A lot of bands played on John Peel’s show benefit from repeated listening. One finds things in the music that were not evident at the time, and yield richer rewards from careful analysis. Captain Beefheart is one of these, Pavement another, and even Caroline Martin, who I used to hate with a vengeance, has more to offer than previously thought.
Then there are the bands who unfortunately age badly, and listening to them again only shows up their lack of substance. For example, one of my readers was desperate to get his hands on a session by Kan Kan, yet when I sent it to him, admitted that it sounded dated. Another such band is Oxonians Radiohead, who, despite urban myths, never made a Peel session, and had only four entries in the Festive Fifty, one of which JP admitted never having played, although he could understand why people voted for it. That last-mentioned song is There There (FF 2003 #37), from Hail To The Thief. It marked a return to more guitar-based rock after a bit of messing around with post-Kraftwerk electronic noodlings. Yet there’s nothing revolutionary or earth-shattering about this drum-heavy exercise, which the band apparently use to open the majority of their shows.
Pyramid Song (FF 2001 #40) has to be one of the most esoteric pieces ever to make the top three in the UK charts. Its bewitching atmosphere and softly repeated piano chords entrance the ear, with Thom Yorke whining to better effect than normal. It certainly makes up for the frankly odd album Kid A, which polarised audience and critics alike. And rightly so, because the title track (FF 2000 #25) and Idioteque (FF 2000 #48) are calculated attempts at pissing off the people who revelled in massive anthems such as Anyone Can Play Guitar or Creep (FF 1993 #31).
I was really, really amazed at how badly [Kid A] was being viewed… because the music’s not that hard to grasp. We’re not trying to be difficult… We’re actually trying to communicate but somewhere along the line, we just seemed to piss off a lot of people… What we’re doing isn’t that radical. [Thom Yorke]
Why do bands do this? There is no excuse, none at all, for self-indulgence at the expense of the people who buy their music. That their subsequent efforts have tried to recast this penchant for weirdness in a more acceptable mould is an admission of guilt, it seems to me. Moreover, if you really want to sample Thom Yorke’s obsession with his own world (and his own asshole), buy The Eraser, which really should come with a razorblade and a length of rope attached.
No, for me, the band’s achievement in Creep remains their crowning glory. A solid rock tune, no whining, and a stratospheric melodic arch make for one of the most memorable songs in that year’s chart. More of the same, please.
You may disagree, but I feel that making OK Computer the number one rock album of all time (as one poll on Channel 4 did, I remember) smacks of iconoclasm to a ridiculous and self-serving degree. Don’t run away with the idea that I hate Radiohead: I merely think the time has come for a reassessment of the gulf between how good they think they are and their true merits. This band don’t need your money (they have plenty from disproportionately huge sales). They need a boot up their meandering backsides.