Re-visitation and re-evaluation

I’ve not posted anything much on The ‘Spill for ages, apart from a few comments here and there, work has been taking up lots of time and I am conscious that although I am listening to lots of music, I am not really writing about it. So, I thought that I’d better do something about that state of affairs.

Anyway, this piece is all about how sometimes a band can surprise you and make you go back and re-evaluate their back catalogue.

I made a comment on The ‘Spill ages ago about changing my mind about being someone who liked Radiohead to realising that I was someone who actually just liked The Bends and OK Computer.

That was based on the fact that I didn’t like Kid A, an album I’d bought, listened to once or twice and then just dismissed as electronic doodling.

I’d basically not bothered to keep up with what the band were doing, yes, I heard stuff on the radio but most of it I didn’t really get involved with and then King of Limbs came out. I heard “Lotus Flower” on the radio and thought it sublime and “Little By Little” also sounded like a good song to me, one that crept up and grew on me, in a way that Radiohead hadn’t moved me for a long time. So I bought the album and yes, I really liked it a lot. I liked the shifting, elusive quality of the music, the skittering electronic drum patterns, the layered sound and the enigmatic vocals. The music had a maturity that demanded attention. It reminded me of something else.

It engaged me in a way that I thought Radiohead weren’t able to do any more. Even more interestingly, the blend of sounds; electronica, guitars, brass, treated vocals and other instruments sent me back to Kid A. I thought that it finally deserved a re-evaluation. There were things that I thought needed placing in a context.

However, I didn’t go straight at it. I had a whole afternoon of Radiohead. I played King of Limbs, then went back and played The Bends and OK Computer. I had a bit of a think, realising that what I’d previously loved about the two earlier albums didn’t necessarily move me in the same way. I still liked the anthemic rock tracks and the dislocated ballads but the two albums sounded, how can I put it, a bit too straightforward and lacking in subtlety, compared with the slippery, jittery, layered music on the newest album.

So, then I approached Kid A again. Right from the off, the opener “Everything in Its Right Place” clicked. The dissonances, the samples, the avant garde string arrangements, the punchy, discordant brass (that sort of reminded me of some of the brass used on some of King Crimson’s albums) and the electronic treatments finally made sense. I listened to the album and then I listened to it a second time. It still sounded right and, weirdly, because everyone always says how much of a departure it is from what came before, I could hear elements of continuity with OK Computer. Not large elements, but subtle ones, things to search out. Now, listening to Kid A, I don’t hear wilfully difficult experimentation, I hear musical maturity, I hear musicians stretching themselves, re-inventing their band into something beyond the anthems, something mysterious, something deep.

The band has always shunned, rightly I think, the tag of being a “prog” band. I can see that, because they haven’t done anything that I’d call prog. There was always that hype about OK Computer being a Dark Side Of The Moon for the nineties, which was really just hot air. I am not sure that the nineties needed a DSOTM, any more than any other decade ever did, the original doing a perfectly good job by itself. However, there is something in the experimentation, the use of the avant garde and the way the music on Kid A is structured that is really progressive in a real sense. It is progressive because it marked genuine musical progress for Radiohead. It took them away from the stadium rock that would have been a straight-jacket. Plenty of bands would have probably been happy to carry on cashing in on “Creep”, “The Bends” and “Paranoid Android” for a couple of decades, but Kid A gave Radiohead a whole new language and landscape to explore. In a way, I am kind of glad that it took me this long to make the connection. It is nice to be surprised occasionally and it is always good to have a prejudice overturned.

So, can I call myself a Radiohead fan again? Well, I think the answer has to be “Yes” to that one.

The only problem now, is what do I think of the guitar-based albums now, as opposed to the electronic ones? I am currently thinking that the electronica is what I want to hear most.

So, back to the basic premise again. Can recent music by bands and artists make you reassess their back catalogue and see their output in a different way? We are used to seeing music come out in a linear way. Is there real worth in approaching a body of work in reverse? What can it tell us about the artists to look at their past music through the filter of their present work?

I don’t have an answer necessarily, but maybe there are other views here?

17 thoughts on “Re-visitation and re-evaluation

  1. Nice piece Carole. I was a big early Radiohead fan. The first time that I saw them however was in Florence where they were road- testing the Kid A material and I was a tad underwhelmed at the time. The songs seemed to go on a bit and there was a paucity of melody and decent tunes, which I suppose are the hallmark of The Bends and OK Computer.

    I did however persist and found a lot to like on Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief. I think that In Rainbows sort of buries the hatchet and accepts that harmony and tunes can be part of complex music – there really are some fantastic songs such as Nude and Weird Fishes, but this is my own favourite. I keep on nomming it over on RR because it such a thrilling piece of music.

    Still workin’ on King Of Limbs…

  2. Not that impressed with KOL or the remix version. In Rainbows & Tom Yorke’s solo are both solid albums & the Harry Patch single was a stunner. Most of the rest since OK, have high points but also a lot of filler & KOL has more filler than highlights.

    Pretty difficult to find a band these days that takes chances & sticks around long enough to evaluate backwards. Shane’s recent Eels post would be one example.

  3. Lovely thoughtful piece, Carole. I’m afraid, being basically a pop-music fan, they lost me after OK Computer. In fact, if I’m totally honest, they lost me with much of that album too. Maybe I just don’t have the patience, but I love a big crunchy hook – and The Bends has them in abundance, which is why I loved it. Of OK Computer, I loved Let Down and No Surprises. And I quite liked a handful of others. But I didn’t love it like I loved The Bends. I’ve tried with the odd thing since (eg, the “Nude” single), but I’ve never been won over. Maybe I should try harder!

    If I’m honest, I’d quite like them to surprise us all with another “Anyone can play guitar” or “Lurgee” or (as if!) “Creep”, but I know that’s never gonna happen!

  4. Great piece Carole. I’ve struggled with post-OK Computer Radiohead – I do have copies of all the albums, and like bits of them, and have nothing against experimentation, and haven’t given up hope that one day the jigsaw’s going to fall into place, as it has for you.

    On the other hand: I listened to my old cassette copy of The Bends the other day for the first time in ages, really loud, and I’d happily ditch everything off their last 5 albums for another “Fake Plastic Trees” or “Black Star”.

    Fascinating questions, which I’m afraid I’m far too busy to answer properly right now. But maybe some bands should be approached in reverse. Take the Kings of Leon for example: fascinating development from empty stadium sell-outs to rootsy rockers with amazing facial hair.

  5. Great post, Carole. I love OK Computer – probably one of my favourite albums ever. I must admit some of the later stuff lost me a bit, but you’ve inspired me to give it all another try. “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” is great. And I like Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” very much.

    Having been out of work for a few months I’ve been re-visiting some of my old cassettes, like Barbryn. I found an Allman Bros concert from 1974 and listened to that the other day; the sound quality is poor but they were amazing, I’d forgotten how good they were. I have six drawers full off cassettes so have some real work to do on re-appraisals! As I’m working again now, that might take a while …

  6. From the other side of the pond – i had always thought that Radiohead was so much wank with whining vocals, with an ok song or two. (They sort of get lumped in with Coldplay over here for some reason. Who I still essentially loathe.) But i’ve been slowly starting to come around to the realization that Radiohead is really pretty good. I don’t have any real baggage associated with any of their albums, so you’ve inspired me to give them a fresh listen, suspending any prejudice. (not that i have all that much, really.) Thanks!

  7. This is a really great article. I never really got into radio head but I will check them out again now ! ! !

    X-Japan is a band I had a similar feeling with. I always thought they were pretty OK but generic pretty boy rock band, But they have had like a really long break – maybe 10 years, and come back with a really great new album which I think is maybe their best ever.

  8. excellent post Carole !

    I “rediscovered” Radiohead from “In Rainbows”, but for different reasons.

    I loved “Pablo Honey” because….well, because I was the right age at the time and “Anyone Can Play Guitar” was a big hit amongst my friends.

    I didn’t mind “The Bends” but I went off them around “OK Computer” mainly because it was mopey and boring but I also suspect my indie snob kicked in as they became ridiculously popular. Having to endure an ex-colleague bringing down the mood by insisting on singing the ‘hits’ of “OK Computer” at numerous karaoke nights didn’t help either !

    I bought “In Rainbows” purely because I was bored and it was on sale cheap. I really got into it and went back and checked out the elctronicky albums I had missed and was completely blown away by “KId A” and I even finally came around to “OK Computer” too.

    I think “King of Limbs” is amazing, no filler for me and it’ll probably make my end of the year list.

  9. Very interesting piece, Carole. I don’t think of myself as a fan of Radiohead, Mr Bethnoir likes their early albums, I quite liked OK Computer, but Kid A appealed to me immediately, especially the first track and Treefingers.

    Sounds like I need to check out King of Limbs, thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thanks Amylee,

      I’ll be trying to sort out a few more posts. I’ve missed being involved but I intend to remedy that, including more music!

  10. Relistening to – and enjoying a lot – The Bends (for the first time in a-a-a-g-e-s) as I type. And if my kids let me get that far, iTunes is going to play In Rainbows*, OK Computer and Pablo Honey too. But that’s all I have, as [no-one will be surprised to hear] my very brief exposure to Kid A on release slammed the door firmly shut between me and Radiohead.

    So first of all, thank you for that, Carole.

    *Yeah, I D/Led it for nothing; they weren’t going to get any more of my money by that point.

    On your wider point about the possibility of listening to a band’s output in “reverse” order, I re-assessed early Talk Talk that way, and now like, nay love even, a lot of the poppy stuff on the first two albums.

    I’ll also admit to his (& Rick Rubin’s: I kinda co-credit them) American Recordings being the cause of me delving into Johnny Cash’s back catalogue.

    Lovely thoughtful thread. Nice one.

  11. Thanks for all the comments. I’m happy to have sparked a few people off.

    I think a secondary factor in me going back to enjoy Kid A was realising that the “difficult” Radiohead albums make more sense if you put them into the same context as people like Sigur Ros and Mogwai rather than with predominantly guitar bands. The electronic albums are definitely heading towards Post Rock to my way of thinking, but also harking back to some German experimental stuff like Neu! and Can.

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