(Copyright © 1990-2023 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Pablo Honey , 6.5/10
The Bends, 6/10
OK Computer, 7/10
Kid A, 6.5/10
Amnesiac, 7/10
Hail To The Thief (2003), 5/10
Jonny Greenwood: Bodysong (2004), 6/10
Thom Yorke: The Eraser (2006), 5/10
In Rainbows (2007), 5/10
The King of Limbs (2011) , 5/10
Atoms For Peace: Amok (2013), 4/10
Thom Yorke: Tomorrow's Modern Boxes (2014), 4.5/10
A Moon Shaped Pool (2016), 6/10
Thom Yorke: Anima (2019), 6/10
Smile: A Light for Attracting Attention (2022), 4/10
Smile: Wall of Eyes (2024), 4/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Radiohead, the most hyped and probably the most over-rated band of the 1990s, upped the ante for studio trickery. They had begun as third-rate disciples of the Smiths, with albums such as Pablo Honey (1993) and The Bends (1995) that were cauldrons of Brit-pop cliches. Then OK Computer (1997) happened and the word "chic" took on a new meaning. The album was a masterpiece of faux avantgarde (of pretending to be avantgarde while playing mellow pop music). It was, more properly, a new link in the chain of production artifices that changed the way pop music "sounds": the Beatles' Sgt Pepper, Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Michael Jackson's Thriller. Despite the massive doses of magniloquent epos a` la U2 and of facile pathos a` la David Bowie, the album's mannerism led to the same excesses that detracted from late Pink Floyd's albums (lush textures, languid melodies, drowsy chanting). Since thee production aspects of music were beginning to prevail over the music itself, it was just about natural to make them "the" music. The sound of Kid A (2000) had decomposed and absorbed countless new perfumes, like a carcass in the woods. All sounds were processed and mixed, including the vocals. Radiohead moved as close to electronica as possible without actually endorsing it. Radiohead became masters of the artificial, masters of minimizing the emotional content of very complex structures. Amnesiac (2001) replaced "music" with a barrage of semi-mechanical loops, warped instruments and digital noises, while bending Thom Yorke's baritone to a subhuman register and stranding it in the midst of hostile arrangements, sounding more and more like an alienated psychopath. Their limit was that they were more form than content, more "hype" than message, more nothing than everything.

(Translated from my original Italian text by DommeDamian)

Radiohead were one of the most hyped bands of rock music, arguably the most overrated act of the 1990s and 2000s. Starting out as mere emulators of the Smiths’ style of pop, Radiohead soon demonstrated more serious ambitions and came up with records that renewed the paradigm of melodic rock. Their limit has always been that of being more form than content, more "hype" than message, more nothing than everything.

The band, formed in Oxford in 1991, led by singer Thom Yorke (with a degree in literature from Exeter) and guitarists Ed O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood, came to the fore in 1992 with Creep, a Beck-like inferiority group confession. In a scenario alienated from the corrosive gusts of the guitar, and with Anyone Can Play Guitar, songs that followed the first single Drill and preceded the subsequent Pop Is Dead.

The sensation aroused by those songs was consecrated by the album Pablo Honey (Capitol, 1993), whose style is placed in a limbo between mini-psychedelic pastiche (How Do You) and shoegaze (You), intimist lullaby (Stop Whispering) and power pop (Ripcord), mostly in the name of tradition and very rarely in the name of revolution. In the end, the solid Anyway Can Play Guitar, worthy of the Replacements, seems more like the exception than the rule. Blow Out is the only song that comes close to competing with Creep.

(Translated from my original Italian text by Cristiana Jeary)

Made strong by the success of Creep, Radiohead reappear with a whole new stew of cliches typical of British pop of the last decade: The Bends (Capitol,1995). Unfortunately the Smiths' influence is apparent in most songs, from the delicate serenade of Black Star to the pulsing and dreamy single My Iron Lung, simply concealed by manic narcissism.

A more modest touch makes Fake Plastic Trees the most original song, while a rather psychedelic content makes Planet Telex the most fashionable one. Johnny Greenwood shows off in Just and in The Bends. The problem is the records live off the first hit, Creep, self justified and whose riff flatters on all his songs like a ghost . Radiohead's sound has little substance but great sonorous detail. Once more what counts in British Rock is the form not the content, the production work not the composition.

OK Computer (Capitol, 1997) was the album that sanctified their futuristic pop. For about six songs, this is a masterpiece of faux avantgarde (of pretending to be avantgarde while playing mellow pop music). The rest is filler.
Airbag is the manifesto of Radiohead's vanity: a psalm warbled in middle-eastern fashion while the guitar strums a raga, a cello fills the harmony with menacing drones, and the drums beat mechanic and synchopated. This tedious litany sets the theme for the rest of the album: Radiohead bridges the Beatles' Sgt Pepper (more precisely The Benefit Of Mr Kite) and latter-day Pink Floyd, chic pop and languid, transcendental living-room psychedelia.
However, the singer's phrasing and the arrangements of Subterranean Homesick Alien hark back to soft-jazz and pop-soul of the 1970s, while the guitar paints Pink Floyd-ian landscapes. The closing The Tourist is the extreme, rarefied version of this technique.
Alas, this languid, over-blown manner leads to the same excesses that characterize the late Pink Floyd (lush textures, slow-motion melodies, drowsy chanting). Furthermore, Radiohead inject massive doses of magniloquent epos from U2 and of facile pathos from David Bowie. Lucky, an almost orchestral and choral, triumphal and apocalyptic dirge, is probably the best and worst example of such excesses. The gloomy requiem Exit Music, enhanced with choir of dead men, organ lines and noises, and the mournful hymn and renaissance musicbox of No Surprises, have their moments, but are hardly revolutionary.
The trancey litany of Let Down boasts, at least, an undercurrent of Byrds-ian jingle-jangle and a delicate filigree of sub-electronica, and Yorke does a good imitation of Mike Stipe's melisma.
The best melodic progression is found in Karma Police. Again, hardly a revolution: a lament a` la Bowie, a marching pace a` la Sgt Pepper, a romantic piano a` la Billy Joel. The song dissolves in a cloud of effects.
The noisy rave-up Electioneering is a welcome relief after so much sedative.
The second half of the album is difficult to digest: just too much sobbing, and too much drama, among these undulating, cataleptic pop-soul arias.
The three-part mini-suite Paranoid Android is the album's tour de force, mixing a Rolling Stones-ian shuffle, the progressive-rock of early Genesis and the gothic atmosphere of the Doors as Yorke intones a desolate yodeling, before, suddenly, the piece veers towards Black Sabbath-esque hard-rock. The track is emblematic of the whole album's pretentious and self-indulgent concept, but a triumph for guitarist Johnny Greenwood.
Critics around the world greeted this album as the masterpiece of the 1990s.

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

Radiohead were ready to abandon pop after OK Computer. The production aspects of music were beginning to prevail over the music, so why not make them "the" music? The sound of Kid A (Capitol, 2000) has decomposed and absorbed countless new perfumes, like a carcass in the woods. All sounds are processed and mixed, including the vocals. Radiohead move as close to electronica as possible without actually endorsing it.
The first half of the album is their most ephemeral and artificial work ever: the ethereal vocal psalm of Everything In Its Right Place, the distorted musicbox of Kid A (which is virtually a remix of Kraftwerk's Radioland), the controlled horns nightmare over pounding drums and bass of The National Anthem (perhaps the boldest piece here), the new-age orchestration of How To Disappear Completely are songs only because they are sung. What they truly are is flexible structures for creative arrangements; mood-pieces in the vein of late Pink Floyd, with intellectual sprinkles of Brian Eno, David Byrne, Robert Fripp, etc; muzak for those who missed the story of rock music.
The second half of the album, following the brief ambient instrumental Treefingers, is more personal, as lyrics start unraveling angst and anger. And, suddenly, this sounds like Radiohead's more humane work. This sequence, from the distorted guitars and tribal beat of Optimist to the languid jazz-rock breeze of In Limbo to the futuristic, post-industrial spiritual of Idioteque to the Can-meets-Tim Buckley ambiance of Morning Bell to the celestial harps, accordions and synthesizers of Motion Picture Soundtrack, is almost a progression from earthly matters to heavenly matters. In fact, this album is as good (at what it does) as the celebrated OK Computer, if not even more inventive, unpredictable and baroque.
Radiohead are masters of the artificial. Their parable crowns a long tradition in British rock music of putting form before content, of concentrating on "sound" to the expense of "music".

When it came out, Kid A was saluted as a masterpiece by the international critics, but a few months later critics who were still willing to define it a "masterpiece" could be packed in a Japanese subcompact car. The problem is that there is precious little to write about Radiohead's songs. The interest they generate recalls the frenzy surrounding each of Bowie's "masterpieces", works that were manufactured ad hoc (by the greatest rock communicator ever) to induce intellectual excitement (to disorient) in order to hide what little substance the music had. Something similar is happening with Radiohead's albums. Each collection is well-crafted and intriguing, for the sake of being well-crafted and intriguing. But little else. If the band has a personality, it is not clear what it is.
The following "masterpiece" of possibly the most over-rated band since the Smiths, Amnesiac (Capitol, 2001), turned out to be actually a significant improvement over Kid A's random cliches. Amnesiac, reportedly recorded during the same sessions that yielded Kid A, is a disorienting album the way Heroes was in Bowie's career.
Radiohead started out as innovators of the stalest of styles, Brit-pop. Album after album, they discovered a passion for experimenting with sound. In a sense, they went the opposite way Pink Floyd went: Pink Floyd began with experimental music and their quest for the "sound" led them to craft sophisticated melodic songs. Radiohead began with the songs and are reaching the stage of pure experiment.
Radiohead also began as a "visceral" combo, capable of extracting maximum emotions from the simplest form (in a sense, the British equivalent of Nirvana). They are reaching a point where they do the opposite: they minimize the emotional content of very complex structures. First of all, they are virtually hiding the guitars, replacing their emotional content with a barrage of semi-mechanical loops, warped instruments and Autechre-ian digital noises. Then, Yorke's baritone is bent to a subhuman register and often stranded in the midst of hostile arrangements, sounding more and more like an alienated psychopath ("hostile" as in the clanging percussions, the "glitchy" electronics and the buzzing "ondes martenot" of Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box, as in the haunting vocal effects and the industrial beat of Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors). Amnesiac's compositions are not songs: they are panoramas.
As it was fashionable in 2001, suddenly Radiohead showed a keen interest in discordant rhythms and alien sounds: Spinning Plates could be the inspiration for an entire album.
That said, the catchiest moments are probably the pop ballads Pyramid Song (a Neil Young-ian lament with Satie-esque piano and tender strings) and You and Whose Army (that takes a while to soar in a majestic piano ballad), and the closing Life in a Glasshouse (a Tom Waits-ian dirge, replete with a horn section worthy of New Orleans funeral marching bands).
Compared with this hurricane of overproduction, the regular rock songs (the toughest being I Might Be Wrong) sound a little trivial. Yorke's vocals are so downbeat, hazy and dilated that, coupled with the appropriately melancholy guitar and rhythm, they evoke the spectre of Tim Buckley in Knives Out. Dollars and Cents, featuring another impressive tour de force from the rhythm section and more free-form vocalizing, pens a psychedelic and dramatic form of trip-hop.
The songs on this set come from the same recording sessions as the songs on the previous album, but the musicians that mixed them and sequenced them are simply more comfortable with the idea. In many ways, Amnesiac is not the logical progression from Kid A, it is simply the same thing done with more confidence. Here is my theory: Kid A was an half-hearted attempt. The band was afraid of what they were committing to the album. It turned out that both the critics and the masses liked it, so here is more and in a bolder format. Kid A and Amnesiac are the same record. Kid A is a little more fragmentary and insecure, prone to compromise. Amnesiac is the way Kid A should have been.

On Hail To The Thief (Capitol, 2003) the most over-rated band of the 1990s seems to have exhausted whatever inspiration had blessed Amnesiac. A few tracks return to rock'n'roll (2+2=5) while others aim for mass appeal (There There (the romantic/tribal U2-esque Where I End And You Begin, the Smiths-ian lullaby Go To Sleep) while others still opt for an introspective mood (the piano-driven Queen-style ballads Sail To the Moon and the yawning We Suck Young Blood), but little justifies the reputation of the band: most of these songs are simply trivial.
The album's only reason to exist are the bits and pieces of arrangements that deform the songs. Unfortunately, Radiohead are above-average Brit-poppers but below-average electronic artists: pedestrian pieces such as Backdrifts can be considered innovative only on albums of pop muzak. The percussive scherzo of Myxomatosis and the neurotic kammerspiel of A Wolf At The Door (which are the highlights of Radiohead's eccentric song format) would hardly be noticed on the albums of really experimental bands such as Mercury Rev or Bardo Pond.
A couple of tracks stand out among the mediocrity. Eerie vocal harmonies and ominous keyboard patterns prepare the orgasmic crescendo of Sit Down Stand Up. The Gloaming fills its instrumental vacuum with skipping beats, muezzin-style cantillation and mourning echoes. The rest is overrated pop.

Nigel Godrich produced Radiohead's last four albums (besides Beck's Mutations).

Jonny Greenwood's Bodysong (Capitol, 2004) is an ambitious and difficult ethnic-jazz-ambient instrumental soundtrack. Each piece stands on its own as a manual of avantgarde rock production, and the whole, while perhaps a bit too austere, feels awe-inspiring.

Thom Yorke's The Eraser (2006) sounded like a collection of left-overs from Kid A and Amnesiac, heavily treated at the laptop.

Com Lag: 2plus2isfive (Capitol, 2007) collects rarities.

When it came out, In Rainbows (2007) benefited "from a decade of EMI's promotion, publicity and retailing operations" (as the New York Times wrote).

Without the hype Radiohead's In Rainbows (Radiohead, 2007) would simply be a mediocre attempt at making slightly adventurous classic rock music. Abandoning their pretenses of innovation and futurism, Radiohead returned to their rock roots with a guitar-driven album that features precious few electronic/digital effects. This is U2-style arena-rock for the 2000s. The syncopated blues-soul shuffle 15 Step the half-baked hard-rock of Bodysnatchers (reminiscent of pathetic attempts by the Beatles to reinvent themselves in the age of Cream) or Faust Arp, a Beatles-esque elegy that has been heard countless times in the history of pop music, are not only inferior material by any standard: they are plain amateurish. To make matters worse, the album includes a whole set of sub-pop ballads, from the slow Nude (a long unreleased song, originally titled Big Ideas) to the even more moronic All I Need and House of Cards.
Redeeming the album from utter mediocrity are Jigsaw Falling Into Place, by far the best song, the kind of feverish dance-rock that Inxs specialized in, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, a tender song a` la Coldplay that gradually builds emotioinal momentum, Reckoner, a languid soul lament over a hypnotic polyrhythm and a Moody Blues-esque string section, and finally the piano-driven Videotape, the melodic peak of the album and the one ballad that has something original to say. But it's way too little.
Any critic who hails this album as a masterpiece must be missing 99% of the music released in the same month.

Thom Yorke's The Eraser RMXS (XL Recordings, 2009) collects remixes by other artists.

More cliched than ever, The King of Limbs (2011) is mostly a rhythmic affair, with the beats prevailing over the rest. Bloom is brainy for the sake of being brainy: convoluted rhythm, angst-filled droning vocals, a bit of minimalist keyboards and sleepy trumpet wails. Morning Mr Magpie puts the project into a different light: this is mood music made out of pretentious ideas. The single Lotus Flower ventures into disco territory but it ends up sounding like a bad version of synth-pop of the 1980s. But that's still better than no rhythm at all: the slow slow slow piano ballad Codex is simply devoid of real music: it's just somebody strumming a piano and crooning a trite melody. And Give Up The Ghost it's not even that: just a hippie-style litany repeated over and over again. The ambition of these songs is often hilarious. Yorke's insipid and narcotized singing certainly does not help rescue the rest.
It is not completely surprising that the results improve dramatically when Yorke does not sing. The claustrophobic tension of Feral is driven by the contrast between the almost silent soundscape and the frantic twitching of the beats (and the ghostly Middle-Eastern moves). Yorke merely moans in Little By Little, one of Radiohead's most touching pop moments, sculpted by hazy guitar and sitar tones.
Radiohead's career has been one long bluff and it gets harder and harder for them to disguise it. The best thing about this album is that it's concise. Little By Little and Feral would have made a great EP.

Radiohead's drummer Philip Selway debuted "solo" with Familial (2010), a collection of simple folkish elegies that feature multi-instrumentalist Lisa Germano, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, Wilco's drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist Patrick Sansone.

Atoms For Peace was a supergroup formed by
Radiohead's singer Thom Yorke, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea, Radiohead's keyboardist Nigel Godrich, Walt Mink's drummer Joey Waronker, and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco. As it is often the case with supergroups, Amok (XL, 2013) was an incredible waste of talent. Worse: it was a waste of talent at the service of Yorke's obnoxious vocals. The Afro-funk music with glacial synthesizers Before your Very Eyes (an amateurish version of what the Talking Heads used to do 30 years earlier), the aquatic laptop effects of Ingenue, the hypnotic atonal effects of Reverse Running, the ethereal synths of Amok, and so forth are desperately looking for a reason to exist. Nothing, however, can redeem the vocals. And the constant, unimaginative Brazilian beat adds insult to injury.

Thom Yorke released his second solo album, the very electronic Tomorrow's Modern Boxes (2014), with danceable numbers like A Brain In A Bottle and The Mother Lode next to more cerebral ballads like Guess Again and Interference.

Thankfully, Radiohead abandoned the beats for A Moon Shaped Pool (XL, 2016), their least machine-based album yet, a veritable return to humanity. If the driving minimalist repetition of Burn the Witch sounds like an amateurish impersonation of Michael Nyman augmented with melancholy new-age piano, a couple of the songs display real genius like it rarely happened on their pretentious albums: the creative collage of The Numbers blends distorted Indian-esque music with snippets of orchestral music, massive organ drones and ghostly lysergic chanting; the elaborate ethereal pastiche Daydreaming blends more minimalist repetition with drones and sound effects that are almost musique concrete; Present Tense grafts flamenco-ish guitar and falsetto scat into a Caribbean beat; and Ful Stop sets an electronic threnody to Neu-esque motorik rhythm. The sleep-inducing piano elegy True Love Waits, 20 years in the making, makes its first appearance here; not exactly a good sign. In fact, half of the album is wasted in minor detours, such as the somber and spare litany Desert Island Disk and the languid r&b over syncopated digital beat Identikit, but this could be their best album since Amnesiac.

After scoring the soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino's film Suspiria (2018), Thom Yorke released his third solo album, Anima (2019), a more sophisticated take on electronic dance music, with the mellow elastic Traffic, the seven-minute falsetto soul hymn Twist, the somnolent jazzy doo-wop of I Am a Very Rude Person, the ambient elegy Dawn Chorus, and the breathing disembodied vocals of Impossible Knots. It's all fragile, rarefied, blurred, ethereal. Yorke tiptoes around simple melodies and beats, happy to let the vintage timbres of the synthesizers shape soundscape and mood.

Yorke, Greenwood and drummer Tom Skinner formed the Smile, which debuted with A Light for Attracting Attention (2022), also produced by Nigel Godrich. Few albums recorded during the covid pandemic sound so uninspired. The band of Pana-vision sounds like third-rate Todd Rundgren imitators and We Don't Know What Tomorrow Brings sounds like third-rate U2. Thin Thing is amateurish funk-soul. The album is full of anemic ballads, from the fragile psychedelic-like hymn Open the Floodgates to the somnolent bossanova-like Speech Bubbles, culminating with the yawn-inspiring orchestral pop of Free in the Knowledge and Waving a White Flag. Songs like A Hairdryer and The Smoke are monuments to the trivial marketed as eccentric. To make things worse, the album suffers from an irritating production that emphasizes brooding atmospheres and sophisticated timbres when in fact there's nothing other than bogus intellectual attitude.

Radiohead's guitarist Johnny Greenwood composed the soundtrack for Jane Campion's film The Power of the Dog (2021).

The Smile returned with Wall of Eyes (2024). The intention was probably to make a more "experimental" album for the crowd of Radiohead fans, but the result is a collection of mellow and stripped-down (and mostly drum-less) litanies. As it is often the case with Radiohead music, this is trivial balladry camouflaged via production tricks as intellectual sophistication. Wall of Eyes is, in actuality, an atmospheric bossanova. The ethereal Teleharmonic is a descendant of soft pop-jazz of the 1970s. Bending Hectic simply stretches the "soothing and harmless" concept to six boring minutes (before a childish guitar riff pretends to trigger a garage jam). The psychedelic-tinged Read the Room is the only moment of inspiration: a cross between early Pink Floyd and acid folk.

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