Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
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.