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Wednesday, 18 August 2010 14:55

Radiohead: Honesty without Preservatives Added

It's the quintessential debate in the music media: what is the best rock band in the world? (See Poll)

Every now and then, the specialty media release lists and comparisons between bands that made their place in the music industry, deciding with a higher or lower degree of consensus the so-called “best band” in the world. The contenders seem to be always the same: U2 (1976- ), Coldplay (1997- ), The Beatles (1960-1970) vs. The Rolling Stones (1962- ), Oasis (1991- ), Blur (1989-2003; 2008- )... and Radiohead (1986- ).

To some extent, and considering any of the above's qualities and hard-work, Radiohead beats them all by far in terms of honesty when choosing a band that really has left its mark in the rock and roll panorama. Where U2 and Coldplay have become too big, or where Oasis sang the pride of being a hooligan (and being a Beatles fan!), Radiohead has cemented a career that began in 1986.

The band has done so by expressing teenage angst and adult frustrations, being able to create a new “coolness” in having low self-esteem as the band’s first single in 1992, “Creep” openly attests. Thom Yorke and bandmates have been putting out for the world to listen to the feelings and the lives of those who don't fit in society and somehow wish they could. It's not punk, in the sense that Radiohead's rage is contained; it's not depression since it boasts an inner acceptance of one's inadequacy; it becomes musical and lyrical poetry when it voices thoughts that we can't seem to express easily (or even admit to) for fear of ridicule. This is music that bleeds for its listener without hemorrhaging.

If back in 1993, with the release of Pablo Honey, until 1997's OK Computer, this contemporary frustration has been backed with strong guitars, and Thom Yorke has alternated between soft-singing and angry shouts in key-moments. Kid A breaks the mold of what could be considered the typical “Radiohead style”. While the band drops the traditional guitar/bass/drums/voice combo and goes electronic, the initial premise remains through Kid A: Yorke's words and voice mirror with even more intensity the inability to cope and the need to live in one's own head for protection.

Kid A marks then the turn in the band's course, splitting fans' hearts over Radiohead's “sin” of turning to electronic landscapes. This aspect of the band's sound is reconciled with their rock background in the follow-up albums Amnesiac, Hail to The Thief and In Rainbows, showing a more mature and settled Radiohead, finally with a personal signature many other contemporary rock bands lack. With the latter, they disrupted the “business as usual” aspect of the music industry with the pioneering idea of choice in payment price for their album on their website. This release of In Rainbows only solidifies the band’s honesty by allowing the consumer the ability to decide what their music is worth to them.

Radiohead may not be one of the easiest indie rock bands to listen to, or to understand, especially if picking them up right now from scratch. However, their ability to be creative, to overcome labels and to surprise even the most hardcore fan, allied with their lyrical honesty and coherence, makes them, in my book, if not the best band in the world, at least the most honest.

Whether the band plays sold-out stadiums or small club venues, Radiohead bleeds openly. They are who they are and very much like any of us, without preservatives added.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 September 2010 08:06
 
(UK)

Newsflash Archive

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan collapsed onstage Thursday night in Tampa, Fla., falling into his drummer's kit as the band performed its 1995 hard rock hit "Bullet with Butterfly Wings."

Almost immediately after falling, Corgan got back to his feet and continued playing. The lead singer and guitarist later commented on the incident on his Twitter page.

"For those that saw me fall last night during Bullet, that wasn't a stage move or clumsiness, that was me blacking out and wiping out," Corgan wrote. "I have no memory of falling against the drum riser and my guitar cabinet, but I can tell you I've got quite a good bruise + am moving slow."

The Smashing Pumpkins embarked on a summer club tour in early July; the trek continues Friday night in Knoxville, Tenn., and wraps August 28 at the Sunset Strip Music Festival in Los Angeles.

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