A robot metropolis armageddon, mad scientists who shout at their hapless guitarists to go faster Johnny faster, despite the beep and boom zooming along as fast as the computer will allow, but not fast enough for the lightning fiber connections in the brain of the King of Depresso-doom Electronica, acoustic creepzoid lust and longing, and hitman spokesman for the outcast freaks, who fail to find connections they are comfortable with but still want to sing along about how just about “anyone can play guitar…and they won’t be a nothing anymore”. It is hard to believe that the frontman for the best band to come out of the 90s (sit down Stipe and the REM boys, you are good, great even, but Radiohead have it by an OK Computer and Kid A, not to mention the glories of their late great album, In Rainbows vs an Out of Time and an Automatic for the People) ever felt like a nothing, or a creep, or a loser, unloved or unwanted or destined for zero-ness. In our lives which are increasingly isolated, lived alone, reliant on the computer to make contact and connections, the past closeness in flames, Radiohead speak clouder and clearer and more pertinent than ever. For introverts like me, these are anthems of natural reticence and forced isolation. “I’ve given all I can, it’s not enough, I’ve given all I can, but we’re still on the payroll” sings Thom in Karma Police, riding in the back seat of the counterculture, warning the normies and the piggies that ‘this is what you get when you mess with us”: introverts unite…separately…
I remember reading a scathing indictment on society, a comment by someone or other that the best thing about Yorke was his by now famous paralysed eye, and thinking how gauche can someone get. In retrospect Thom’s difference, his otherness was what made his music so infinitely relatable. Not many can relate deeply to the spaceman Bowie in his fabulousness, or the scathing Reed and his Rock and Roll Animal jerk off incandescent meth-butterfly act, or Iggy Pop bleeding and smeared in peanut butter writhing on the stage: enjoyable, shocking, a blast, exhilarating, but not relatable, it doesn’t invoke that longed for GROK for a large group of disenchanted misfits in the same way Radiohead does.
I remember OK Computer coming out, ripping off the cellophane, smoking a joint, or whatever I was doing at that time, speed probably, and feeling as if the sound coming out of the speakers spoke to whatever teenage unease and isolation I was going through. There is a little of Radiohead in every depressive reject of society who just don’t fit in.
Thom Yorke’s stripped-down vulnerability, protected only by the beat and the armor of his lyrical talents, and the best band a creep could wish for, is his superpower. It is what makes the Radiohead body of work stand out from the crowd of 90 indie bands and their slacker nuisance jive. Where Suede’s Animal Nitrate, and Blur’s Country House have dated badly – more a time capsule for the latch key kid generation X’ers, Radiohead dealt in the more timeless, universal, and pertinent themes of depression, the human unease with the computer overtake, and feeling like a disenfranchised freak that has “no home in this world anymore”, as Guthrie once sang, and Radiohead picked up the beat torch, added a few hundred beats per million lives frittered away wondering if there were going to be any more surprises, and carried it down the flaming road of society’s insane self-destruction.
Yorke is the natural existentialist heir to Camus with his Human Beast (don’t we all know a Gucchi little piggy or two?), to Satre with his Outsider (“It’s always best when the light is off/It’s always better on the outside” – Climbing Up The Walls), to Anais Nin and her examination of the human drive towards Eros, while toying with the fetishistic masochistic lemming-like Thannatos urges (is ‘her Hitler hairdo” making you ‘feel ill”?), to Rimbaud and his Season in Hell (“What the hell am I doin’ here? I don’t belong here”) and to Verlaine (Paul not the talented pretender to the name, Television Tom) and his decadent desires to follow what felt good while recognizing that he felt bad – the ‘madman lost in adventure’ rabbit hole that all creative people fall deep into for as long as they are producing art.
The reissue of 1997’s OK Computer in 2017, on its twentieth anniversary (fucking hell, Thom, where did the time go!) the gloriously named OK Computer OKNOTOK, highlighted strongly prog rock leanings of keyboard heavy roads thankfully not taken, that had Greenwood joking to Rolling Stone that it is hard to get through “without clutching your sofa for support” alongside satisfyingly clean and balanced remastering. However much I love OK Computer, one of the most iconic albums of the 1900s, I am more excited for the Kid A and Amnesiac reissue: Kid A Mnesia. Kid A, released in 2000, and Amnesiac, (2001) pairs one of their most loved and critically acclaimed albums with one of the more overlooked releases, the reissue both fleshing out Kid A, and highlighting the unfairly overlooked Amnesiac. Perhaps it was tempting fate to name an album after the absence of memory.
Alongside the remastering of both albums, the release is scheduled to include a third disc, Kid Amnesiae, packed with previously unreleased material from the recording sessions of both albums, and a retro-minded and highly desirable cassette, Kid Amnesiette, which comprises of various B-sides. The Kid A Mnesia Exhibition, fully interactive and featuring music and artwork from both albums is going to be released in November for PlayStation 5, MacOS and Windows.
If the previously unreleased track, If You Say the Word is any indication of the quality of this release, we are all in for a huge treat. From the chiming opening bars, rich in the deep mystery of moonlight drives and alienated muses, the creep of the first album needing to know, to hear the word that tells him that she will let him stay with her forever. None of us can promise forever, but Radiohead might just be emerging blinking from the half-light of the earlier albums into a gentle acceptance that we are better off together….just apart far enough not to smother.
Yorke and the Radiohead gang of five exist in the state of unknowing, of insecurity, of reassurance chasing, of not expecting yet hoping. If You Say The Word might be one of the most joyful songs Radiohead have released since the unfairly maligned Pablo Honey. I can’t wait to hear the entire release, and am feeling vaguely jealous of those who are getting a critics pre-release edition to review. Perhaps I should start doing unboxings and openings on youtube in a hope to get to hear the good stuff that I need a little earlier. I was never much good at being patient! I guess I will have to wait until November 5th when it is going to be released on XL Recordings.
Pablo Honey is the music of my misspent youth. It is smoking hash in parks, kissing my girlfriend in the underpass, it is an eternal summer of youth where everything is speedy and happy, bright and cheerful and the losers all win for once! The halcyon days of generation X before it all got darker, smack-ier and more ‘ok computer‘ on us, and the shades came down birthing a more alienated Radiohead, and one that was going to last longer than just the summer of 1993.
Just think about how great the reissue of In Rainbows is going to be! Come on, Thom and Johnny, faster!