Why I (mostly) don’t like Radiohead anymore

Posted on January 24, 2013

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I’m no music expert. But I have been a fan of Radiohead for many years. And yesterday, while listening to one of my favourite tracks – Electioneering – I realised what Radiohead today is missing: a good song.

I recently fulfilled a lifelong (well, since 14) dream: to see Radiohead live. Although it was absolutely epic, in terms of scale, staging and sound, it failed to hit the spot for me.

Why, I asked myself? What has changed? Here was a band I have loved for more than 10 years, wailing their little hearts out.

The problem was that they don’t write songs anymore. They make ‘music’.

“It’s the same thing!” I hear you cry. It isn’t. It just isn’t. Radiohead used to write bloody good songs with little more than a guitar and a semi-veiled political/social/moral message. There was no need to try out every bleep and tick you can make on a Casio keyboard.

Now it’s a completely different ball game. Playing ‘Karma Police’ is about the only grudging recognition Radiohead will make to acknowledge that they used to keep it good and simple.

Fans of their new stuff will argue that their new stuff is full of fascinating complexity and vision and depths and whatever else. It may well be, but it is completely, entirely inaccessible to the casual listener. Deliberately so, I suspect.

Bands shouldn’t cater to the lowest common denominator, you might argue, and you’d be right and I agree. But Radiohead appear to be deliberately shutting out new listeners, ramping up the complexity (or plain weirdness) to test the loyalty of their existing groupies. But those groupies would still love Radiohead if they released a 11-track album called “A dozen shades of silence” and still call it brilliant. (Did you hear the subtle difference between track two and three? Fascinating. And did you notice there are 11 tracks when they call it 12? So deep, man.)

Radiohead are barely played on Radio 1 anym0re. Not that such a station is the measure of good music, but they are now well and truly in Radio 6 Music territory and, even then, plenty of people text in how much they dislike their current stuff. Radio 6 plays all sorts of fascinating music and people who listen to it  tend to be quite liberal in taste. It says something that those people are put off Radiohead today.

One of two of Radiohead’s songs off recent albums are, in one way or another, interesting. But they have lost the balance. OK Computer had a brilliant combination of rocky guitar and experimental sound. Albums since have gone way too far into the latter to the detriment of writing a good song. There’s nothing wrong with a humble guitar and having something to say.

Image from Rafael Kage‘s Flickr photostream.

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Posted in: culture