel case with a fold-out booklet of lyrics and weird, cryptic sketches.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1997 9 "Let Down", "No Surprises", "Lucky"

1) Airbag; 2) Paranoid Android; 3) Subterranean Homesick Alien; 4) Exit Music (For a Film); 5) Let Down; 6) Karma Police; 7) Fitter Happier; 8) Electioneering; 9) Climbing Up the Walls; 10) No Surprises; 11) Lucky; 12) The Tourist

Pre-millennial angst that changed things forevermore. You know this.

I'd like to think I'm good about not letting the wider critical world affect my own amateur reviews. Rather than saying this or that is overrated or underrated, or making parallels about my opinions vs everyone else's, I prefer looking at things within my own bubble - after all, it's my opinion that matters the most to my listening habits and I imagine someone would read my thoughts to learn what I personally think. With some records that's harder than others. There's a number of albums that are so universal that they form a part of our collective consciousness even if we don't care about them: albums which have been discussed and analysed so often and in such great detail due to their importance and place in the canon that there is literally nothing new to say. Most of the time, I can still comfortably get by. Enough time has passed from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and other sacred cows that the old canon narratives are actively being argued against while new ones are established and there's a wider variety of opinions challenging the old classics, and somewhere between those lines I'm able to place my own opinion without feeling like I'm better off just linking to the relevant Wikipedia section. Not to mention that for most iconic records, I'm too much of a natural contrarian to hold them in the highest of pedestals in the first place.

OK Computer is a curveball for me in this regard. It's a landmark album, and even I agree with that - to a degree that it feels like an actual challenge to start dissecting it apart. You're not going to find unique angles to view this album through from me, is what I am saying. It's my generation's Sgt Peppers, and I'm saying that without a single ounce of hyperbole. It's a cultural milestone that has affected so much of the other music I enjoy, inspired countless other musicians and shifted genre trends. To this day it causes so much discussion, analysis and over-analysis that we are all absolutely sick of it. We can all recite from memory the story of Thom Yorke and co becoming increasingly fatigued by society and music industry at the same time as they felt their ambitions limited by their early sound, and in turn exploding in fame and finding themselves even more fatigued through the record they made to channel all of that frustration and ambition through. And if you don't, you're pretending - because OK Computer transcends any genre barrier knowledge if you're even remotely passionate about music. It's omnipresent.You can't avoid it, no matter how much you want.

Even now, OK Computer is a prime example of a band reaching for their lofty ambitions and realising the breadth of their own skill set, and taking a boundary-breaking leap within their own path. Comparing Pablo Honey and The Bends to it is practically pointless because the change is so vast: there's enough hints on both albums, particularly The Bends, to point out where OK Computer came from but the narrative is loose, the familiarities superficial at best. OK Computer effectively re-introduces Radiohead from scratch: the urban angst of grunge-era guitar walls has evolved into pre-millennial apathy and depression, and the band are musically thinking outside their own box to the point that the tropes introduced here are now aspects the band are forever associated with. Not just that, but they're also elements that are echoed within the particular kind of rock music that followed in OK Computer's wake. You can trace a direct genealogy from it to nearly everything that has been happening in indie and alternative rock since. You think of angst-laden, introspective guitars and you'll be able to trace them here.

Like all the very best progenitors, OK Computer still sounds like its own thing even now. Despite how many times its tricks have been repeated, there's nothing that combines them quite like here. Part of it is due to Radiohead's own uniqueness, the very specific traits its members have: Yorke's falsetto wailing (oft imitated, never bettered) and characteristic lyrical style most obviously, but also Jonny Greenwood's flourishes inspired by modern classical and Phil Selway's razor-sharp drumming. There's also the neurotic flair that OK Computer is powered by that has never really been captured by its followers in quite this way. Yorke was very obviously not having a good time, the band as a whole found inspiration through it and traces of it are all over the album, whether it's the resigned exhaustion of "No Surprises", the anger of "Electioneering" or the downright crippling paranoia of "Climbing Up the Walls". OK Computer frequently sounds like its suffocating within its own four walls creeping closer together, only to push them periodically away to reveal something hopeful for a fleeting moment.

OK Computer isn't Radiohead's best album. I understand why "Paranoid Android" is iconic and as admirable as its multi-suite progression is, I've never seen it as a particular discography highlight and its first part towers above the others to the point I wish it was the blueprint for the entire song, and "Electioneering" meanwhile is basically an attempt to re-do R.E.M.'s "Ignoreland" but quite simply not as good. They're good but neither are songs I could say lifts the album for me. I also just think that Radiohead started to get really interesting after they decided to deconstruct and reassemble themselves in OK Computer's aftermath, which is when their skitterish neuroses found a sound that perfectly suited it. But, I understand why it's such a revered album, and it wouldn't need a great stretch to make me into a true believer too. After all, many of their best songs are here. "Let Down" is in some days is in fact the best song they ever wrote, period, making the world-weary desire to disappear into the most gorgeous thing when in its final minutes the song jumps off a cliff and soars into the sunset on the wings of its layered vocal parts and intensifying instrumental section. "Karma Police" is one of Radiohead's most haunting but bottles a quietly churning rage, and it twists that dagger deeper with each new section it offers. The finale for "Exit Music (For a Film)" is like that bottled rage finally breaking through, igniting into a wall of distressed sound of the like the band's rarely tried since.

The final stretch of the album is also probably one of the all-time best closing runs: "Climbing Up the Walls" makes an orchestral section sound distressingly claustrophobic (it's phenomenal, by the way); the simple but endlessly beautiful "No Surprises" is the other big contender for the band's best song and in fact its quiet but powerful fragility is what converted me into thinking there's something to this band after all; "Lucky" is as atmospheric a rock anthem as the band would ever do and the second verse's introduction of the simple keyboard texture is one of my pet favourite moments of simple instrumental additions making a real difference; and "The Tourist" achingly floats in its own world, giving the paranoia of the album a calm breathe out in the end. OK Computer has throughout its length hit with some big punches and overall high quality miserablist rock, but it concludes like a real iconic moment in music history.

Furthermore, OK Computer still feels just as relevant as it always was as well, maybe even moreso in this modern society that's growing more cynical and fatigued by the month. It's just as evocative and its songs are still impactful, proving their strengths despite every single one of them having been picked to their bones over the years; including the "Fitter Happier" interlude, which genuinely has its own important slot in the overall flow and Greater Thematics of the album. OK Computer is a truly great album, often stunningly so, and very audibly a moment where a band realised their own capabilities towards greatness and made them a reality. That so many people in the world agree with me, a lot of them way more passionately than I do, is a happy coincidence. This is all to say that out of all the albums in my collection, OK Computer is probably the one record I find the most difficult to discuss, but you're in luck: in a matter of seconds you can find thousands of reviews, articles and in-depth essays that say what I'd likely think anyway. This must be what Beatles fans feel like.

It's not one of my personal all-time greats but its place among the canon is more than justified.

Physically: Jewel case with a wonderfully thick booklet with all the lyrics (garbled up and chaotic, like written at the brink of madness) and tons of liner artwork and images, all in a chaotic collage style that pins down the album's context and concept.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2000 8 "Everything in Its Right Place", "The National Anthem", "How to Disappear Completely"

1) Everything in Its Right Place; 2) Kid A; 3) The National Anthem; 4) How to Disappear Completely; 5) Treefingers; 6) Optimistic; 7) In Limbo; 8) Idioteque; 9) Morning Bell; 10) Motion Picture Soundtrack

The famous reinvention. Not as radical to modern ears but it's hard to argue this didn't leave an impact and changed Radiohead forever. And it remains great.

Kid A, too, is an album with a Legacy (boy these guys sure have these?). It’s defined by its origin story and cultural context so much that the music largely comes secondary: notice how Kid A is mostly talked about as a whole, rather than as individual songs. It’s the story of a rock band whose sound defined the late 90s abandoning all that, taking their music into a whole new world and who then ended up defining rock music as a whole afterwards. By now artists going electronic is a trope we’ve come to expect during the lifetime of every guitar band and it wasn’t exactly rare before Kid A either (see 1998, the year bands seemed to collectively discover samplers and synthesizers) but Radiohead’s open love for electronic music and the sheer conviction they threw themselves out into the new world with – not to mention their global size at the time – changed gears forevermore. Add some flair about the usage of internet in its infancy and the disconnection and chaos the band themselves felt about what they were doing, and you’ve got the ingredients to a perfect analytical album retrospective. Even if it’s not all true, it sounds plausible enough to be so.

It’s not unusual for context-specific significance to fade away for those who come to the artefact later on down the line, having become used to the effects of the revolution. No one who’s gone through Modern Rock 101 would expect Kid A to sound as wild now as it did back then, even back when I got into this roughly a decade ago. Well, it does – kind of. It’s still a significant album in Radiohead’s discography. But there’s this nagging feeling at the back of your head whenever you listen to it, especially when you first put it on after all the raving and story-building and one which you can never shake fully even after you’ve come to readjust your views. Wasn’t this supposed to be an electronic album?

Kid A is more like a hedging-your-bets kind of transitionary album than the genre revolution it’s made out to be. Amnesiac took the full dive and Hail to the Thief moulded it all together but Kid A is still clearly the work of the same band who made OK Computer, logically progressing from one point to the next. A lot of guitar, a lot of conventional band playing, a lot of the same songwriting you’ve come to expect. The much touted electronic elements aren’t even the best part of the album. “Everything in Its Right Place” is really good but fizzles out into nothing rather than keeps its momentum, “Treefingers” goes all ambient but is ultimately an interlude and the parallel universe dance anthem “Idioteque” is great until you hear any of its live versions and discover how disappointingly flat the album version is. Only the glacial IDM gallop “Kid A” feels like a great idea meeting a fully fleshed out production. It’s the moment where your expectations meet reality, and it’s great.

But Kid A is an excellent album nonetheless. If conjures a soundscape of isolation and ice-cold otherworldliness perfectly – someone once said the cover art is like looking at a forest fire from a distance, observing the chaos from afar in silence, and it’s a great way to describe the album’s atmosphere. It’s filled with anxiety, terror and horror (“we’re not scaremongering, this is really happening”) but it’s distanced from all of it, wrapped up in its isolation chamber and covering all the panic with a cool detachment. Here and there the shield breaks down – the soul-crushing existential loneliness of “How to Disappear Completely”, the bits of “Idioteque” where it almost goes mental (and would, without the production stopping it) – but Kid A picks itself back up quickly, fixes the front and returns to its wintery solitude. Radiohead have made a career out of standing at the verge of madness – here they sound calm and at ease, in a manner more disconcerting than when they’re about to break down.

The bit about no one ever mentioning Kid A’s songs makes sense the more you tug into the album. It’s not album where titles jump out of the tracklist in a “that is my jam” kind of way, but it’s a tracklist where each song knows its place in the greater whole. The “Optimistic”/”In Limbo” duo is the perfect example. “Optimistic” throws away any notion of this being an electronic album with what it being a rifftastic rock band effort and it’s nowhere near among Radiohead’s best in that regard, but its relative loudness and brashness acts as an excellent foil to the rest of the album and it sounds far better in its right place than it does out of it. “In Limbo” is effectively an extended outro that had the audacity to try to morph into its own song and it’s a little too formless to make it fully work, but it’s hard to not get wrapped in its groove when it slyly appears on the album. It’s a cliché but Kid A is first and foremost an album rather than a selection of songs, and the sum is far greater than the parts ever will be individually. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have songs that wouldn’t be great on their own. “Kid A” is an exciting glimpse into what the album could be, “How to Disappear Completely” is a spine-chilling classic and arguably Radiohead’s greatest “ballad” (“mood piece” is probably a better term), “The National Anthem” is one hell of a groove-monster you would not expect this album to contain, coming with an instant classic bass riff, and “Morning Bell” finds the band taking the sound elements of the title track and applying them onto a rock song in fantastic, hypnotic results.

None of it’s really revolutionary. In fact, you can hear traces of them all in Radiohead’s prior works and they’re only now becoming realized. Kid A’s supposed genre shift feels more and more out of place the more you listen to it, the more you listen to Radiohead and the more you listen to music. There’s countless albums that have been branded with “Artist XYZ’s Kid A” that actually do the Kid A thing better than the real deal does. But the more you listen to the album and the more you listen to Radiohead, the more it’s clear that the shift is mostly in the personal level. Whether or not it’s radical in how it does it, this album is where Radiohead re-wrote their own rulebook and took a new approach to writing and playing music that they still hold onto today. As an album it’s not quite the 90s gloom rock as the ones prior or the twitched-up art rock of the albums after, happily mediating in the middle. As a bridge it works perfectly – for so many people this was the album that made them realise sides of the band they’d never thought about and opened the way onwards, myself included. The legacy and the hype might not quite hit the nail on the head then, but it still holds an important place in the band’s history and in people’s record collections. That, however, is because of the music within and the overall experience the ten songs work together to bring.

Physically: Another jewel case with another thick booklet, but this time all artwork and no lyrics (which isn't too surprising given how fragmentary they so often are here). Some copies of the album also came with a second booklet if you lifted the CD tray - mine only has some additional artwork underneath.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2001 7 "Pyramid Song", "I Might Be Wrong", "Like Spinning Plates"

1) Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box; 2) Pyramid Song; 3) Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors; 4) You and Whose Army?; 5) I Might Be Wrong; 6) Knives Out; 7) Morning Bell/Amnesiac; 8) Dollars and Cents; 9) Hunting Bears; 10) Like Spinning Plates; 11) Life in a Glasshouse

Everything that was thought to be too chaotic for Kid A, packaged together into its own unhinged entity.

A very old review I once wrote for Amnesiac described it as the moment that Radiohead disappeared deep up their own behinds. Others have described it as the Radiohead album that sounds like what people who hate the band think they sound like. Half the people who like the album still call it "Kid B" and consider it as a selection of outtakes not good enough to be on Kid A. So, that should give you an idea of what we're dealing with here.

All of that's a little bit true. The Kid A/Amnesiac sessions were very fruitful: Radiohead tore apart their sound, spent an awful long time reconstructing it into something new and once the pieces started falling into place the band found themselves with a deluge of new songs as they kept experimenting. Kid A was the spearhead of the revolution, and it was carefully constructed as a statement of intent. The plan was always to release two albums and Amnesiac was intended to be the wild child: while it's not made out of discards as such, it does act as a catch-all for everything that didn't suit the more controlled environment of Kid A. Some of it is Radiohead at their least compromising: the backing track for "Like Spinning Plates" is a backmasked version of another song that wasn't even out yet, "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" is the skeletal backing track to an attempt to record the already-fabled "True Love Waits" but with all its melody stripped out it sounds like a robot bashing its head against the wall repeatedly. Most of it, though, is Radiohead jamming in the studio without borders - attempts at jazz ("Life in a Glasshouse"), indie disco floor fillers ("I Might Be Wrong"), anxious full band rock music that now sounds like a strange revisit to their imminent past ("Knives Out"), inwards synth pop ("Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box"), et al. This is Radiohead at their most self-serving, where almost everything is a love-it-or-hate-it deal bound to split opinions.

Regardless, Amnesiac isn't really a challenging album as much as it is just disorganised and dense to get through as a result of it, flipping itself around and over its head at every turn and running through the whole gamut of Radiohead at the same time. The disquietingly haunting and depressingly beautiful "Pyramid Song" is a Radiohead all-time great and one of the key tracks in their entire discography, sending shivers down the spine everytime it descends with its ghostly falsettos, ethereal strings and Selway's most legendary drumming part; "I Might Be Wrong" and its razor-sharp groove is a personal back catalogue favourite, Yorke & co interpreting dance music as something just as nerve-wrecking and anxiety-inducing as anything else in their ouevre and blessing it with one of their best guitar riffs which jerks and jangles with near-delight. It's mad that those career highlights are on the same album as the superfluous re-recording of "Morning Bell" (less drums, more plaintive atmosphere) which mainly just serves as a flimsy bridge between the two records without ever threatening to be the definitive version of the song, or the nondescript jazz of "Life in a Glasshouse" that might just be the most throwaway composition the band ever released on one of their albums; and yet, the likewise jazz-tinged "You and Whose Army?" and "Dollars and Cents" pull the album back into focus after losing its track along the way, their crescendos having the same gloomy power as OK Computer but reshaped. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" in no way justifies its four-minute length, but then "Like Spinning Plates" turns out to be a surprisingly powerful song despite its "lazy" backdrop, where Yorke's rising vocals in combination with the abstract soundscape behind him sounding apocalyptic and strikingly moving. All this back-and-forth has been gathered equally around the sides of "Knives Out", an olive branch to everyone who thought Radiohead had abandoned guitars forever and because of its relative normality it sounds the most alien out of it all in this context, despite still being an odd endless rush forward without a chorus. There's no running thread through any of it; the ball of yarn has unravelled across the floor.

The reason for listing all these songs one after another is to make the point that Amnesiac is a collage. It's a group of individual pieces that pull the listener from one extreme to another without a break, apart from the interlude "Hunting Bears" that effectively acts as this album's "Treefingers" as an offer of a moment's quiet from the maelstrom around it. The band once described the two albums along the lines of Kid A being the equivalent of staring at a forest fire from a great distance and Amnesiac was the center of the blaze. There is no convenient cohesive harmony, but a collection of screams colliding into one another and forging a new context through that cacophony. And, perversely, I enjoy it because of that. As frustrating as it can be in places, so much of it is positively bewildering and continuously revelatory; I've always enjoyed "Packt Like Sardines" but I don't think I've truly found it as exciting before as I have discovered it to be while going back to the album for this review, its clanging production hiding underneath it a pogoing dance number, like a nightmare version of Hot Chip. The first half of the album is miles better than the second to a degree it's not even funny, but even at its most alienating or meandering it sounds interesting, and the only time it genuinely falls apart clumsily is "Life in a Glasshouse", ending the album with the twiddling of thumbs rather than a befitting closure.

Amnesiac absolutely deserves some of the criticisms it gets: it's an unhinged mess that swings wildly in quality, endlessly stuck to be compared against its big brother and losing in very obvious ways. In the Radiohead rankings, it's always close to the bottom because it is one of the few times when the band's consistency slipped. But Radiohead at their messiest - loose and uncontrollable but in control of their own goals - is still an interesting prospect to listen to. Amnesiac isn't a grower so much as it is a blind grab bag that offers something different each time you put your hand in it, its contents a selection of fragmented ideas which would fuel the rest of the band's lifetime. It's altogether a fascinating flipside to Kid A's more focused vision of the band's future.

Physically: Jewel case with an extremely thick booklet full of discordant artwork (sketches, collages, manipulations) and fragments of garbled lyrics throughout.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2001 8 "Like Spinning Plates", "Idioteque", "True Love Waits"

1) The National Anthem; 2) I Might Be Wrong; 3) Morning Bell; 4) Like Spinning Plates; 5) Idioteque; 6) Everything in Its Right Place; 7) Dollars and Cents; 8) True Love Waits

Or how to reinvent the reinvention.

Both Kid A and Amnesiac were rooted in studio experiments, built often out of fragments and sequences that were taped together and often didn't even involve every member of the band. If you're looking for a Radiohead live album then I Might Be Wrong isn't really that, thanks to its very narrow tracklist that's barely a third of your usual setlist. Rather, it's the third part of the trilogy with Kid A and Amnesiac: a companion piece that acts as a vertical slice of how the band would tackle the necessary reconfiguration of the songs they had just written and released.

The version of "Like Spinning Plates" on this album has come to define the entire release because it's the most extreme transformation that Radiohead reveal across the eight songs. The original, based entirely on a reverse-played backing track, is now a lone piano piece that's musically so different that the audience stays quiet an awful long time all the way until Yorke starts singing (except for the one person who gets it before everyone else and whose solemn cheer can be heard on the record). The effect of the song hasn't changed, the original version was a spectacularly haunting and beautiful moment to begin with and the best purely experimental work of the sessions, but arranging it into as a more traditionally dramatic piano piece underlines the strength of the melodies the song always had. It's just Yorke and a piano, but it's more ominously commanding of attention than the rest of the "set".

Speaking of the rest, nothing else is quite as radically reimagined but there are tweaks to the songs across the board and they somewhat argue the point that even though these were albums built on studio wizardry, they truly ascend when performed on stage. "Idioteque" and "Everything in Its Right Place" are found in their definitive versions here: the former adds Selway's live drums from the second verse onwards which dials the song up from a smooth synth pop piece into an apocalyptic freakout, and "Everything" is allowed to build up into the sensory overload rave the album version only threatened to go towards."Morning Bell", "I Might Be Wrong" and "The National Anthem" were already among the most dynamic and band-centric songs of the entire period, and as it turns out they sound all the more better when it is actually the full band building up the noise together. "Morning Bell" has a tighter rock band sound that draws it closer to the pre-2000s version of the band, the undeniable groove of "I Might Be Wrong" is - by no surprise - even stronger when it's played by a five-piece band interlocked with each other's chemistry live, and "The National Anthem" replaces the car crash horn section with Yorke frantically scatting on the microphone and pushing the guitars up further to achieve a different kind of franticness. Only "Dollars and Cents" feels superfluous, both from a conceptual perspective because out of all the songs it was already the most traditionally Radiohead-esque, and simply considering how it wasn't a particular session stand-out to begin with (as nice as it is) compared to some of the songs left out.

"True Love Waits" at the end is the unexpected contrast. The song had been around since the early 1990s and the band had spent years already in trying to find an arrangement they'd like and failing in process; it would take until 2016 for them to finally settle on a version they saw fit to release on an album. It had been bounced around in the Kid A sessions too, but the version here is the last encore of the set, with just Yorke and his guitar waving a gentle goodbye to the audience. They'd never better this barebones arrangement: "True Love Waits" is a deeply - and atypically for Radiohead - sincere little love song that cherishes the little moments, and it's one of the few songs in Radiohead's catalogue that sounds genuinely happy. Certainly the only one that sounds a little soppy but that's not a bad thing here. It's Yorke laying down all his defenses and just living in a silly love song for a little moment, and it's genuinely heartwarming. It's the unexpected last note (on record) for this period of wild experiments, alienating sounds and chaotic arrangements as Radiohead undresses everything to the bare minimum, revealing the human element that had been hiding all along underneath the robotic voice filters, fragmented samples and laptop noises. It's a poignant end, and a wonderful song.

As said, if you're looking for a Radiohead live album then this isn't one that would be in any way indicative of their sets or act as a summary of the band on their stage form. But if you're looking for an extension to the band's most radically transformative era and want to get an idea of how they'd build the bridge from there to what will effectively be the "typical" Radiohead sound from now on, that's where I Might Be Wrong comes to play. It's a great set of interesting live versions, and a showcase that despite the intentional reconfiguration of what being in a band means, there in fact was still a tight band there.

Physically: Housed in a slightly extra-sized hard cardboard case, like a supersized gatefold-style case, which opens up like one to reveal a wide centrefold of collage-esque artwork. No liner notes, only the credits at the back of the case and and OK Computer-era style checkbox list on one of the "pages".


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2003 8 "Sit Down, Stand Up", "Where I End and You Begin", "There There"

1) 2+2=5; 2) Sit Down, Stand Up; 3) Sail to the Moon; 4) Backdrifts; 5) Go to Sleep; 6) Where I End and You Begin; 7) We Suck Young Blood; 8) The Gloaming; 9) There There; 10) I Will; 11) A Punchup at a Wedding; 12) Myxomatosis; 13) Scatterbrain; 14) A Wolf at the Door

Letting their hair down and summarising their stylistic journey within one disc, incohesive as it is.

When I first got into Radiohead, I considered Hail to the Thief my favourite album of theirs for some time. Generally speaking the album is seen by many as a bit of a letdown because for the first time since the mid-nineties, Radiohead had released an album that didn't codify the rulesets of contemporary rock or invent brand new ones from scratch. Here, they're just a band playing some songs they had recently written together in the same room. Hail to the Thief is an extended potpourri and a moodboard of everything Radiohead had adopted as part of their souhnd during the past several years: the crossroads where the manic guitar numbers, the twitchy laptop textures, the heartbreaking melancholy and sly dark humour all come together to play ball. But where established fans perhaps saw it as a retread of past ideas, my younger version considered it a combination of everything I had come to love about the band, and so it became an easy favourite.

The goal of Hail to the Thief was to bring things down a notch, to lower the stakes. Instead of spending another excruciating several-month run trying to figure out a way to create another revolution, Radiohead opted to rely solely on their instinct. The entire record was brought together over a couple of weeks in Los Angeles where the band finalised and recorded the songs live in studio with as few takes as possible, giving no chance for second guessing or endless reiterating to creep up. It's a purely coincidental similarity but as a big Manic Street Preachers nerd I've always drawn parallels between this and the Manics' Know Your Enemy from two years earlier: itself another fragmented, chaotic piece of work where the band in question went for gut feeling over studio magic. Both were recorded outside the artists' usual haunts and were put together with intentional haste with as little overdubs or takes as possible, they each express a range of styles and sounds yet somehow sticks together rather than falls apart, and they draw their inspirations from a mix of political and personal: in the case of this album, George W. Bush's war on terror looming overhead and Yorke's recent fatherhood mixing together into free-flowing vignettes of fear for the future in a myriad of ways. Both are also albums characterised by their messiness and their rough edges as a result of that intentional rushing, but the big difference between them is that where Manics took their album as an opportunity to deem any wild idea that came to mind as a viable experiment, Radiohead instinctually dove into the bag of tricks they already knew - all of them. There is an argument here that after all the experimentation, this is the start of the final form of the Radiohead we have come to know and love since: a seamless mixture of electronic textures and technically adventurous live musicianship that defines their sound, the result of them taking lessons learned and stitching them together naturally without overthinking it.

Of course Hail to the Thief is long and unwieldy, that much is clear from a fourteen-title track list where nothing is an obvious interlude, though the short barebones lament "I Will" might be arguable there. Because the songs run relatively compact the actual runtime is "only" around 56 minutes, but it feels longer thanks to the constant tonal shifts. That can comfortably swing from one extreme to another: the slave boat death crawl "We Suck Young Blood", the synthesizer abyss of "The Gloaming", the pounding and accessible rock of "There There" and the cheekily swaggering "A Punchup at a Wedding" are only minutes away from one another and yet they all take the listener into wildly different places without batting an eyelid. When the songs do come together and form a harmonious flow, it sounds it was accidental. Not everything is a winner and it's a flaw Radiohead themselves have admitted, blaming the good intention of capturing ideas when fresh without thinking them over - and you could certainly make a much tighter and perhaps even more cohesive experience by dropping off some of the loose weight. "We Suck Young Blood" runs out of steam and ideas within its first minute and the surprise jazz jam in the middle isn't enough to liven it up, "Backdrifts" is catchy but an obvious b-side, "The Gloaming" and "I Will" are underdeveloped and in the case of the former it doesn't help that the band's subsequent live rearrangement sounds so much better than the studio version. Even at its flimsiest Hail to the Thief is not so weak it would become bothersome but there are absolutely inconsistencies, and though it's far from the most bloated tracklist I've seen even I can't argue for retaining it as-is for the sake of some vague concept or whatever.

The test then is not just how much are you willing to look over those inconsistencies, but also how much weight do you place on the moments where Hail to the Thief nails the bullseye. Thanks to its less obvious placement in their back catalogue, it always comes as a sneaky surprise just how many rock solid Radiohead classics and other hidden greats lurk in the deep trenches of its tracklist. "There There" and "2+2=5" have been canonised and rightfully so, both reintroducing Radiohead as a rock band who can master both the art of a growing slowburn anthem in the former, a hypnotically percussive masterpiece and one of their best singles, as well as a furiously madcap all-out stomper in the latter where the song goes through three completely unique moods in full throttle mode in a little over three minutes. The stunningly great, hypnotic and above all else impeccably cool "Where I End and You Begin" has also found its way into the favour of the general consensus on the back of combining a haunting atmosphere with a rock-solid rhythm section, with special kudos to Colin Greenwood's bassline: it's arresting in an truly ominous way, casting a spell by letting the listener sink into its duskfall mood. "Sit Down, Stand Up" should be in that company of official greats: though "2+2=5" is the literal opener, "Sit Down, Stand Up" is how Radiohead really bring forth the plan of how they're going to layer the jerky electronic stutter and the muscular rock band on top of one another from now on, and the song's explosion into its apocalyptic rave / mental breakdown mantra finale is where Hail to the Thief really shows its cards. If the album itself is a little summary of the story so far, "Sit Down, Stand Up" probably does the best job possible to concentrate that into a singular song.

Hail to the Thief is also an unusual example of this kind of a bewildering run-on sentence of an album that gets better as you travel deeper into its woods, saving many of its biggest punches towards the very end - and specifically the last four song run. "A Punchup at a Wedding" perhaps doesn't quite belong in that category admittedly, but its borderline hammy, off-kilter drunken bar band rant delivery is the telltale sign of a band who are letting loose and even though (or exactly because) it's so unexpected from the typically very serious Radiohead, I find it really fun. "Myxomatosis" builds up on the electronic/guitar synthesis of the prior numbers and turns up the muscle, coming across appropriately rabid as it writhes under the brutally overwhelming bass fuzz and Yorke sounds more unhinged by the minute; "A Wolf at the Door" features a similarly rambling Yorke but bears none of the madness, and instead delivers the first real, traditional torchlight chorus in a Radiohead song since the OK Computer days and it ends the album on such a "classic" note that it leaves an almost comforting air behind it, its melancholy horn section further rubbing in that sweet wistulfness - and as a twist within a twist, that chorus isn'tat all what you'd expect after first hearing Thom Yorke flutteringly spit lines about throwing a flan in your face. The brightest star of the second half is "Scatterbrain" though, tucked away as the penultimate song far from prying eyes and almost intended to be forgotten within such an extensive list of song titles: it's suitably reserved and turned inwards as well, defeatedly peeking from underneath the sheets. We haven't heard Radiohead be this delicate in such a straightforward and ungarnished fashion in such a long time and "Scatterbrain"'s simplicity is its strength, letting its beautiful melody shine in the dark without obscuring it and giving space to Yorke's softly spoken, mournful delivery. Unassuming though it may be, it hits hard.

The thread that combines these vastly different songs adorned with superlatives is that quite often they are some of the stronger representatives of their particular facets of Radiohead's range, scattered as they may be. There's a reason this album struck so strongly to a young convert: you could see it as an introductionary mixtape that gives you an example of not just the band's range but also just how rock solid they are. Or better yet, it's like one of Radiohead's own setlists, which combines moods across their back catalogue and brings them together through the perfect interplay between five musicians facing each other eye to eye. Much is often made out of the hasty recording process and how it left some songs undercooked, but I would say the more impactful decision during the album's development was the choice to approach it as a band collaborating together. Even in the weaker songs there's the tangible chemistry and energy that you get when people come together, which also leaves a more direct impact into the music: much of how the songs evolve throughout their runtimes and how Yorke reacts to those developments in his performance or song structure can be attributed to an organic growth stemming from sharing ideas, jamming and improvised surprises. Radiohead sound like a real live human (... band) once more and it brings back the levity and ease which has so far mostly reared its head outside the actual albums. As hectic as Hail to the Thief is, it's where Radiohead tame their internal storm, and because they had no time to continue tinkering with it they've repurposed it in a manner that comes immediately comfortable for them. It's no longer my favourite album of theirs - still probably in the top 3 if we're counting - but warts and all, it's nearly as essential for the band's development as the previous albums were, in all its casual non-essentialness.

Physically: Jewel case with a thick booklet, featuring pages upon pages of the collage from the cover extending even further - it's meant to represent the LA shoreline and city blocks with each box containing a word from advert billboards that Stanley Donwood saw around the area, but the further the collage goes the more... Radiohead-y it gets. All the lyrics are featured for the first time since OK Computer, and each song also gets an alternative title (the album itself is subtitled "The Gloaming"): my favourite is "No No No No No No No No" for "A Punchup at a Wedding".


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2007 9 "15 Step", "Nude", "Reckoner"

1) 15 Step; 2) Bodysnatchers; 3) Nude; 4) Weird Fishes/Arpeggi; 5) All I Need; 6) Faust Arp; 7) Reckoner; 8) House of Cards; 9) Jigsaw Falling into Place; 10) Videotape

Who'd have ever thought this band could relax? Or that they'd sound so phenomenal when they do?

"Relaxed" isn't a term you'd typically associate with Radiohead, but that's exactly the wavelength that they're operating on In Rainbows. This is despite how the album's legacy - outside its music - is tied deeply to its release method, which tends to be painted with a more rebellious, almost activistic brush. After their contract with Parlophone expired following Hail to the Thief, Radiohead surprised everyone by choosing not to immediately renew the contract, or sign with anyone else for that matter, and opting instead to take a break from the industry by way of seizing the control in their own hands, which eventually concluded in the album's landmark digital pay-what-you-want surprise release. But in hindsight, the unorthodox release doesn't quite feel it was all about sticking it to the man, but rather that it was a continuation of the free-cruising mood the band were in - for the first time since the early 1990s they had found themselves with a wide open horizon in front of them, free of any commercial pressure or artistic stress. Hail to the Thief had gently brought back the idea of Radiohead as just a band, not back-to-back scenesetters expected to throw a revolution with each step they made, and the band took the logical step forward from there by brushing away everything except what they wanted to capture musically in the very moment they were living in. I haven't waded into it in the reviews for the other albums but up until now nearly all of their albums had been completed in a high-strung pressure cooker environment, with a new inter-band meltdown every record. Contrast that with the very opening of In Rainbows: if the playfully twinkly guitar riff and loose bass-groove bounce of "15 Step" wasn't enough to indicate that there's new winds blowing, it's the group of kids suddenly shouting "yay!" halfway through the track that really hammers the point. That's not the sound of a band working in the center of a hurricane. The boys are actually letting down their hair for once.

In Rainbows isn't Radiohead's happy, upbeat pop album by any means. By track two, "Bodysnatchers", we're already back to the neurotic rock that's so familiar from their back catalogue and the typical Radiohead melancholy and Yorke's oft-cryptic and disconcerting lyrics make their usual appearances throughout the ten tracks. But wherever the album takes its path, it feels markedly different from anything else before - the Radiohead featured on In Rainbows sound at peace, relaxed and often even playful. The high-strung rock cuts do not carry the sound of a band imploding but the feel of five friends jamming together in the studio and picking up the pace and intensity simply because they're getting excited over what they're playing; any patches of melancholy that exist replace despair with a focus on the sweetness waiting at the end of the sadness. The songs are primarily characterised by their airiness, with the light-weight pitter-patter of Selway's drums around gliding basswork and intricately melodic guitars: "Nude" and "House of Cards" float serenely in space, "Weird Fishes" and "15 Step" frolic around with a giddiness that is light years away from the doom and gloom that so often cast its shadow over their most famous work. It's the sound of Radiohead exhaling and letting go of their ghosts.

What that means for In Rainbows is that it sounds effortless, like it had simply come to exist one day rather having been laboured over. It was, of course, meticulously worked on across a long period of time - nearly every single song was practiced and previewed during the long tour that preceded the secretive recording sessions and when the band were finally ready to lay them down in studio, they had organically moulded them into the shape that felt the most natural to play. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the result of that natural blossoming is how beautiful the album is. The guitars favour bright and layered arpeggio melodies over rigid riffs, the string sections that appear throughout have a harmonious swoon to them instead of featuring Greenwood's usual experimental nightmare walls and even Yorke sounds softer, wistful rather than haunted. If a song isn't centered around an instantly affable melody, it's characterised by an immense amount of space where every element sounds revelatory: the dub-leaning "House of Cards" and "Nude" - finally appearing on tape after the band's lifetime's worth of failed attempts - are both surrounded by deep spaciousness that both songs use to amplify their buried ache. "Nude" in particular, despite sounding so unassuming at first, quickly establishes itself as a real keystone moment for the band with its drop-dead gorgeous soundscape where nothing disrupts the quiet, tender beauty of its disarming vastness.

You could in fact apply that sentiment of each sound being given space across the entire album. Radiohead on In Rainbows come across looser than ever before, but the sound of the album itself is precise as anything. Godrich's production approach is completely different this time around and all the songs have that same attention to the space between the instruments and the importance of each element as "Nude" or "House of Cards", they simply fill that space with more instruments. It's what makes even the busier songs avoid any kind of rigidness or stuffiness, or why the more intense "Bodysnatchers" and "Jigsaw Falling into Place" do not break the pace and instead sound like a natural part of the cycle while still providing enough of a contrast to take the album into new waters (the switch from the joviality of "15 Step" to "Bodysnatchers" is particularly impactful, and works like a charm every time). It's also what for example makes "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" sound like it's gently floating underwater as its titular arpeggios gently skirt the surface and what makes its backing vocals hold the same position as a set of strings normally would or why the explosion of sound at the end of the cavernous trip-hop tract "All I Need" feels like such a dramatic mic drop moment in contrast: when each part is given its own place and they're all so clearly distinguishable from one another, any changes become almost dramatic and swerve the songs into a wholly different mood with the lightest of touches. It's also precisely why "Reckoner" above all is just so brilliant. "Reckoner" is the crowning glory of In Rainbows which strikes immediately with its cavalcade of percussion (each and every layer perfectly crystal clear, of course), and from there replaces those almost overwhelming sounds bit by bit with one embracingly melodic part after another. "Reckoner" eschew any logical structure in favour of constant flow of sound where every single section sounds like a verse, chorus and a bridge at the same time, moving seamlessly throughout its length while constantly evoking a sense of surprise whenever another new idea suddenly joins the fray - here come the strings, here comes the drop so naked it immediately changes the song from powerfully towering to vulnerably injured, here come the wave of backing vocals that guide the song towards its ending (and which title drop the album so well you'd never realise). It's about the time that "Reckoner" has finished that In Rainbows has established itself as a genuinely incredible record - and "Reckoner" itself jumped instantly into the band's all-time greatest pantheon after that very first listen - and we still have a few songs to go.

One of those being "Videotape", which is the one moment where Radiohead take a little tumble during the album. "Videotape" is beautiful, don't get me wrong, and this whole "issue" I have is entirely self-inflicted because it's all based on what-could-have-been. Like mentioned before, Radiohead spent the year or so before In Rainbows touring the album pre-emptively, previewing enormous amount of material in various stages of development - including "Videotape" which at the time followed its poignant first half, all Yorke alone with his piano, with a soaring build-up and a triumphant release that made the song perhaps a dangerously conventional anthem for Radiohead, but which was a genuinely powerful way to build on and finish the song (check out e.g. their Bonnaroo 2006 footage for an example). On the album that jump to flight never arrives: the skittering drums tease it with a sadistic grin on their face, but eventually they bare back down and the song returns to its disquieting calmness. It's strong in its own way, giving the album an almost mournful ending (much thanks to the song's lyrical content), but it never hits the same sweet spot. I'm not alone in my mutterings and given this discourse has been going on since 2007 it makes me nothing but a walking cliché to whine about it for a whole paragraph, but no matter how close I get to "Videotape" it always leaves me empty in the end, every single time. Maybe I should have never listened to those early live clips in the hype run-up to the record (we can blame Pitchfork for their convenient list) - but here we are.

That nitpicky scrutiny is out of nothing but love, because that "fault" is genuinely the one thing about this album which stands in front of me giving it perhaps an even higher rating. In Rainbows is, for me, Radiohead's masterpiece, with OK Computer coming brutally close but ultimately losing partly because this album's focus on clarity and melody is so powerful, but on a more biased note also because this is my Radiohead album. It was my first new album as a Radiohead fan and it was absolutely wild for this to be that first experience of a Radiohead album cycle: the insane pre-album hype fueled by absolutely everyone except the band themselves when the initial murmurs of something being close to release started surfacing, the surprise announcement that eventually followed and the mad afternoon a week later when it actually became available to download. I, the broke teenager in a minimum wage post-high school desk job, cheekily downloaded it for free and then listened to it at work; as did my manager, who primarily leaned towards classic rock and whose main comment afterwards was "it's nice but it's all really depressing". Thanks to my long commutes I listened to In Rainbows so, so much and the acquisition of the physical version some months later stoked the fire even more; thus, for all intents and purposes this ticks all those classic hallmarks of a formative music experience, where music gets as deep under your skin as it is possible when you're young and obsessed about music. It's the kind of album where finding anything to criticise should be impossible through bias alone.

But whatever quips I have are a wholly personal lament and even so, they only has so much power. In Rainbows is undoubtedly a strike of genius: another reinvention for the band so famed for them, but this time moving to a direction opposite to what anyone expected. It's embracing and welcoming rather than cryptic or scaremongering, coated in one piercing musical moment after another but each time leaving a sense of wander behind it. Every single song has at least one section you could use as a compelling example of why it's the best song on the record; even "Faust Arp" unfolds into something far prettier through its string arrangement than your standard acoustic palate cleanser normally would, and while it's the obvious underdog due to its minute stature it stands tall next to its more obvious siblings. It's a more accessible album than anything the band had released in the same decade thus far, but it's just as radical as their previous steps beyond the portal. The majority of Radiohead's pre-2007 catalogue sounds like the band's ready to combust and those albums in some part draw their strength from that - In Rainbows shows what the band sound like when they're fully at peace and completely focused on the music and the joy of creation. Is it any wonder then why it's such a phenomenal album?

Physically: I love this. Eschewing traditional packaging, what we have here is a jewel case-sized cardboard folder that extends wide open when unlocked. With the usual CD and liner notes (lyrics, some more artwork in line with the cover), you also get a bunch of stickers with the album's title, tracklist, etc that you can stick on a jewel case if you wanted to give the album a more traditional packaging. I haven't (I've learned my lesson when it comes to sticker covers with Beck's The Information...), and honestly I much more prefer this quirky thing anyway.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2011 7 "Bloom", "Lotus Flower", "Codex"

1) Bloom; 2) Morning Mr Magpie; 3) Little by Little; 4) Feral; 5) Lotus Flower; 6) Codex; 7) Give Up the Ghost; 8) Separator

Back to being more uncompromising, which is cool - just wish the album itself had been thought through a bit more.

Though we'd only just gotten used to a more relaxed and inviting form of Radiohead with In Rainbows, we're back into the weird and unhinged once again. The King of Limbs is the flipside of the label-less Radiohead free to do whatever they wanted after In Rainbows sounded so unburdened of expectations: Radiohead are, indeed, now free to do whatever they want.

On The King of Limbs Radiohead are restlessly searching for another new way of producing music and the solution this time around is a really roundabout take on jamming. The band recorded hundreds of instrumental snippets, ideas and stems, which they then turned into loops and put through a music software; these loops were taken by the band and played around with in real-time with everyone in the room together layering and tinkering with these out-of-context sketches live until they hit something coherent. So, yes, it's a jam band but with loops on a laptop - which goes a long a way explaining why The King of Limbs sounds like a strange hybrid mutant of the band's live instrument background and their electronic fancies. It also explains why it's an almost unbearably dense album. The first four songs have barely a moment of quiet between then: every crevice and corner is crammed with shuffling drum loops (usually 2-3 at the same time), rambling guitars and vocal sample snippets, with everyone adding and removing loops on the fly resulting in turbulent arrangement choices. About the only thing keeping all the various elements from exploding around the room is Greenwood's deep bass lines, which are possibly the most minimalistic things on the album but act as the steady pillar everything else can latch onto. "Bloom" forebodingly cascades with its layers of sound, unfolding and collapsing in an unsettling fashion, "Morning Mr Magpie" and "Little by Little" rattle and twitch and by the time "Feral" is let out, all human elements are just gone as Yorke's voice is reduced to yelps and stutters played like a nightmare instrument while the instruments around it try to outrun each other in panic. It's chaotic, even alien - and dare I say far more powerful in terms of catching the listener off guard than Kid A or Amnesiac ever was. And honestly, it's exciting in its pure unpredictability and nervousness.

But then it calms down. The next four songs are their own thing entirely, with the pandemonium of the first four slowly removed to make way for a gentler set of songs. "Lotus Flower" is the link, one foot in the first half's impatient grooves while the other wades into the atmospheric waters of the second half, resulting in a mysterious and otherworldly bridge between worlds that - at times - is almost funky if you squint a little. From thereon in it's a set of slow moodpieces: "Codex" is a startlingly (given the context) traditional piano ballad with horns and strings lamenting over it, "Give Up the Ghost" is another heavy loop arrangement but this time built around hushed acoustic tones and ever-increasing layers of Yorke's vocal lines playing all at once, and "Separator" brings back the nervous instrumental touch of the album's opening salvo in its drums but deploys it with more control and space around it, with rather serene and hypnotic results. If it weren't for the few telltale signs of what the first four songs were built around (Greenwood's anchoring bass, the repetition most apparent on "Give Up the Ghost", the instrumental shuffle of "Separator") you could be forgiven for mistaking this section of the album as a weird printing or playlist error, another album shoving itself in partway through.

But then it ends. For a lot of people the most contentious aspect of The King of Limbs, beyond its general sound, is its length. It's not a straightforward case of just looking at the running time: 37 minutes is a decent enough length for an album and even though eight is aesthetically an ugly number for a total amount of songs in an album's tracklist (pet peeve though that is), plenty of widely acclaimed albums have short tracklists and similar runtimes. The King of Limbs, specifically, comes across too short because once the second set of songs ends, it leaves behind what feels like unfinished business. There's a great big gap across the two halves despite the shared DNA and it never comes full circle: "Separator" almost pulls it all together and wraps a neat bow on it, but not quite to full satisfaction. As mentioned I actually really enjoy the initial concept of hectic robo-rock songs where Thom Yorke's twitching stage antics finally get the perfect soundtrack on album and it'd be great to hear where the band take it, and I also love the more atmospheric songs as an idea because I'm a sucker for a deep mood which Radiohead proven they execute perfectly, but the second half puts a wall in-between and a tight border control to make sure the gentler, more melancholy latter half isn't too influenced by the first four songs. It's hard not to see it in terms of a vinyl split thing (in the year of our lord 2011, I know), especially with the clear A/B division on the back cover and how Yorke explicitly commented on the anaemic CD packaging as prioritising the vinyl issue over everything else. But that's a rubbish excuse for an album (as opposed to two separate EPs) because the core issue remains: if I'm in the mood for what The King of Limbs purportedly offers, the second half is not going to give that to me. And if you wanted to hear the calmer material, you've got the opposite issue of having to wade through the urban jungle before it. Despite its compact formatting The King of Limbs just isn't a cohesive listening experience and that's why it feels so abruptly short, as if it's missing a song or two (and some re-sequencing) to tie it all together. Given the abundance of extra material and follow-up non-album singles afterwards, it's not like they didn't have it either: you could slot "The Butcher" or "Staircase" out of the post-album singles here and I've got a playlist to prove it works really well.

But despite my misgivings on how the album has been put together, I do want to drill in the point that it is actually pretty good overall on a song-by-song basis alone. "Lotus Flower" is the album's certified classic and a stand-out in the band's discography in so many ways, from that sinister groove to its beautifully textural production, and "Bloom" is one of their most powerful openers in how it pulls you into the album's world and even once you're familiar with it all, it still leaves me with a sense of wonder of where they could go from here. Both are songs that you can simply get lost in - whether caught within the ethereal swagger of "Lotus Flower" or lost at sea and feeling miniscule in the colossal chaos of it all in "Bloom". "Feral" is insane but it goes hard on what the album is built around on and its madness is perversely inspired and it's the logical end point to their experiments, and I love it. "Codex" may be out of place in comparison to what's happening around it but it's one of Radiohead's most tender songs and when the horns lift above the horizon, it brings with it a delicate and haunting sense of beauty that the rest of the album runs away from; you get something similar with the final moments of "Give Up the Ghost" when all the vocal harmonies are looping together in full swing, and it's a great pay-off for the somewhat more nondescript first half of the song. "Separator", too, grows beautifully from its humble beginnings and is the serene wake-up call to a brand new morning after the tension and subsequent melancholy of the album's runtime. "Morning Mr Magpie" and "Little by Little" are the weakest songs on the album and they largely repeat the same tricks one after another in a manner that does neither song justice, though I wouldn't dismiss them either because they've got some solid hooks and detial going on; but in such a concise tracklist, they jump out as just not being as impressionable as the others. And so we jump back on the general grievances I have on the sequencing and general tracklist design.

That's what makes this Radiohead's little gremlin album. It feels like it came to life through happenstance rather than the band planning for it, opting to release a seemingly random selection of the material they were tinkering on without much fanfare or promotion to herald it: it's a set of weird experiments manifested into songs and left to fend off for themselves. It's the first time in Radiohead's history, or certainly the first in a long long while, where it sounds like the final album wasn't put together with any kind of wider idea in mind - even Hail to the Thief's jumble was designed with intentionally breaking away from the band's established conventions in mind. The King of Limbs behaves like a filler release rushed out to avoid a big gap between albums, even if it is far more interesting than most other filler releases. But it sounds like an unfinished design, like multiple plot threads left intentionally hanging without a resolution. But if you were to make a list of all of Radiohead's songs you could feasibly call most of the songs here hidden gems and it would be actually both deserved and literal, tucked away as they are so hard within this weird and short screwball record that it takes active relistens to remember just how great some of them actually are. It's a good album and certainly not their weakest by any measurement - but it is maybe their most awkward and hard to approach because of it.

Physically: So as alluded to above, Yorke referenced vinyl records directly with the packaging and so we get a flimsy gatefold with no booklet. There's some more illustrations of spooky trees from Donwood in the centerfold, together with all the credits. So at least there's that. And whilst it's not part of the album per se, I do own a copy of The Universal Sigh, the newspaper that they handed out for free in various cities on the album's physical release day. Skipped a uni lesson to queue for it, too. It's a neat piece of memorabilia.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2016 8 "Daydreaming", "Identikit", "True Love Waits"

1) Burn the Witch; 2) Daydreaming; 3) Decks Dark; 4) Desert Island Disk; 5) Ful Stop; 6) Glass Eyes; 7) Identikit; 8) The Numbers; 9) Present Tense; 10) Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Thief; 11) True Love Waits

Replacing experimentation with simplicity, subtlety and beauty. And strings.

Radiohead do not really do course corrections, but if they did, you could plausibly think of A Moon Shaped Pool as one. After the alienating and divisive The King of Limbs with all its clatter and chaos, A Moon Shaped Pool is much more approachable with its softer edges and gentler moves. It's the kind of album that gets accompanied by such adjectives as "organic" or "warm", all synonyms for a listening experience that's far less challenging this time around. Yorke is back in the center of the mix without any chopped vocal samples or distortions too, and even his lyrics are more understandable as he speaks about feelings and love rather than compiling together cryptic snippets about death and chaos. It's an easy album to pick up and put on, the sort of Radiohead album you could show to your parents as your prom date if you will. And that, I suppose, is wild on its own - and also a little reductive of its true intents, but we'll get to that.

First you have to pass through "Burn the Witch", which is a great song but also a complete red herring to where the rest of the album is heading towards. One of the album's defining elements is the frequent use of cinematic strings and other orchestral additions, which make their appearance from the very first second of "Burn the Witch" and in that respect it makes for an appropriate introduction to the record; the rest, though, is completely against the record's overall ethos. The strings on "Burn the Witch" stab and pierce with a violent fervour that churns rather than glides, laying down an uneasy backing for the album's only overtly political lyric that's openly brooding and boiling. Radiohead aren't strangers to revisiting songs years later after they were first conceived but the Hail to the Thief-era heat of "Burn the Witch" doesn't quite comfortably sit in this context, even if it's been given the appropriate makeover. It makes for an immediately seizing opener but the more you get to know the album, the less it feels like a part of it - and "Daydreaming" afterwards isn't quite a natural fit either, as gorgeous as that is as well The soundscape of "Daydreaming" consists primarily of piano and strings and thus once again leans into the album's core DNA, but how they're utilised here is surreal and dream-like, as close to ambient as they can stretch. The various kinds of sound manipulation (including on Yorke's voice) gives it a sense of unease and for such a peaceful song on its surface, it gets more distressing (and distressed) as it sinks further into its abyss. It's the rabbit hole suddenly opening under your feet which bridges "Burn the Witch" with the rest of the album - the first two songs are a cold open twist that hints at what lies beneath but in a manner which ultimately leaves them as a strange prologue for the rest of the record.

"Decks Dark" begins the album in earnest and introduces the mood the record is going to settle on for the rest of its duration. The already mentioned strings are the big attention grab, with Jonny Greenwood's growing side hustle as a film score composer nudging its way into his day job - the orchestral aspects aren't just a gentle dressing either but they're intrinsically woven into the songs, leading them as a de facto core element whenever they make an appearance (which is for most of the album). But the strings aren't everything the album revolves around: there's also the choirs (softly used, but clearly present), the gently picked acoustic guitars and the softly glimmering pianos which dominate the album's sound world just as much. A Moon Shaped Pool is a delicate and hushed creature, finding itself in a widescreen folk/ambient ballad mode so much that the album is effectively riding on one big mood throughout - even the drums gently patter their shuffly beats so as not to disturb the surface of the songs. We know Radiohead can do soft and sweet, but it's a mode typically reserved for the occasional dramatic pause in the middle of something more bewildering; now it's a constant, and that's probably even more unexpected at this stage of the band's journey. There's no sinister twists to what A Moon Shaped Pool tries to achieve, it's simple and sincere in its goal to be something graceful and unrushed.

Then you learn about the context and it all makes sense - the background of A Moon Shaped Pool quickly came to define it as much as its sound did. Yorke had quietly and secretly divorced from his wife of 25-odd years Rachel Owen sometime before the sessions began, a fact he only quietly confirmed once it leaked to media in the wake of the album's release. In that light, it's impossible not to see the album coloured by the perspective of a man letting go a part of his life he held on to for so long, with its frequent references to love and its various difficulties ("I feel this love turn cold", "Different types of love are possible", "Have you had enough of me?", "All this love could be in vain", "I feel this love to the core"- all just singular straightforward lines in more complicated songs but they jump out sharply whenever they do appear), how "Daydreaming" concludes with a backmasked repetition of "half of my life, half of my life" in what looks like a reference to the length of the ex-couple's relationships - and of course with how the tender love song "True Love Waits" finally makes its studio album appearance, roughly 25 years since it was first written and now suddenly brought out to conclude the album like to mark the end of a chapter. Where in the acoustic live version on I Might Be Wrong - still probably the most famous version - Yorke's delivery was full of warm happiness as he sung his strange little declaration of love, here those very same lines sound sad and desolate while surrounded by layers of pianos, like a man waving goodbye to echoes of the past for one last time - the "just don't leave" chorus now coming with the defeat and mourning as the weight of those words really hit the air. Owen's untimely passing to cancer after the album makes it all even more heartbreaking and of course leads to a great amount of unfounded speculation - but all that loss and sadness are woven deep into the album and still audible even if you weren't familiar with all the details, and when you are you can't ignore it. A Moon Shaped Pool is a Radiohead album through and through, but it's also very much and very specifically a Thom Yorke album, and not in sense of it sounding like a solo album but in how personal and vulnerable it so often comes across as when the rest of the band politely take a step back to let Yorke lay out his thoughts in peace.

So of course it's an album lost in thought and taking its time - the context has pushed the sound and songwriting to a place where those thoughts feel most comfortable to come out, towards contemplative and intimate soundscapes. It's often beautiful in its ache, particularly in its most stripped down songs like "True Love Waits" (and this has become the definitive version for me over the acoustic live version I've lived with for longer) or the time-stopping piano-and-strings ballad "Glass Eyes" which in its straightforwardness could have come from any peer of Radiohead's but sounds particularly disarming coming from them. Often the songs reveal their strengths carefully, with moments of beauty coming to bloom in the middle of the tracks and seizing you still to pay attention: the high-pitch harmonies in "Decks Dark" and "Present Tense", the "broken hearts make it rain" section of "Identikit", the pouncing strings of "The Numbers". The variations across most of the songs are minute but in such a skeletally arranged environment even small differences make a big splash: you wouldn't believe just how much a slightly sturdier beat in "Decks Dark" or the livelier flow of "Present Tense" can make them jump out even when otherwise they're primarily acoustic mid-to-low tempo ballads, like the rest of the record. While it's an album that's easy to put on due to its softer approach, it's one of Radiohead's trickiest to really sink into because for all it's warmth and human heart it can be really isolated and relying on the listener paying attention to pick up the subtle cues. It's the one album of theirs that benefits the most from being isolated through your headphones where it can take full control of everything you hear and leave its mark that way: most memories I have with this album are in relation to times spent listening to it during quiet commutes or private evenings.

Less kind souls would also say that the subtlety results in the album being a little bit samey at times. A lot of it moves along with similar vibes and tones to one another and even I still struggle outright remembering what a few of the songs sound like when looking at the titles alone. If you happen to be in the mindset for what A Moon Shaped Pool offers, it can be a beautiful, emotional and poignant experience - and if you're not, well, there's no clear big Radiohead hits here to break out either and it can make the album easily pass by in the background if you're not keeping up attention. Yet when the album does break away from its habits, I feel like they do a bigger disservice to the whole than the overall shared similarities. I've already mentioned how "Burn the Witch" is like a completely loose bit hanging off the edge which only really gets away with it because it's at the very start and it's a great song, but the nervous krautrock pulse of "Ful Stop" is the worse offender. It's a reminder where the band was right before this album and it is also the album's weakest song, resting all its eggs on a propulsive mechanical thrust which sounds like Radiohead performing a song that they expect people would be expecting from them, and it's just not interesting or exciting; here, it's like an invader from a different session that jars every time it's its turn. "Tinker Tailor..." similarly feels like a rehash of the band's former experimental soundscapes but its facade at least breaks in its final third and it moves closer to where the rest of the album lies and suddenly sounds much better. A little variety could benefit the album, but the variety that's present only distracts from what's good and unique about it. The exception that proves you can stretch the sonics of the record to different limits is "Identikit", which has a playful step and an honest groove to it (where I can't help but think that Yorke's jam sessions with Flea in-between Radiohead albums has rubbed off on him a little), but which cosies up close enough to the album's general aesthetics (both its arrangements and its heartbreak) that it works as part of the whole while offering a sudden upbeat tilt halfway through the album - there's even a jaunty guitar solo(!), which is where the album's monochromatic outlook finally gets a splash of colour.

(A tangental point here but the more observant might have noticed the tracklist is in alphabetical order; apparently due to a sheer accident when saving the files to a disc but the band thought it worked and left it in. It does work to a surprising degree and hence it's not really worth bringing it up as anything more than a fun trivia point, but whenever the album does trip a little you do start to wonder whether it was the right call)

The final verdict then is one of mixed messages. A Moon Shaped Pool is a great record that, for the first time in several years, doesn't re-invent Radiohead as much as it elaborates on what was already there: those quiet moments of grace and mercy tucked away as album deep cuts, now role-reversed and becoming the dominant flavour. That's a wonderful idea which highlights a facet of the band that people outside the fanbase often forget about and makes for an album that's easy to "get" (it's certainly less challenging), but one that requires a particular mindset to successfully reach out to the listener. This is among my least listened Radiohead albums; it's also one that has a habit of taking over my listening rota once it does find the time and place to make a befitting appearance in. I don't think an album being "stuck" on a specific mood is something worth nicking points off for and it should be judged on how well it works when it's in the right context - which is excellently, as established - but I would also be lying if I said this had the level of personal attachment that the other albums, some even slightly lower rated ones, have. A few minor (and largely superficial) missteps aside it's impressive though, and let's be honest, it feels practically beside the point to really critique it in the context of the rest of the band's discography: this is so obviously a record that Yorke in particular needed to make.

Physically: Gatefold package; the text on the cover is nicely embossed, too (and also slightly differently laid out on the CD but I can't find a high res enough version on the web to satisfy me). The booklet doesn't feature any lyrics, only more artwork from Donwood in line with the cover - paintings exposed to natural effects to distort them randomly. To add to the album's melancholy aura Donwood lost his father at the very start of the recording sessions (the liner notes dedicate the album to him) and given the closeness of the band and their court art designer, that undeniably had an impact to the album's overall mood.



Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1994 5 Besides "My Iron Lung" (obviously), "The Trickster", "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong"

1) My Iron Lung; 2) The Trickster; 3) Lewis (Mistreated); 4) Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong; 5) Permanent Daylight; 6) Lozenge of Love; 7) You Never Wash Up After Yourself; 8) Creep (Acoustic)

Snapshot b-sides of a decent band on the way of becoming a good band.

"My Iron Lung" was released as the first taste of Radiohead post-Pablo Honey and was written as a very barely disguised takedown of "Creep", the runaway success of which had already began to gnaw on the band. It was originally released as two sets of CD single issues and this eight-song now-canonical EP (mini-album?) release is a compilation of all the b-sides in one place. The way it's presented these days gives the impression that this is a more fully realised EP i.e. a more thought-out set of songs put together for a reason, but don't let that fool you: this was a between-albums single and Radiohead were keen on holding onto the most important material they had on their hands for The Bends. Besides the seven main songs, the compilation EP also includes an acoustic version of "Creep" which, if unintentional and imposed by the label, is genuinely hilarious - even on the release of their diss track they can't escape their big hit.

"My Iron Lung", with its shifting sections and sudden swerves, are a sign of Radiohead moving beyond Pablo Honey and beginning to experiment with their sound ahead of The Bends, and the b-sides follow suite. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the neurotic urgency of "The Trickster" and the atmospheric guitars and organ-laden dreaminess of "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong" are getting close to OK Computer in vision - and they're unsurprisingly the EP's two biggest highlights besides its title track, the first true signs of a band about to have a growth burst far more impactful than anyone could have anticipated. The rest of the songs are a little less intriguing. "Lewis (Mistreated)" is a bit more of a direct bridge from Pablo to Bends, with the same midway energy as the latter's most middling songs (think of "Bones" or "Sulk"), the almost instrumental "Permanent Daylight" sounds like a song still waiting to be finished albeit one with a lot of promise in its moody acceleration, and both "Lozenge of Love" and "You Never Wash Up After Yourself" are short Yorke solo pieces heavy on the "just chuck something quick in" vibe to fill the tracklists. They're pleasant overall, with "Permanent Daylight" almost getting beyond that threshold, but an obvious set of extras - and yet show a clear development from Pablo Honey in not just the sound but in attitude as well. There's a little more maturity and nuance in the songs and though they are cast-offs that weren't strong enough to make the entire journey through to The Bends, it's audible Radiohead were moving on from their debut. And finally, the acoustic "Creep" is... an acoustic "Creep". It's not a lyric that really survives a stripped-down interpretation (you kind of have to have those melodramatic guitars to withstand the angst), but you can't accuse Yorke of not giving it a try: the big yelp launch-off at the end of the second chorus is arguably even more emotional and theatrical here than in the original. It's a neat coda for the song selection both as a song as a concept, bringing the full circle to a close.

Out of the handful of EPs that Radiohead (or their labels) have pushed out as impromptu b-sides compilations in lieu of full collections, the My Iron Lung EP is probably the easiest to get hold of but also the least essential by a country mile. The A-side is the undisputed king here and the rest is a ragtag selection of snapshots of a band on the way to their next chapter but careful not to waste any of their big guns ahead of the actual album. You couldn't really describe anything here as a hidden gem or an essential deep cut ("Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong", maybe), and "My Iron Lung" itself is on The Bends anyway. This isn't anything exciting unless you just have the burning need to hear everything this band have released or have a craving for this particular era specifically, before they got all artsy - but given this is the period of the band I'm least invested in, a set of off-cuts isn't particularly tantalising. But, in summary, this is where you hear an okay band starting to get good and it makes for a decent listen if in the hankering for some mid-90s British angst.

Physically: A generic black spine jewel case with a bare-bones single-fold booklet with the credits and a photo of the band.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
1998 7 Outside "Airbag" itself, "Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)", "Melatonin"

1) Airbag; 2) Pearly*; 3) Meeting in the Aisle; 4) A Reminder; 5) Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2); 6) Melatonin; 7) Palo Alto

Snapshot b-sides of a good band on the way of becoming a great band.

A slight side tract to literally start this with, but Radiohead aren't a particularly great b-sides band if we are being honest. Being a British rock act operating from the early 1990s onwards they should fit perfectly into the template for the golden age of b-sides, but Radiohead - as is their way - never really played the game. Thus while their first six albums have a good number of additional songs released around them, it's clear that the band never put too much focus on that aspect. Instead, with a few marked exceptions, their bonus tracks consist largely of sketches, obvious outtakes for qualitative reasons and songs they couldn't bother finishing fully and threw out to cross a name off their chalkboard. They're something for the hardcore fans to seek out and find pleasure from, but despite my grumblings about Radiohead never bothering with a proper b-sides compilation, all things considered I'm not really surprised that's the case given they were never particularly a subject of pride for the band. So, all we have are these ad hoc selections aimed at overseas markets.

But the one interesting thing about Radiohead's b-sides is that throughout the first decade-or-so of their career as a band they were always pushing forward musically, always experimenting: that's why we have the radical reinventions between the albums and the genre-defining string of canonical classics they've put out. But the path from one point to another is rarely immediate and that's what makes these collections, particularly for the first handful of albums, so interesting. Take this one for example - Airbag/How Am I Driving? is (originally) a US-only promotional release, collecting together the majority of the OK Computer era b-sides scattered across the various UK singles and slapping "Airbag" on it for good measure, presumably because the label thought it'd be a more commercial promotional song choice in the US than any of the UK singles. For most parts the extra songs from the OK Computer era were outtakes recorded during the main sessions for the album, and not to spoil too much of the surprise but they were left out for a reason: you won't find anything here that would have improved the album with their presence. But you can hear OK Computer develop through this: you can hear something of the parent album on each song but scattered across separate frames, yet to combine into the Megazord of the album. "Airbag" itself coincidentally becomes something like a demonstration of what all those pieces would sound like when the band finally put them all together, placed as an example right in the beginning before you begin to delve into its individual components.

In terms of the songs themselves, "Pearly*" and "Palo Alto", the bookends, comfortably exist in the halfway point between the directly oriented guitar graces of The Bends and the more twisted shape those ideas formed into on OK Computer (especially "Palo Alto" which is like from a different era altogether); "Pearly*" makes for an easy entry point because of its irresistably fluid groove, but both songs primarily make visible the changes the band were going through in their approach to their sound between the two albums. "A Reminder" finds the band beginning to tinker with how to make their anxiety sound encompassingly atmospheric and vivid, and it's sonically one of the most intricate songs here even if a little one-note. "Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)" is a gentle first stab at a multi-part suite like "Paranoid Android" and though the transition between its two parts is abrupt to say the least, the colossally climbing guitar walls and atmospheric keyboards of the second part make it this EP's best song by a mile. "Meeting in the Aisle" and "Melatonin" reveal the nascent electronic and textural strain that would lurk in the shadows of OK Computer before manifesting fully on Kid A, effectively previewing the future before the present had yet to happen. The instrumental (and incredibly Air-like, despite predating Moon Safari) "Meeting in the Aisle" is quite possibly the most chill Radiohead have ever sounded and it's tapped into the late 1990s chilltronica vibe to such an extent that it's fascinating to hear Radiohead be so trendy for once (maybe that's the Zero 7 influence, with whom the song is an unlisted collaboration with); the two-minute "Melatonin" is mostly a sketch of an idea that was never fully realised but the combination of the wistful synth strings and the drum loop with Yorke's naked voice is powerful in its sparseness, and it would've been lovely to hear this taken further.

None of the above are essential listening but they do make for a neat companion piece for the album for anyone who is a big fan of it, because you can hear how it came to be through this selection (and in a more realised form than the chaotic cassette demos that would be released later down the line). As songs on their own they're enjoyable to listen to as well, with the caveat that Radiohead always saved their best for their albums and this set was obviously slapped together by the label so the flow as a cohesive piece is non-existent and close to a playlist on shuffle (if that's something you care about); that said the packaging is clearly from the band's imagination and the booklet is a treat if you're into the whole sardonic fake corporate angle the band were into during this period. Out of the disparate b-sides mini-albums under Radiohead's name this is arguably the most worthy of seeking out just because of its close proximity to OK Computer, so take that as a careful recommendation.

Physically: Digipak with a booklet attached to the front cover. As mentioned in the review, it's full of cheeky little stabs at capitalist corporations: most of the booklet is in the form of a satisfaction poll, with the options becoming increasingly surreal and dystopian.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2004 7 "I Am Citizen Insane", "Skttrbrain (Four Tet Remix)", "Gagging Order"

1) 2+2=5 (Live at Earls Court, London, 26/11/03); 2) Remyxomatosis (Cristian Vogel RMX); 3) I Will (Los Angeles Version); 4) Paperbag Writer; 5) I Am a Wicked Child; 6) I Am Citizen Insane; 7) Skttrbrain (Four Tet RMX); 8) Gagging Order; 9) Fog (Again) (Live); 10) Where Bluebirds Fly

Snapshot b-sides... no, just kidding. But if you liked Hail to the Thief, here's more of it.

Hail to the Thief is all over the place stylistically, and its b-sides naturally follow suite. Before we even get to the remixes and other alternative versions there's a bluesy rocker ("I Am a Wicked Child"), mid-00s indietronica ("I Am Citizen Insane"), twitchy bleeps straight from the depths of Yorke's laptop ("Where Bluebirds Fly"), a nervously creeping soundtrack-esque groove ("Paperbag Writer") and a thoroughly normal and unalarmingly gentle acoustic ballad ("Gagging Order"). Com Lag (2plus2isfive) is a collection of most of the songs that were released across the singles for Hail to the Thief and it bears a striking similarity to its parent album because it, too, is a nervously skittering entity that whiplashes from tone to tone and sound to sound without any warning. If you wanted more of it, here's more of it.

In my review for Airbag/How Am I Driving? I mentioned how out of all these ad hoc b-sides compilations it's the one that's closest to essential listening, thanks to its role in documenting how Radiohead got to OK Computer. Be that as it may, Com Lag is my favourite of them. Hail to the Thief is a sprawling bundle of chaos and I love it for that, and its discards effectively just run in its footsteps and that sounds fine with me. With each song you can understand why it didn't make the cut for the album but it doesn't stop them from being really good: in particular "Gagging Order" is a genuinely lovely moment of uninterrupted earnestness that hasn't been heard since The Bends, "Paperbag Writer" seems to foreshadow both The Eraser and Jonny Greenwood's cinematic scores by merging the two together into an unwieldy yet intriguing abomination, and "I Am Citizen Insane" truly delights me with its now-throwback vibe and presents Radiohead more playfully than they usually appear. "I Am Citizen Insane" also pairs wonderfully with the Four Tet remix of "Scatterbrain", which wields those same Myspace-era glitch beats and in this context serves as the dramatic second half to the build-up of the largely instrumental "I Am Citizen Insane". Both of the alternative versions for "I Will" and "Fog" are reinventions that reveal new shades of their parent songs, with the formerly interlude-esque "I Will" now receiving a full band treatment that flashes with a darker and creepier outlook, and the cryptic Amnesiac b-side "Fog" gets the "Like Spinning Plates" and is performed by just Yorke by his piano, which is always an arresting combination. The only misses are the Cristian Vogel remix of "Myxomatosis" that sounds like a limping attempt to out-chaos the original... and surprisingly the live version of "2+2=5" which appears as the "lead" track of this compilation. The song itself is great and Radiohead are typically solid live, but the version here lacks the urgency and power of the original and opens the album with a slight flat note where one wasn't perhaps expected. I appreciate that it's not the album version and thus it at least gives something new to the fans, but the more I listen to this selection the more superfluous it starts to feel.

The Hail to the Thief days may not have been Radiohead's most creative or experimental period, but they were among the most creatively unleashed the band have allowed themselves to be readily on tape. It's a melting pot of impromptu ideas and that often came to surface as surprising, uninhibited and perversely fun music. That continues right down to the b-sides of the period and this is a case where "more of the same" really is a compliment and recommendation. Is it great? No, and it does flicker wildly between higlight deep cuts and neat-enough curios. But it's vivid and memorable. One of my favourite modes of Radiohead is when they're throwing ideas around with a cheeky grin and the studio recordings feel like they were captured incidentally, and that wilder spirit runs through this set too.

Physically: Digipak with a bound-in booklet, with lots of sketches and doodles from Donwood of sardonic, apocalyptic visions. Like the compilation, it's twistedly fun.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2007 7 "Down Is the New Up", "Up on the Ladder", "Bangers & Mash"

1) MK1; 2) Down Is the New Up; 3) Go Slowly; 4) MK2; 5) Last Flowers; 6) Up on the Ladder; 7) Bangers & Mash; 8) 4 Minute Warning

Songs that didn't make it to In Rainbows, but not because they weren't any good.

When Radiohead went independent and started releasing their music however they wanted beginning from In Rainbows, they also bid farewell to the standard singles cycle that had accompanied all their albums so far; while In Rainbows did get a few actual singles tied to it, these were all released way after the album and as almost like ad hoc collector items rather than as promotional assets integral to the cycle. That meant all the material that the band had finished but didn't thought to fit the album had to go somewhere, and so the excess material was released on a separate CD on the deluxe "diskbox" version of the album. Rather than just throw the songs in any random order and call it a day - i.e. most of their EPs and b-side collections so far - there was some effort to present Disk 2 as its own defined statement. There's a thought-out sequence that makes sense, and the two "MK" snippets (which are short studio loops of segments from the main album) act as bridges to tie it a little bit better together. So this is just a tiny bit more than just "In Rainbows: The Extras", and how different this material feels to the main album adds to that.

In Rainbows is atypically relaxed and loose for a Radiohead album, its lush arrangements coming across beautiful in a manner that's almost unexpectedly weightless, graceful and sometimes even upbeat for the band. Even during its rowdier moments there's a sense of fluidity and melodic emphasis to it. What got left off the album, then, were all the more familiar Radiohead tropes. There's more overt doom and gloom on this selection of six songs (let's be real and not count the MKs) than the whole parent album, with the songs starker in their arrangements and heavier in their mood. "Last Flowers" is a haunting funeral elegy centered around Yorke and his piano, "4 Minute Warning" is peaceful but in a resigned way like accepting you're heading towards the end, "Go Slowly" is a dark lullaby that lingers around as a haunting presence rather than as something you can really hold on to, and the jittery textures of "Up on the Ladder" is on the verge of a breakdown as it thuds on along its steady beat and Hail to the Thief guitars. What connects them all is not just the present and accounted for darkness running through them, but how centered around Yorke they are with sparse and tactical appearances from everyone else in the band, and that alone breaks them away from the parent album to the extent that it makes sense they ultimately didn't make its tracklist. They're largely beautiful songs though, arresting in their presence and with a great sense of foreboding drama where each extra step that does get added to the skeletal central structure has a real impact.

That leaves us with "Down Is the New Up" and "Bangers & Mash", the two fully-kitted out songs of the lot which have taken opposite turns for me over the years. "Down Is the New Up" is the Big Hit that tends to get singled out as the essential cut from this EP; it was a huge fan favourite on the tour that preceded the album and given its production value here, was a clear contender to make it onto the album. It's loaded with elements that pull you right in: the explosive drum opening, the catchiest vocal melodies of the EP and one of the most distinct choruses of the entire era, and of course the impressive (and gorgeous) string orchestra section that slyly appears halfway through the song and eventually overtakes the band as it descends on the song like an anvil without mercy. It is really good and I'm in agreement that if you want to represent this little side tract with any offcut, then it should be this; but despite the impression it leaves, over time I've started to grow a little less enamoured by it as I used to be because as magnificent as that string section sounds, the second half starts coasting on its trails a little too much and never quite regains the sharpness of that initial hit it makes. "Bangers & Mash" is the opposite: it's ramshackle and lackadaisy, a chaotic garage rock number (as close as Radiohead can get to it) that trades in the neurotic twitch of their usual high-energy numbers to a drunkenly shambling thrashing. It's a little superfluous and an obvious outtake, and as such often seen as the weak link of this EP; I originally agreed with that take, but out of anything here this is the song I get most excited by to come across now if it appears randomly on shuffle or even when it simply rears its noisy head from underneath all these somber mood pieces. It finds Radiohead on their fun mode which is arguably their most underrated (or certainly underspoken) aspect, and one I've been getting more drawn towards the deeper I've become invested in the band. It's a dumb, loud ruckus and I love it for that.

In a wider context, Radiohead b-sides are most of the time obvious b-roll material where it's apparent how much extra time the band spent on what made the albums as opposed to the thing they chucked as bonus tracks on the label-mandated singles. Post-label independence, that wasn't a real concern anymore and you can see that in their works since: the amount of non-album material has decreased but for most parts nearly all of it sounds like the band gave it their attention and wanted it to be heard by people. Disk 2 starts that trend - none of this should have made In Rainbows but that's because none of them fit the wider goals and vision that was sought out with the ultimate ten songs on the parent album. The tones and the styles are all askew here, but none of it's incomplete or flawed. "Go Slowly" is the only song I'd call a weak point here but even that's only because in a gang of minimalist melancholy it's got the flimsiest grasp, and "Down Is the New Up" may have cooled on me slightly but it's still really good - the key point is that you could have seen all of these songs slot in as deep cuts to some other album that isn't In Rainbows. It's a really solid EP and also something that has its own tangible feel and call that makes you want to bring it out from time to time, like a stand-alone EP should be.

Physically: n/a. The only physical versions of this come either in the original diskbox or with a 2023 Japanese re-issue of the parent album, neither of which I have. It is these days widely and officially available digitally, and that's how I own it too.



Years active: Genres:
2006 - Electronic, indietronica, singer/songwriter

Yorke has been releasing ad hoc solo albums now and then. I don't own many of them but as or if I get them, here's where they'll go.


Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2006 7 "The Eraser", "Black Swan", "Harrowdown Hill"

1) The Eraser; 2) Analyse; 3) The Clock; 4) Black Swan; 5) Skip Divided; 6) Atoms for Peace; 7) And It Rained All Night; 8) Harrowdown Hill; 9) Cymbal Rush

Yorke takes the electronic flair of the recent Radiohead albums to their extreme under his own name and does it consistently and cohesively enough to be a good ride.

When The Eraser was originally released, there was a predetermined weariness about the project among the target audience (i.e., some Radiohead fans). Not only was Yorke the de facto leader and primary songwriter of Radiohead so there was the usual question to as to why was the album needed to begin with instead of the focus being on another Radiohead album (was this material going to be so flimsy that none of the others wanted to touch it?), but all signs pointed the album out to being more of the bleeps and bloops that a vocal portion of the fanbase had already grown tired of. This was also off the back of Hail to the Thief which had divided opinions in itself and further wedged the divide between those who just wanted the band to bring out guitars and those who were intrigued by what they did outside rock music. You can't really separate the Radiohead comparisons from Yorke's solo material in particular thanks to his voice, but I do think that this is a case where a little retrospective context and insight has helped The Eraser to carve out its own identity to some degree. It isn't just that Yorke continued to find laptop composition and electronic arrangements so fascinating that it was getting tricky for the other band members to add their voices in it, but we've now heard the Radiohead albums released after this and it's become apparent the band as a whole was already moving forward stylistically behind the scenes. In short, The Eraser used to sound a little "more of the same" in reference to the twitch-bleeps that were already present throughout the background of Hail to the Thief and its adjacent material in general; viewed now, it's like a coda to where Radiohead were in the early 2000s, tying the bow across the personal and political doomsday panic of a present that they were carrying, with Yorke taking the musical ideas he was keen to explore to their logical conclusion on his own to get it out of his system before the work on In Rainbows could begin. Despite the obvious place it has in the wider Radiohead story, time has allowed it to establish more of its own personality now.

And yes, it's a laptop record, where Yorke chops and samples various bits recorded across the years and adds layers of new glitched-out electronic textures over them together with Nigel Godrich. But it's not the kind of arthouse IDM record that would perhaps be expected, coming off the back of some of Radiohead's more experimental material. If anything, the lack of contributions from his four bandmates may play some part in how straightforward the album is, where nothing additional is added in the way of the skeletal core of the song. The songs here rarely evolve or explode, with the twist-ending of the title track coming the closest: the rest largely end where they begin and in the way you have direct choruses and snappy hooks, served on top of skittering electronic beats, distorted piano chords and textural patterns. Yorke's vocals are all over the album, rarely leaving space for purely instrumental sections, and they're right in the front of the mix without any filters or other tricks; the human element is so front and center over the production elements that it begins to take the focus the deeper the album goes. The Eraser is Yorke's interpretation of a synth pop album, circa mid-00s Myspace home production - and it's a far better experience for it, because it lets Yorke's personality stand out in this context, rather than coming across like he's just imitating the music he was binging on at the time.

For the most part The Eraser walks a steady path: each song introduces its hand early on and then Yorke lays out his vocals full of doom and gloom over them, always resulting in something atmospheric and textural without ignoring the need for a decent melody. You can easily create a strong tonal touch with the production elements at play here and Yorke leans into it a lot throughout the record, the songs growing slowly into layers of sound that forebodingly cover the sky. The album started out as a series of instrumental production exercises for Yorke before he was convinced by Godrich to add his vocals on top, and that origin is apparent in the conservative structures of the songs which Yorke hasn't bothered to take any further, opting for fitting what he has to say into the existing frames rather than creating new ones. It can be powerful in the right context (the strongest I've felt about this album has happened to be during the dreariest and rainiest of days, perhaps appropriately given the imagery of the cover) and still enjoyable outside it, though it does bleed into itself from time to time. Still, some songs do jump up to re-seize the listener's attention when things might start get a little too repetitive. The jaunty "Black Swan" in the middle in particular is the most extroverted song of the record, building itself across a steady shuffly drum loop, a twangy guitar and arguably the biggest chorus of the record, simple as it is in its blunt profanity; it's also the most Radiohead-esque cut of the album, partly explained by the drums being sampled from a piece of studio clip debris left on the cutting room floor from Radiohead sessions. "Harrowdown Hill" has become synonymous with the album because it distills its apocalyptic frolic so perfectly within its tone and mood, though the biggest reason it's such a highlight is its signature groove built on a slap bass hook that's stuck in your head from the moment it first so unexpectedly appears. "The Eraser", itself, is the album's heart and soul though, housing its strongest melodies, most elaborate growth in its arrangement and a chorus that downright swoons, before morphing into the bedroom rave outro that leads onto the rest of the record.

But if you want to learn something new about Yorke, The Eraser doesn't reveal anything like that. Nor does it have songs of such caliber that a Radiohead fan should automatically rush to listen to it ("The Eraser" almost being that, though), because Yorke works best when he has other people to bounce off on. His solo albums have always felt decidedly like low-key side projects, private little affairs that he tinkers on during his downtime for his own enjoyment rather than writing them as any kind of personal statements or in order to establish a solid ground around himself outside his band. The Eraser is the closest he's come to a record that stands on its own two feet as a piece of work rather than something only the biggest fans should seek to obtain out of completionist habit; it has a cohesive vision, carries a captivating atmosphere and generally feels like an album with intent behind it (though much of that impression may just come from its weightier promotional presence under XL rather than Yorke chucking the music in the internet with no warning like with his other albums). It's a good piece of extracurricular material for Radiohead scholars, but also something one might want to come back to from time to time due to its own qualities as well.

Physically: Gatefold design, which unfolds into a streched-out multi-panel piece depicting London being washed by the flood which starts from the front cover. It's a really wonderful piece of artwork; almost great enough that you'd be willing to forgive that there's no liner notes beyond the (minimal) credits and dedications/thank yous in the sleeve that holds the CD.

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