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RADIOHEAD

OK Computer
Rating: 6
Squirm factor: 1
    I found this lying in the middle of the street, so I assume that its last owner, "Zach K.", didn't think much of it. (Unless he dropped it by accident. If you are Zach K., please contact me and we'll see about returning it to you.) However, I thought I'd give it a spin to what all the hoopla was about. (To be honest, I'm not really buying much new music, since I already have a large enough collection of records that I can't listen to them all with any regularity. So I've read all the raves about Radiohead but only heard a little bit of their music on MTV.)
   According to what George Starostin calls the GCO ("General Critical Opinion") this was their masterpiece, until Kid A was released and became their masterpiece, until Amnesiac was released and became their masterpiece. Judging from the descriptions, I expected to be either knocked out or severely disappointed. It's apparently, to the critics' ears, some sort of blend of art rock, electronic music, and "anthemic" pop.
   Imagine my surprise when I kind of liked it. The singer has a nice Bono-meets-Beck quality and he sure can hit the high notes. Unfortunately, he only sings about half the consonants in each word, so I can't make out many of the lyrics. The guitarist(s?) come up with lots of generic but groovy enough riffs, and I really enjoy the drummer's use of syncopation in the kick drum, even if he's recorded pretty weakly. There are lots of great production touches all through the album, like the "Sexy Sadie"-style piano on "Karma Police", the brooding strings on "Climbing Up the Walls", and careful use of reverb on the vocals. The mix has a terrific sound - ear-friendly but not too smoothed over.
   Unfortunately, the band has a tendency to focus on atmosphere over hooks. Even "Let Down", with its very catchy chorus, spends a lot of time on that guitar lick, which is not nearly as interesting as the band thinks it is. "Exit Music" and "The Tourist" are nothing but atmosphere.
   Generally, the songs sound less composed than compiled. What I mean is that it sounds as though instead of writing the words and melody, then creating an arrangement around them (the traditional composition method), the band either works from a guitar riff or rhythmic groove and builds up from there. This is a fine way of working - you'll hear it happening in many garage bands near you - but it results in rather choppy melodies, relying on long notes and awkward intervals to fit around the other instruments' lines. The singer's voice is powerful enough to distract from these melodic weaknesses, but they're obvious. The only reason I can think that people are raving about these melodies is that much of modern rock, from Rage Against the Machine to Godsmack, is essentially amelodic - just screaming in tune with the guitar. So even the uninspired tunes of Radiohead sound like Brahms to a set of ears weaned on rap-metal.
   There's a lot to like about Radiohead, just as there's a lot to like about the guys down the street who play in their basement. My guess is that the guys down the street probably have better enunciation, but not as many cool beeping noises.

READER COMMENTS

  • From Cole Bozman: Hahahahaha! Take that, Headheads!
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Fiegoo." Steve says: "Headheads? I must be out of touch. I thought Radiohead fans were called "the writing staff of Spin". Thanks for writing!"

  • From Tony Souza: The most overrated album in the last ten years. Your review is dead-on. It's good, but I've heard too many people laud this as the best album ever (one British poll labeled it as such), and that's just ridiculous. For an album to be labeled as the best ever it had better be beyond good. It has to be transcendent. It has to be original. I hear too much Pink Floyd in their music for them to be that origial. They may have more substance to them than your average band but I still don't see what the fuss is all about over this album.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Wahgoo." Steve says: "Like I said, it's actually an above-average album; I think the fuss is that Radiohead are reviving old tricks (actual tunes, lyrics that deal with emotions other than rage, the band all playing at once rather than assembling loops) and it's a mind-blowing revelation to the hordes raised on Limp Bizkit. Those with a grounding in the older rock styles have a bit of perspective. Not that I begrudge Radiohead their success - I think they're pretty smart about their career and have no illusions about being the next Rolling Stones and so they take pains to get out there and tour and keep connected with the fans. Hard work should always be rewarded, but maybe the Nobel Prize for Rock Music is going a bit far. Thanks for writing!"

  • From Mike Bryant:Radiohead have three guitarists. Thom Yorke (singer) plays guitar sometimes, but mostly guitars are by Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien. So therefore they could have three guitars on any given track and usually do. I'm pretty sure that Jonny is the lead guitarist, though. I don't really understand it when people put this album down. I can't really change your opinion, but I can tell you mine. This a great album. The tunes are not "uninspired" as you say, just listen to that rising crescendo of "Let Down" or the emotion on songs like "No Surprises." Of course, Radiohead ARE a welcome relief from Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit, but "uninspired"? I think that is a very inaccurate statement. Radiohead are not just "cool beeping noises". Their songs are dense musically (meaning there are very many different melodies and such) and Thom Yorke has a great voice.
    Who are these people "grounded in older rock styles" who don't like Radiohead? Other WRC reviewers are "grounded in older rock styles" but still rate them high. Mark Prindle gave OK Computer an 8, and Kid A a 10. Adrian gave OK Computer a 10 and it is even in his Top 15 records. Higher than every Beatle album except for "Revolver." NIck Karn gave it a 10, the list goes on. It seems to me that you just like older styles of music, and do not want ot appreciate great music that is currently being made. They do sound like Pink Floyd though. But the other albums do not sound like Pink Floyd at all. Just because they sound like a certain, doesn't mean you should write them off . OK Computer is better than a lot of Pink Floyd's work. And I'm not the only one who thinks this, I'm not some crazy kid who thinks this. There are people right here in the WRC who think Radiohead is the shit.
    So I'm really sorry if I ranted too much, but I really felt like ranting. Oh well.

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