Radiohead dropped a new single this week called “Burn The Witch” and it’s fucking gold. It sounds like a Smiths song and a Hitchcock film score hopped in bed together. I’ve listened to it twenty times over the past day, and now I’m afraid everyone is out to get me. It’s all of the paranoia of cocaine with none of the thrill. It’s great. It also explains how, out of the few rock bands left that can fill a stadium regularly, Radiohead is probably the only one that isn’t a nostalgia act.
I once worked with a guy who DESPISED Radiohead, and you can probably guess why he loathed them. They were too arty, they were too mopey, they dicked around with electronic blurps and farts instead of making straight-up rock songs, they’re the reason we now have Coldplay, etc. And even though I like Radiohead a lot, I could see where he was coming from. From a distance, they can be an obtuse, annoying band… one of those creative entities that deliberately withholds what they do best in service of needless, artsy-fartsy tangents. (See: Chase, David.) And that means they have a loyal and obsessive fanbase that is, at times, a little TOO defensive about the band’s catalog.
Ah, but you don’t have to be one of THOSE fans. Take it from me! I love Radiohead but I don’t go around getting Tchocky scribbles tattooed on my forearm. There is a way to be into Radiohead without going overboard and becoming a postmodern hippie about it. “Like, technology is out to GET US, mannnnnn.” Here are some quick basics:
1. Listen to The Bends. It’s awesome. In fact, it’s so awesome that you may end up going the other way and turn into one of those annoying old guys at the concert who’s there to hear “Just” and nothing else, with your arms folded during every new song. Fucking hate those guys.
2. Don’t say your favorite Radiohead album is Kid A. No album on Earth has inspired more thinkpieces than this one. But as much as I admire Kid A, I think I’d commit suicide if I had to hear it full ever again. I’ll take “Idioteque” and “Optimistic” on my playlist and live on from there.
The Kid A sessions, which also produced successor Amnesiac, mark the point in history where Radiohead went from being just a rock band to something more avant garde, which means there’s a lot of bloops and gurgles all over the place. And yes, it can be “gorgeous” and “haunting” (the two Metacritic keywords you’ll see over and over again with Radiohead), but it’s not always fun. So you’re free to leave that shit be. There’s no prize for willing yourself to love “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.”
3. See them live. Every complaint about Radiohead being abstract and listener-unfriendly is snuffed out the second you watch them live in concert, preferably drunk and stoned. They’re there for YOU. They’ll even play “Creep” once in a blue moon. They’re not snobs about it. And that’s the secret of their success: they aim to push the limits of what rock can sound like, but they always remember to win the crowd. Bands that don’t do that are the ones that suck.
4. Don’t insist they’re the only band that matters. Again, this isn’t a contest. Don’t make them into The Wire of bands. There comes a point where your insistence on the greatness of something makes it actively repellent to others.
5. Listen to “Nude” while nude. It’s right there in the title. You have your orders.