Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
Ween fandom is sketchier than Saturday Night Live. I can not, in good conscience, recommend anyone get Really Into Ween. They're a band that I won't think about for years, and then someone will mention a word that shows up in one of their songs, and that song is stuck in my head for a week. Very rarely are they songs I would ever sing in public.
I didn't know about Ween until I lived in a house full of drug dealers in Vermont. I was not a drug dealer, I was barely a casual drug user. But rent was cheap, the room was offered to me, and they were all, in addition to being drug dealers, creative and interesting people with a variety of non-drug centered jobs. Also, all but one of them only dealt weed, nobody was breaking down our doors with submachine guns for bananas and blow.
After about six months living in the house, I needed to take a trip to Chicago, and was not looking forward to Greyhounding it. As ... luck ? would have it, one of my roommate's girlfriends (as in "my many roommates were all dating people", not "one of my roommate's various girlfriends) was on her way to Columbus, Ohio, where I would still have to grab a bus, but I would be on it for ten fewer hours. The thing was ... she and two of her friends were going to see a band I didn't know much about, Ween. But they weren't just three random people going to see a rock show ten hours away from home, they were three white girls who were dressing up as geishas to go see a band ten hours away. Even in 2000, I was, like "Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah." But I needed the ride.
The ride kinda sucked, and I should have just taken the bus. But before the trip, I decided to bone up on Ween. Three of my four roommates had Ween records. Not CDs, not tapes, records. So I got to listen to them on Vinyl, hook them up to my cassette deck / CD player, and record my own mix, pretty much precisely as I do with these Reimagined Discographies, but decidedly more lofi.
Ween is ... not always my thing. They're super talented, but they try on different genres of music like they're pairs of shoes at a used clothing shop. Some consistently work, some work sporadically, and some tracks I bowed out of superquick.
One of their hooks is Shock Humor. Which is not my thing at all. But a bunch of their music overcomes it, or is just falsely shocking. There's a track I'll get to in the description that has a sweet origin, but sounds like it's tacky. And then there are some tracks that ARE tacky or problematic as Adam Corolla's fetid (that's a thought not worth completing). Some of their tracks are tacky or problematic. With one exception, I've only included offensive tracks that are targeted at a demographic I'm part of. And there's only one that is a diss track. It's filled with anti-gay terminology in its lyrics, but Ween isn't anti-gay or homophobic, they were a couple of party-focused music nerds with queer friends who filled a song with deliberately outdated stereotypes and put it to catchy music. I will totally understand if you hate it / never want to listen to it. But if it were hateful, I would be the person the song was targeting, and I think it's too ridiculous (and non-threatening, or I wouldn't bother with it) to be taken seriously, and the music is a joy.
We'll start with a song you could play out in public, provided someone wasn't listening too too closely to the lyrics. There are no swears, no overt sexuality (I mean, it's all about sex, but in a radio friendly way). Voodoo Lady is just a really catchy dance track about ... ummm ... is it about being pegged? That tracks. It does use the word voodoo, which could be viewed as appropriation, but it doesn't attempt to talk about voodoo, it just uses it as an adjective frequently used in rock classics. It's dancey as jitter. (Triggers: somewhat subtle reference to being pegged, innuendo, geographically prejudice suggesting that someone might "make love" to gators.)
12 Country Classics is probably my favorite Ween album. They really nail the country sound, musically, and somewhat thematically, while deliberately getting the words completely wrong in often, but not always, delightful ways. Don't Shit Where You Eat My Friend is a profane song filled with good advice. Who doesn't need one of those in their life? And then there's a little surf acoustic rock tacked on the end. Yee-ha? (Triggers: the word "shit" is in the title so there's naughty language but they're not actually talking about eating shit, so it's not as gross as the title might have you fearing.)
The band goes all grungey both musically and vocally for I Can't Put My Finger On It, perhaps, the best song ever about not being able to identify why you do or don't like a gyro. (Triggers: fuzzed out vocals, it's totally inoffensive.)
Ok. I get why you wouldn't trust an often provocative band to put out something called The HIV Song. I totally understand. But I read an interview where either Dean or Gene Ween talked about living in New York City, and having most of their friends be queer members of the theater and music communities, and how watching them get sick and die was terrifying. They coped by cutting a ridiculously circus jingle where the only lyrics are the alternating HIV and AIDS at the end of each instrumental verse. Is it weird? Yes. Is it offensive? No. (Trigger warning: if the words "HIV" and "AIDS" offend you just by existing, this song is super not for you. But there's no commentary about it at all, there are just those two words blandly said at the end of instrumental verses.)
There's a late 70s / early 80s funk vibe melded with 90s alternative rock in Exactly Where I'm At that I love. It's a song about dealing with fame. There are no trigger warnings for this song. It's totally safe to play in public.
Take Me Away is more funk-infused alternative rock. It's a generic, misogyny tinted song. And, by misogynic, I mean in the way pretty much all bland rock and R&B and disco and funk and country and opera and folk and polkas and rap songs can be misogynist. A guy asks to be taken away from a girl that's "driving him crazy". That's it. No objectivity, or name calling, or insults. He never calls her "crazy". He is just driven crazy because of unrequited love. (Trigger warning: If you're the kind of person who finds the casual use of "crazy" as ableist and unlistenable, you should already be ten miles away from this album.)
Just the title Waving My Dick In The Wind tells you whether or not you're probably in the right frame of mind to listen to the song, right? It's a take on Mr. Bojangles, where, presumably, the dance move involves waving genitalia in appreciation of someone you love. (Trigger warning: the title, getting old sucks.)
The most offensive song on the album is almost definitely Mister Richard Smoker. It's a series of dated references to homosexuality. It's just 2:30 seconds of telling someone who is out and gay that they're out and gay. But in dated language. It makes no judgement. But it sets it to country blues piano and strings. Why? Who. Knows. But it's delightful. (Trigger warning: It's easy to see this as homophobic based on the terminology, even though there are no slur words, just slur terminology like "poopy poker" and "velvet coker". Terms not at all meant to be taken seriously.)
Another country twang song that is lyrically weird but thematically country is the hangover jamboree Help Me Scrape The Mucus Off My Brain. The most problematic part of the song is the sound of the word "mucus", so if you can handle that word, you'll be fine. (Trigger warning: He spent the dog food money. Also, he's totally hungover.)
You are well within your right to skip Spinal Meningitis. It's a type of song that Ween has done a few times, but this is the only one I've included. It's a dark alternative / new wave brood with creepy child voiced verses and a draggy chorus. It's guitar riff at the end comes out of nowhere. Like many an 80s metal riff. (Trigger: spooky child voiced lyrics about dying.)
If Jimmy Buffet collaborated with Ween ... what's that, you're leaving? Come Back! ... it would have produced the steel-drum tropical dance song Bananas And Blow. This is the Ween song that most gets stuck in my head. (Trigger warnings: drugs are bad, kid. This song is less blatant and offensive than Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" or, literally, anything by The Weeknd.)
Happy Colored Marbles is incredibly reminiscent of the music of "Bananas And Blow". It's actually from the very limited Weendow of time after I stopped listening to Ween but before they stopped producing new music. It's a song about not "losing your marbles" but temporarily giving them away when you don't want to deal with them. Either way, its lyrics are entirely unproblematic. This is another song that it's completely okay to play in public, though the end gets instrumentally heavy and plodding. The lyrics are fine. No trigger warning.
Another song to completely judge by the title is Flies On My Dick. The singer has a partner that wants to do drugs with him but doesn't want to fuck, hence the title. In the end, he "knows what (he) must do" and jerks off. (Trigger warning: Sex references, the word "dick" is right there in the title. But he never judges the person for not having sex with him.)
Do you need a country song satirizing the trope of asking a partner to leave because she's a nag? Do you need it filled with mild mostly radio friendly profanity until the chorus which includes the "B" word? You really don't but I still like this song. Piss Up A Rope is filled with deliberately misogynist language. It's satire, but it's not gentle satire. (Trigger warning: Country songs are often misogynist, particularly when they try and be funny songs about the end of relationships. Objectification. Suggestions that the person have sex with them if they want to stay. The words "shit" and "bitch".)
Much the way you can imagine their country songs are legitimately country musicians singing heartfelt lyrics, Don't Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy could definitely be confused for a Bowie-derivative New Wave band sincerely singing about a father advising his son about one of their deaths ? (Trigger: Some people think this song is about molestation. I think that's a difficult leap to make, but it's not completely out of nowhere.)
Transdermal Celebration is another "past my time" Ween song that I like. It sounds like Stone Temple Pilots singing about crustaceans growing out of their shells. So ... maybe it's about the band outgrowing the reputation they achieved from their Mollusk album? No triggers.
Dean Ween is one half of the band. So Gene Ween sings about What Deaner Was Talking About. A song that seems to me to be about anxiety and having your first panic attack, which someone close to you has told you about, and now you get what they meant. But that's a stab in the dark. It's not a very direct song about anything. No triggers, which is kind of surprising for a song about panic attacks.
Ween's only actual hit was Push The Little Daisies, a vocally tweaked song about death and girls where the lead singer sounds like Cartmen, even though the song predates "South Park" by five or six years. While it's definitely their biggest hit, it's not even close to their best song. But it's fun. (Triggers: The lead singer sounds like Eric Cartmen.)
Casual misogyny is the basis for the music industry. Seriously. It just it. Pandy Fackler is a song about loving a prostitute. Not saving a prostitute. Not degrading her. Just mentioning that she's a working girl. It does also suggest she's either homeless or high enough to eat cotton candy from a garbage can. It doesn't frame it as being gross. The music is keyboard pop. (Trigger: one of the lyrics is "sucking dick under the promenade" which is a ridiculous phrase.)
When I made the original version of this mix back in 2001, I was making it from vinyl, so I was able to play with speeds, so I recorded Drifter In The Dark at its original speed for the first two verses, and then bumped it up a speed so the main vocals were pitched fast, but the echo vocals were at normal speed. The actual version has the main vocals at regular speed, with echo vocals slowed down. I prefer hearing the song both ways, but I don't have either a record player or this record to recreate it. (Triggers: vocals played at the wrong speed.)
Buenos Tardes Mi Amigo is a Western film sung from the perspective of a Mexican character. I don't know Michael "Mickey" Melchiondo (Dean Ween)'s nationality. He could be Latino. But this is definitely a put-on accent comparable to what you'd hear in an American Western (or Spaghetti Western) film. You could see this ending up on the second Kill Bill soundtrack. It's perfect in its faithfulness to the genre. And it's a cool narrative. I forgot most of the lyrics. The second time I listened to it this year, I was at work (after the store was closed) and said "Don't poison the chicken!" to the song, which my coworker overheard, and, as she wasn't listening to the lyrics, had no idea what I was talking about. (Trigger: fake Mexican accent in service of genre.)
I don't have to understand Freedom Of '76 to like it. It's vaguely about how fake and awful America is without making any controversial statements? (Triggers: falsetto. "Mannequin was filmed at Woolworth's.")
Japanese Cowboy has one offensive line that it repeats three times. Hands down. Yeup. It's ungentle satire where the lead singer talks about things that ain't right. One of them is the title, the other is brothers on skates, which was a shitty 90s joke about the whiteness of hockey, but I prefer to imagine is about how weird it would be to see a monk figure skating. If you cut out the two references I've mentioned, this is a perfectly wonderful country satire song. But I guess that's the hook, that country is a problematic genre. (Triggers: already mentioned. It's a shitty repeated line.)
This mix ends with another song post-my time listening to Ween. Hey There, Fancypants is delightful. It is non-problematic. It's also not a ballad. I know I usually end albums on a mellow fade out, but since most Ween songs are, at their core, honest but surfacely insincere, I decided to end on a nice, bouncy song about how soul crushing it is to be a performer.
As you might have guessed from the month long intermission, I wasn't especially stoked to go through the final phase of REM. Up came out during my Must Buy Every CD From Every Artist I Love phase of my 20s, and I listened to it repeatedly, trying to will myself to like it more. I had recently transitioned out of working in a record store an into working in a chocolate store, and had also started blogging / sending out e-newsletters to fans. My very first one mentioned listening to this album while waiting for a manager to unlock the shop. I believe I referenced trying to slit my wrists with a crisply folded dollar bill.
The blogs got happier.
The REM albums did not. Reveal never appealed to me. I bought it, I listened to if a couple of times, and then I forgot about it. So much so, that it turns out that I never uploaded it to my computer, and have just now realized that there are no tracks from that album at all represented here. That's ... fine. I do remember enjoying "All The Way To Reno", as well as "Bad Day" from their Greatest Hits around this time. But I didn't miss them when I put this together, so I'm not going to redo the album.
I thought Around The Sun was okay, but it felt like the way I feel when I'm done writing something, feel content, then look at it and think "Oh God, I've already written this before. And I wrote it much better back then." It feels a bit like a B or C-side release.
I appreciated Accelerate's return to early REM rock sound, but after a few tracks, the songs started to sound the same, just A Better Same than the previous two albums. And while I've included some songs from that album that I really enjoy listening to, I couldn't quote a single lyric.
I didn't even know Collapse Into Now had come out, nevermind that it was the band's final album, until one of the songs came up on a friend's playlist in the car. This is no fault of REM, 2011 was not my favorite year. But Collapse Into Now, while never going to be in contention for my favorite REM album, certainly felt more like one of their classic albums than the preceding three.
I don't want to give the impression that this reimagined album doesn't have its own unique sound. It does. I think it holds together nicely, and I like it much better than I imagined I would. But most of my descriptions are going to be talking about which previous album I think it would fit well on. This is both an attempt to be helpful to REM fans who couldn't stick with it, and also as a bit of an homage to their final album, which was a deliberate attempt to revisit certain eras of their history. I thought that was a cool conceit.
REM came back soft and grieving from their diminishing. Reviewers dubbed their new sound "keyboard farts" and it was easy to hear the whole album as a dirge. I don't want that feel. So I'm starting with one of my favorite rockers from their later work, Horse To Water. It's got the upbeat guitar of Monster if you squeegeed all the grunge off and tried to toss it gently back to Fables Of The Reconstruction.
Alligator, Aviator, Autopilot, Antimatter is "Shiny, Happy, People" if it didn't suck. The lyrics are delightfully early REM, the background vocals are punk rock, the guitars have picked up a little bit of the grunge that was shed from the previous track. It's fast, loud, and joyous, without feeling cloying. I guess if I were going to put it on an earlier REM album, I would have to slice it in half Solomon style, and send it back to Green and Chronic Town.
Those two tracks were heavily influenced by their earliest work, but as I mentioned, their first two post-Berry era albums were more Automatic For The People / New Adventures In Hi-Fi but with drum machines and keyboards. It's not my favorite era by a long stretch, but there were some good tracks on those albums, including Electron Blue. Stipe's vocals are further up in the mix on these first two albums, which I quite enjoy. I understand that pushing his vocals back make the rock tracks feel more retro, but I enjoy how the reverb on vocals like this one make you feel like you're at a concert, and the vocals are hitting you at different times from different speakers.
Outsiders is a song that just sounds like the album it's from, Around The Sun. Doubled vocals and Stipe harmonizing with himself usually doesn't work for me, but he nails it here. There's a breakdown, and then Q-Tip sets down a verse. It's not my favorite rap verse on a rock song by a long stretch, but it's 1,000% better than KRS-One on "Radio Song".
A piano ballad? On an REM album? No. Hollow Man's acoustic piano intro quickly waves back and forth between piano and guitar soft rock. It does sound like a re-recording of something off of Green with better production value.
Blue definitely could have worked from the Automatic For The People era. It's got Stipe doing spoken word over guitar and effects before Patti Smith, who also appeared on "E-Bow The Letter", has her vocals crawl over his poetry.
Crawling is also how Lotus arrives. A wriggly, vocally doubled shimmy that definitely would have felt at home on Automatic For The People. This was the song from Up that made me hold out hope for what would become the slow wind-down of REM's career. It's a sad song about being happy again. Haven't you noticed?
I don't know where I'd put It Happened Today in the spectrum of previous REM albums. Maybe Murmur. Sure Stipe's voice is gruffer, and Buck and Mills are more masterful than jangly, but this track definitely has an experimental flair that a lot of their later work didn't bother with.
A drum track and a jangly guitar and an echoey keyboard set this solidly in Monster territory. Suspicion could be "Tongue"'s mature sibling. It's occasional surfish guitar is also a great feature, a trick that the band rarely uses, but which always feels welcome.
Supernatural Superserious brings the rock guitar back. This song could really have come from almost any REM album except Automatic For The People and Up. It feels like a song they sat on for years, while also sounding 21st century fresh.
We are dropped back into New Adventures In Hi-Fi with Boy In The Well. The acoustic guitar line is fantastic. The drums are played loud, but set back in the mix. The keyboards fade forward and back, while Stipe's vocals sit clearly in the center. A slightly different mix would make this feel ethereal, but I think its refusal to go full Ballad while only having half a foot in rock works really well.
If I were a slightly bigger jerk, Diminished would have been the title track for this album. It works for both quantity of band members, and overall quality for their last four albums. But 3/4 Time is mean enough. This feels very Document to me. I do love the effects laid over strings, and the more prominent than usual bass.
"Diminished" has a false ending and an acoustic hidden track actual ending that works as a perfect bridge to At My Most Beautiful, the piano ballad that "Hollow Man" threatened to be. This is another clear Automatic For The People throwback. The background doo doo doo doo vocals are a perfect accent to another sad song about being happy and in love. This was in consideration for final track of the album, as it, too, has a false ending, and a satisfying fade out. But ...
Discoverer gives us a booming bass drum that has been long absent from REM's catalogue. This is Chronic Town all day and night, and I love it. I didn't want the back half of the album to feel like a complete wind-down, and this is a nice pick up in tempo.
If you don't consider Uberlin, "Drive (Part Two)", then I don't know how to talk to you about this song. It just feels like it's "Drive"'s sequel, if it had been placed on New Adventures In Hi-Fi. It's more uplifting, but it's all about the Hey now that made "Drive" so catchy.
The album closes out with the band's first post-Berry era single, Daysleeper. I didn't know if I liked this song when I first bought the album. I was worried that this Automatic For The People happy maudlin was going to be the new normal for REM, and while it was for a while, they did eventually evolve out of it so much that I found myself really enjoying this song.
The most recent two Radiohead albums, as they are, King Of Limbs and Moon Shaped Pool are underwhelming. Each of them contains some good songs, but there is no urgency in the way they're laid out. Whereas Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows felt like long trips with no maps, and no certainty of destination, King Of Limbs and Moon Shaped Pool feel like standing still and waiting for something to happen.
Let's harness that lack of energy. Let's turn it to nervous fuel. Let's daydream a story where place is more important than plot. Let's stand still and listen to the wind and the traffic fight to be the sky's melody. Let's draw ourselves a nice warm bath in the middle of a busy intersection. Let's see what the future holds when we refuse to move or be moved.
Hey / it's me is not Yorke starting his probably amazing cover version of Adele's "Hello". It's the beginning of Glass Eyes. Yorke is getting off a train. We have traveled some distance from the previous album's contradictory post-relationship love songs. We are at the beginning of something new, something very unsure.
The drums rise through the sweetness, and Yorke isn't sure if this new experience is maybe just a ... yea ... it's probably also a dream. Separator continues the questioning of the future of a relationship. He's falling out of bed, off of birds, out of water, out of dreams, open. He's falling. Falling. Even as the music seems to rise around him like a drizzle filling a bathtub.
This is absolute chant mantra soft rock tableau. Floating in the aforementioned tub, which is also the sky, which is blood, which is the arms of someone new. Don't Give Up The Ghost echoes and whispers. It mutters to itself while looking you in your eyes. It wants you to know that it doesn't know what it wants. It mutters to itself while looking you in your eyes to tell you that it doesn't feel safe looking into your eyes. It doesn't trust you. It lays itself at your feet.
Deck's Dark is helpless to resist. We know nothing about the You or the Us in this album apart from You is cruel. Yorke is a toy. You monster. Yorke chewed. You laughter at Yorke's expense. The song chimes and warbles, casting chunks of the story away. We crumble. Yorke crumbles. You crack Us open like a fortune cookie, without examining what's inside.
Desert Island Disks is a podcast that a friend has recommended to me. And Yorke has appeared on it. You know the drill. You're trapped forever on a desert island with a limited amount of music what do you take with you? Why is it always music or movies or books? Who are the people? What are the buildings you'd take? What mountain ranges? What flavors of ice cream? What emotions do you cast to the boiling sea? You wake up on a desert island. Where did You fall asleep? Who would hate You enough to leave You here, but love You enough to give You music? Why a desert island? Surely deserted islands could be lush with grass. Could be all pools and mountains. Is the island just part of this terrible dream of Us?
An ocean steals the sand and crushes it to the muck of seafloor. The sun steals the water from the salt to create clouds to hide behind. The clouds leak fresh water on the sand. This is the trickling of chimes from salt crystals. This is the shimmer of the freshest water. This is The Numbers raining down on Us. A humid drench of math. Not a storm. A slow deluge. This is opening your mouth to the sky to try and drown yourself, only to find the flavor of life delicious. You may pour us away like soup.
The tape warps. The film hits a melted frame. We are trapped in a cycle. Yes the rain the rain the rain. Of course. Yes rain is a cycle. Yes the piano is deliberate and won't leave Us alone. Why is Our Daydreaming so this again? So always. So tinnitus. So yes here we are broken again. So trapped in piano. How did the desert island get so vast. How did it become round? How do we keep circling back to where we first washed up? How is this island also a bathtub? How are We also Us? Trapped in warped tape. Melted cycle. Broken tinnitus. Why are we so miserable to be loved a little? Why is it never enough? The strings fly in like pterodactyls with swan necks. Mosquito proboscises. They roar more than honk. They gruff while we fade out.
There is a false start before the piano, of course, the piano comes back. Codex is slight of hand. Marked pterodactyls out of the sky. We keep waking up on this beach. This lip of the tub. This imagining of Us to be or was. Dragonflies / fantasize / No one gets hurt / You've done nothing wrong. The piano is the bassline. The piano is the drums. The beach is the piano. The water is the false. You are the start. There is only constant. There is no crescendo. There is no fade out. There is chord chord note. There is breath.
The breath cycles cold breeze. Pterodactyl sized mosquitoes circle and you are swatless. You've got some nerve coming here. Good Morning Mr Magpie has stolen all the magic. You are left with a terror that lacks awe. It is just now. It is just a drum beat and guitar strum. It is wordless oooohing. It is nervous muttering. Rub your hands together. The fantasy is dripping away. This is not a desert island. This is the parking lot of a busy Target. You are standing in the middle, unable to do anything but hope the cars continue to dodge you. The cars driving by. The cars raining out of the sky. The cars lapping at your shore. The cars leaving behind only the salt.
The parking lot shatters apart. This is a low flying panic attack. You are the bathtub filling with islands. You are the piano. The magic is gruff. Burn The Witch. Avoid all eye contact / Do not react / Shoot the messengers. Oh god, all this cycle. All this water. All this shatter. This is all just potential. This is all possible futures. This is your own swatless. Your own deluge of strum. You are still at the beginning.
Your heart of course hearts and the pterosquitoes circle and the cars are all warped tape and the mountains are what the sun creates to hide itself and you are standing in the bathtub watching the panic attack go by as the eye contact continues to dodge you and you really messed up everything and the piano is completely absent. A drum loop. Pterosquitoes echo gruff tinnitus. Truth will mess you up. Ful Stop.
So far, whether they've been combinations of albums, or just retrackings, all of the Radiohead albums have been about an hour long. Hail To The Thief is going to be the one album in the discography to buck that trend. Neither the original Hail To The Thief nor In Rainbows is my favorite album. Despite being excited by the "return to rock" buzz around Hail To The Thief, and surprised by the arrival and affordability of In Rainbows, neither album floored me. They both have songs I really enjoy, but neither had the cohesion or thematic resonance of their previous albums. Therefore, I haven't attempted to give them a cohesion. I've let them be one sonic scattershot Radiohead album.
That's a nice way to start Jonny, a nice jangly guitar ballad that builds to the rockiest section of a Radiohead song since The Bends. Don't question my authority or put me in a dock. This song also has Yorke coming as close to Eddie Vedder vocals as I ever thought possible. 2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm) is an intriguing beginning to an album that isn't as easily boxed up as any of their other albums.
The raindrops / the raindrops /the raindrops / the raindrops / the raindrops / the raindrops of Stand Up Sit Down are a beautiful frenetic ending to a song that begins entirely subdued. Yorke sings the raindropsso many times that it starts to lose all meaning, and I hear it as "arrange us", "a radius", and "in rainbows". It's also got some of the best use of piano on a Radiohead album.
In discussing the first two Radiohead albums, I mentioned Yorke's ability to construct a love song wherein the object of desire is neither objectified nor vilified. This continues with You're All I Need where the focus of the song is desire. Not desire for the person. But how his desire has put him in a shitty relationship where he's desperate for someone who puts up with him out of habit. It's pretty much The World Is A Friendzone And I Am Okay With Just This Level Of Relationship Even Though It's Probably Unhealthy For Both Of Us.
Where I End And You Begin wobbles drunkenly through the end of the previous track to let you know that not only are you all Thom Yorke needs, he will also eat you alive. At least he apologizes for the entire concept of us. Once again, the guitar sounds right out of The Bends, and I love it.
In high school, one of the professors who roamed the dormitory nights used to refer to the music I listened to (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice In Chains) as chanting mantra music. "It's just the same lyrics over and over." That certainly applies to a ton of songs on this album, especially The Gloaming where words are repeated 2-4 times in a verse.
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi bucks that trend. It doesn't give me the sense of the deepest ocean / the bottom of the sea, but, rather, a crowded aquarium. Betta fish rush hour. A UFC brawl of glossily finned dudes with boundary issues. Less swimming. More wriggling.
Atonal chaos climax barely resolves before the nasal harmonies of I Will make us realize how far we've strayed from unusual love ballads to ... whatever is happening here with little baby's eyes.
A childlike fable rings in in the form of A Wolf At The Door. It's a rare Radiohead song with profanity, in this case dance you fucker / dance you fucker which is one of the more unnecessary but not uncomfortable swears I can think of in rock music. Yorke sings this unlike any other song I can think of. A staccato non-falsetto gatling gun of violent images give way to classist fable talk. It's a lovely little journey.
I recently finished reading Terry Pratchett's Witches Abroad, which is mainly about the rules of storytelling and the powers it wields, but also featured a feline lothario who briefly gets to spend some time as a human. Myxomatosis. could completely be that cat's theme song.
The falsetto asks us, justifiably, how come I end up where I started? as we move into 15 Steps. This is totally a follow up to the previous song which is about a cat who feels tongue tied, as the lyrics here present the cliche about the cat having your tongue, and the narrator is obsessed with string.
We reach the halfway point at a catchy little piano Punchup At A Wedding. Now we're back to love problems. But this one is all about blame. The pointless snide remarks / of hammerhead sharks as Yorke declares both himself and the target of his rage hypocrite opportunist. The pot will call the kettle black. The whole song is rife with cliches, as a fight scene at a wedding during a romantic comedy would be an absolute cliche.
Oh no no nos rain down into Scatterbrain, just another song about the weather. Nothing but the weather. No, siree. Is this the Scarecrow's song for Dorothy Gale? Should we talk about the weather? Yesterday's headlines / blown by the wind ?
Go To Sleep is one of those songs where the lyrics don't really matter, which is convenient, since they're nigh-indecipherable. The vocals are mixed just far back enough that they almost become a background instrument to the guitars' lead. And it is the guitars in this song that I most enjoy, so I guess it was the right choice.
The piano breaks through the previous track's fadeout. Possibly the best raindrop piano chord progression the band has come up with. Videotape hides the vocals behind the piano, introduces a spare miliatary drum line that feels purposefully off, and then has the last verse crawl out of a haunt of Yorke's moany background oohs, which then disappear, eventually leaving just the piano.
There's barely a chord change is we transition to Sail To The Moon, another soft piano ballad, this one bringing to mind an old black and white animation. A literal boat flying to the literal moon of Earth. Scratchy film cells. Jagged journey. There's nothing on the moon to greet them. The camera pulls back from the characters all separated, searching the vast nothingness. We don't even know what they're looking for.
Still more piano. We Suck Young Blood is a song of questions that aren't answered. A vampire lullaby.
Backdrifts puts an end to the medley of piano music and returns us to the Kid Amnesiac haunting effects and loops. I enjoy that a song about backtracking returns to an earlier music style that they mainly avoid on the rest of the album. And if you miss the piano, don't worry, it shows back up near the end.
Faust Arp brings us back to guitarland, with an orchestral backdrop. This song is an enough is enough end of relationship song where Yorke doesn't spin cliches, but rather presents the cliches in rapid fire succession, but never at the end of a line, so they feel like a camera panning over a series of visual cliches, rather than hearing someone spout the cliches at you.
We descend back into Radiohead noise chaos with Bodysnatchers where Yorke seems to be questioning if he and the person he's reached the end of a relationship with are on the same page. Have the lights gone out for you? / 'cause the lights have gone for me.
At the end of any relationship, you expect the narrator to get really sad and go on an extended walking pity party. So ,of course, Yorke must go on a longer, sadder walk. Reflecting that just cause you feel it / doesn't mean it's there. There There, Thom, I'm sure you'll find someone new to be sad about soon. There's always a siren /singing you to shipwreck.
House Of Cards is just on here for the atmosphere. It's about ... five and a half minutes long. It's a person who doesn't want to be friends with someone that they're in love with, which is pretty much the antithesis of every other Radiohead song that delves into relationships. But it paints itself in a very 1970s place, hinting at key parties and electrical problems that aren't discussed much in the modern era.
We close out on Last Flowers, where the narrator just wants to speak his piece in a house that is literally falling apart. He's clearly ingested something toxic to him, as what's keeping him from speaking is that it's too much / too bright / too powerful for him to face the evening straight.
All in all, this album has a bunch of love songs that, collectively, don't mean anything. There's no narrative throughline here, and while I've made the tracks flow into each other, they don't have one cohesive sound the way The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid Amnesiac each have their own sounds. I like this as an album of chaos leading us from the sullen, effect heavy Kid Amnesiac to the sullen and spare Heart Shaped Limbs, which follows.
I was living in Burlington Vermont when Kid A was released. My roommates and friends were really into Ween, Phish, and The Grateful Dead, apart from one guy who successfully got me into The Beautiful South. I was in the midst of my own Terrible Music Phase, as I found myself trying to find something salvagable in bands like Creed and Days Of The New, while also making time for albums I still listen to, such as Moby's Play and The O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Both of those albums were approaching on the horizon, but this was the first album I purchased in VT that I actually enjoyed (I'm looking at you Dave Matthews Band Busted Stuff, you turning point in my ability to listen to that band.)
I kept hearing "new sound", "spacey", "spare", and "departure" used to describe Kid A, and they were all accurate terms. I was still in Vermont, and still musically bored when Amnesiac came out, and, like many Radiohead fans, I thought "Between these two albums, there is one Really Good Album. I wish they'd just released that instead of these two perfectly fine albums."
I think most fans with time on their hands and access to cassette players / blank CDs / Spotify / audio editors, probably have their version of Kid Amnesiac. Here's mine.
Pretty much every song on both Kid A and Amnesiac would qualify as Songs Adam Was Likely To Use To Start An Album. They've all got slow builds with a focus on unusual beats. Their vocals and lyrics mostly build out of despair to something else. I particularly enjoy the Think about the good times and never look back aspect of I Might Be Wrong, as I think it puts the previous two albums in the rearview, and allows you to acknowledge their existence while realizing you are headed down the waterfall into a completely new story.
The rock and roll myth around How To Disappear Completely involves a younger Thom Yorke, on tour with REM, asked how to handle rock stardom, and Stipe suggested shutting out the entire world and making I'm not here / this isn't happening his mantra. This song was the end result of that conversation, which Stipe heard, and then wrote "Disappear". This song continues Kid Amnesiac's narrative of a person completely shedding their past in an attempt to find a new person in their future. It's a slow, orchestral process. If you fuck to it, you must both be really sad.
Pakt Like A Sardine In A Crushd Tin Box is a relaxed percussionist's dream song, with looping and autotune, and a narrator asserting I'm a reasonable man / get off my case so many times that he can't possibly be seen as reasonable. It reminds me of time spent on my grandfather's boat when I was younger (mainly because of the oceanic percussion) and trying to assert my independence from my unreasonable grandfather by being an unreasonable pre-teen.
A roommate of mine, in 2006, lamented that Kid A and Amnesiac were both written by Yorke putting a bunch of lyrics in a hat, and drawing them at random while playing weird atmospheric rock and strange vocals in the background. He was mostly angry because he declared "Bjork did it first AND BETTER!" First, certainly. But the lyrics on this album are actually great, and definitely not drawn at random. You And Whose Army? is a haunting (like every song on this album) indictment of 21st century politicians without being overt or didactic. I also enjoy that around the time of these albums, Yorke was working with Bjork (say that ten times fast) on Dancer In The Dark.
Kid A logically spirals out of the previous track with a late 20th century Tom Waits feel (instrumentally, not vocally). I wouldn't know the lyrics if I hadn't looked them up. They're very much secondary to the feeling of this song as art rock, but they do line up with the earlier mentioned shedding of one's past, as the future Pied Pipers your ass into the unknown.
The musical smorgasbord that is the beginning of The National Anthem, and the almost unnecessary lyrical repetion of It's holding on because it reminds me of how desperately the nations where i live, and where Yorke is from are currently run by dying old men, desperately holding to a past that no longer exists. I can't wait for them and their pasts to be fully fucken dead.
The people we used to be can not ever come back So Knives Out / cut him up. Yea, Radiohead suggests you eat the person you used to be. Don't swallow them whole. Prepare them as a delicious meal. And slowly eat yourself to become someone new. Don't write down the recipe.
Pyramid Song is a piano ballad. The most straight forward sounding song on the album, and also the one recorded closest to the completion of Ok Computer tour. It also feels the most like it could have been from Moon Shaped Pool. It has the late jarring anti-pop pop-rock feel of 2010s Radiohead, despite having been written very early in the late 90s.
Idioteque is my, and I think most people's, favorite track from this era of Radiohead. This song actually was created by cutting up various lyrics and putting them in a hat. I assumed this was my ex-roommate's fantasy, but while he was incorrect in thinking the entire album was composed in this fashion, it turns out that this track totally was.
There are two versions of The Morning Bell. One from Kid A, one from Amnesiac. I'm using the Kid A version that climbs out of "Idioteque". It's another cut-up song where Yorke takes a bunch of cliches and re-assembled them by random draw. It feels like someone surrendering to the chaos of their mundane life while still dreaming of something better, but not imagining it's attainable.
If there's a 22st century theme song for having a mental breakdown, it's Everything In Its Right Place. The feeling of chaos continues, while a building but never cracking voice tries to figure out what's happening around them. It's the sound of a cocoon being drawn around someone who can't take any more of their current life.
This album closes with a funeral song. Specifically, a New Orleans funeral. Goodbye, old self. Everyone sees who used to be, as you lived your Life In A Glass House. The song feels like no other Radiohead song. Of course I'd like to sit and chew the fat / but someone's listening in, and it's time to move on to something entirely new.