Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
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.
Most people experience The Most Important Year Of Their Lives between ages 16 and 22. They fall in love with someone. They discover a hobby. There's a devastating death in their family or circle of friends. They frequently trace their life's path to an event that falls in this age range.
For me, the end of 1997 until the summer of 1998 was my Most Important Year. So, the music that came out at that time looms larger than any other year. Pretty much any rock album that kept me from having to listen to Boy Bands caught my attention. I listened to The Verve's Urban Hymns and Semisonic's Feeling Strangely Fine ad nauseum. My favorite Madonna album, Ray Of Light exceeded all my expectations for a pop album. And, of course, Ok Computer hit.
I was working in a record store at the time, so I had early access to this album, as well as REM's New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Pearl Jam's No Code, Soundgarden's Down On The Upside, and The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. All of these were albums I was super excited for, and came to love (New Adventures In Hi-Fi took me a few years to appreciate, but the rest I loved instantly).
Putting together an improved version of Ok Computer was super easy for me. I've reordered the album several times over the year for various reasons.
In 2009ish, a DJ friend told me about the 0110 album theory that Ok Computer and In Rainbows, which was released ten years later, are complementary albums, where you're meant to alternate tracks to create a Super Radiohead album. While I do enjoy that Super Album, it requires no work from me, and exists on several other websites, you can totally check them out. I don't enjoy all of the In Rainbows tracks, so I've pooled them with Hail To The Thief to make that a rounder album. OK Computer doesn't need the fleshing out. I also haven't added any B-sides or any of the songs that have accompanied OKNOTOK. While rearranged, this is still Very Much just the original album. I just don't think it needs the upgrade the way their other albums do.
I also prefer it isolated from In Rainbows because I see this as complementary to The Bends, a manic sounding album about depression, with this being a depressing sounding album about being manic.
I imagine Lucky rising out of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" from The Bends. This character spent that whole album trying to figure out some way that his despair isn't his own fault, but ends up giving up. But out of his acceptance (not resolve, nothing was resolved with the last album, but there does seem to be a bit of acceptance), comes the feeling of being pulled out of the aircrash and the lake and becoming likable to the world around him.
Electioneering has the newly reborn character determined to move forwards in the proper way in order to earn your trust. Mr. Yorke, and Mr.s Greenwood, Selway, and O'Brien, you have my vote. I'll take depressed dudes worried about technology over an over-confident blowhard too stupid to tie his shoes or shut his mouth any day of the century. But something is definitely off about their smile.
In Climbing Up The Walls, a nearly falsetto monotone start that builds into the frantic primal growl that The Bends never gave us. We are being watched by everyone all the time. Watched by technology every time we leave the house. It's tough to keep the smiling facade without seeming ... oh, this isn't contentedness or acceptance at all. This is mania.
Karma Police spins my favorite part of The Bends on its head. The protagonist is having a full-on breakdown and desperately searching for someone besides himself to blame. At the end of the track, he's apologizing for having "lost himself" and is pretty sure he has everything under control.
Airbag suggests otherwise. It's a false moment of control and safety. A belief in immortality that isn't supported by reason. If the most recent breakdown didn't kill him, then surely nothing can.
The original album's fade from "Airbag" into Paranoid Android really shouldn't be fucked with. It's a great transition from the repetitive prattling about being immortal to the high cry/wine vocals begging the world around him to shut up. In the background, Marvin The Paranoid Android from Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide quintology keeps introducing himself. The operatic changes over the course of the song are super reminiscent of Queen, although Thom Yorke is no Freddy Mercury (who is?). I have probably spent over a full day of my life listening to this song. Maybe more.
I think this is a solid break in the narrative. And it's about at the halfway point for a two-sided album.
Apart from Marvin The Paranoid Android, the only guest artist on the album is Fred, the voice of 1990s Macintosh's SimpleText program, who does lead vocals for Fitter, Happier, a depressing cycle of 20th century self-help sloganeering. It's a great restart to the story. I envision the narrator having come out of some sort of rehab between Side A and Side B and this is the only glimpse we ever get of their time being treated.
The Tourist is the closing track on the original album, and I understand why. It's quiet, and feels more isolated from the chaos of the rest of the album. But, like The Bends, I don't see this album as being resolvable. I prefer this song as a moment of introspection where, as he exits the rehabilitation center, the singer freezes while the world speeds around him. He shouts Idiot / Slow down to no avail. It's the bipolar moment where someone who's been manic, realizes that they need to contain themself (sometimes I get overcharged / that's when you see sparks) to start processing their environment.
This feeling continues into No Surprises as Yorke does a lower version of the near-monotone from the "Climbing Up The Walls". But this time, instead of building up to a growl, he's winding down to calm. This is my final bellyache, Yorke declares. And that's true of this version of the album. There are two tracks to go, and they take us to a different place.
Even when you've been successful, be it as a rock band, or a person battling depression, it's sometimes tough not to wonder how other people work, what makes them so cruel, or happy, or aloof, or unhinged, whatever attribute they have that weirds you out. Subterranean Alien Homesick Blues is a perfect late twentieth century reimagining of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" where, instead of being able to talk to your counter-culture friends about how wrong the world feels, you have to keep it locked up inside or else risk that they'd shut you away.
Of course not trusting your friends and peers to enough to share your feelings would be a Let Down. But you stay hanging out with them because you fear there aren't any other options for you. The world moves around you while you feel hysterical and useless.
Like "Paranoid Android", Exit Music (For A Film) is one of my favorite Radiohead songs. Yorke says it's the Romeo & Juliet story he wanted. The night after the two teens consummate their relationship they decide "Fuck it. Our families are terrible. Let's get out of here." I love that idea. For the narrative of this album, though, there is no love interest, so I view it as the narrator's mania speaking to his depression, and figuring out how to get himself together enough to leave this (house / relationship / town / planet) where he doesn't feel comfortable or supported. The way the song jangles out is actually a perfect blend into "The Bends", the first track from the reimagined The Bends making for a terribly cyclical storyline about being bipolar.