Radiohead albums are those rare beasts – an event anticipated by almost everyone with a passing interest in music, from the fervent indie kids to those who pick up a CD with their groceries. I bet though the bloke who works in the record shop round the corner from where I work was feeling a bit cheesed off come Wednesday. For him the release of a new Radiohead album would probably be a cause for celebration. He’d clear some shelf space. Maybe put a natty little display out in the window. Perhaps get the holiday brochures out to spend his well-earned profit. But instead all he can do is look with impotent rage at the box of Stereophonics albums ready to go out on Monday. Fat chance of them shifting. I paid for this album over the internet, stumping up one hundred and fifty pence to allow a bunch of zeros and ones to cascade into my laptop. However, this has not stopped it being “an event”. This is the first time it seems when everyone, from all branches of the media, are getting a significant album at the same time, from the smallest blogs to the mightiest magazines. Uniquely, we are all getting a chance to appraise it on its own merits, our opinions our own with no outside influence.
And my opinion is this. It’s a good album. But not a great one. Here Radiohead seem to have recovered their sense of melody, and the ability to structure a song, making this a more balanced affair than Hail to the Thief or Amnesia. The eclectic nature though make this more a collection of songs than a cohesive, organised album. There are two standout songs though, which I believe are among the best Radiohead have ever produced. “All I Need” is simply wonderful, a superb example of modern song-writing and production techniques, the glittering climax sending shivers down my spine just thinking about it. The album closer as well is utterly brilliant – the simple piano refrain of “Videotape” is hypnotic, set against Yorke’s vocal (I’d kill for a lyric booklet) giving it a mantra like quality.
And from the great to the good – “15 Step” is a retread of Kid A’s style, and a welcome one, from the cut and paste drum patterns to the random noise bursts. “Faust Arp” is unsettling and dark, like Simon and Garfunkel playing guitars with a disemboweled family pet laid carefully across their laps. And “Nude”, whilst not as groundbreaking as some people have been making out, is special in its dreamy, experimental atmosphere. I could do without “House of Cards” though, where melody is given a little too much free-reign, resulting in a mush of keyboards and guitars. Elsewhere too, I feel the drums are a little too electronic – “Bodysnatchers”, for all its raw power, would benefit from a beefier rhythm track. So yes, I am happy with my £1.50 investment. Its short, and sweeter than anything they’ve offered in the past. Yorke’s voice has never sounded better. Whilst not their best, it is a worthy addition to their catalogue, even if I can’t yet put it on the shelf with all the others.