This summer has been huge for music. And as a college freshman, even the smallest lyrics can turn me into a bowl of existential, primordial soup.
For the first few weeks of summer, I stayed away from anything that would bring me any joy — indie pop, Tears for Fears or Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto (2011). In my need to feel brutalized by nostalgia and sadness, a friend recommended me Just, a song by a band I associated with stoners, losers and virgins: Radiohead.
The guitar was somber, and lead singer Thom Yorke crooned about self-sabotage; in my own somber, self-sabotaging state, I fell in love.
After that, I realized that I’d had a few songs saved from In Rainbows (2007) from when I was obsessed with Twilight (which has a terribly good soundtrack; a subject for another day). And from there, to my own surprise, I became a Radiohead fan.
Obviously, as someone who’s just started listening to Radiohead, I’m incredibly knowledgeable of this band and its history, so I’m going to rate some of their more popular albums: The Bends (1995), In Rainbows and OK Computer (1997).
I’m going to rate the albums on three main criteria: replayability, lyricism and reculsability. As my metric, I’ll use Talking Heads — a band I confused for Radiohead until I was far too old — with 5 being the most Talking Heads an album can receive. In this case, Talking Heads are completely arbitrary, think of them as stars, or a scale rating of one to five. Just know, the more Talking Heads an album receives, the better.
My least favorite out of this bunch is OK Computer.
I’ll be frank: the album makes me want to become a more productive member of society, which is the opposite of what we’re looking for in a Radiohead album. OK Computer strays from the starry, richer sounding guitar and head-bopping drum lines that make me love Radiohead. It’s the album out of this grouping that I listen to the least, and though it has its standout songs (No Surprises, Climbing Up the Walls, Paranoid Android and Airbag), it’s otherwise too mechanical sounding for me. I’ll give it points for its lyricism, though: Lines like “Ambition makes you ugly” give “Paranoid Android” the punchiness that I love so much.
3/5 Talking Heads for OK Computer.
Next, we’ll go into what I think is one of their more recognizable albums: In Rainbows.
This album is everything. If you ever see me walking around campus, and I’m looking especially mysterious and ineffable, just know I’m probably listening to this. The replayability of this album, the lyrics that make me want to tell my mom it’s not just a phase, the plucky guitar tabs and upbeat drum lines — all of it creates a genuinely fun and immersive listening experience. I mean, c’mon, how could you go wrong with the lines: “It’s what you feel, not what you ought to, reasonable and sensible, dead from the neck up”, from Faust Arp, the album’s sixth track?
Though In Rainbows doesn’t sound like what I expected from Radiohead based on my introduction through a slower song — “Just,” from The Bends — it takes on the difference from previous albums seriously, without losing any of what makes me love the band. Oh, and have I mentioned that I just love this album? It’s hard to only pick three or four standout songs, but if I must, 15 Step, Bodysnatchers, Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi and “Faust Arp” are some great cuts from this must-listen album.
The final verdict?
5/5 Talking Heads.
Finally, we move onto the crown jewel of Radiohead’s discography: 1995’s The Bends.
I know I spoiled my thoughts with that introduction, but The Bends is the essence of Radiohead. It’s depressing and self-deprecatingly introspective. When I needed an album to affirm my unnecessarily high levels of teenage misery, I found The Bends. It’s slower than both aforementioned albums, and because of that it has more of a croaking sound to it. The juxtaposition between this and the prior albums is wonderful. The Bends is everything you could want and more from a Radiohead album: guitar that reverberates and warps with a side of bold, yet still somber, melodies. And the poetry of the lyrics, too! Let’s observe and unpack this through lyrics from Bullet Proof … I Wish I Was:
“So pay me money, take a shot
Lead, fill the hole in me
I could burst a million bubbles All surrogate”
Wanting someone to love you, knowing it hurts, hoping that love heals the wounds? The metaphor of a bursting bubble being the replacement for pain? Everyone please excuse that song not coming to dinner, because it just ate. (Sorry, but I’ve been sitting on that joke since move-in day.)
I’m going to give you a five song selection from this album, because I can’t just pick four. My constant replays are “Just,” Black Star, My Iron Lung, High and Dry, and Planet Telex. But honestly, you should just listen to the entire album if you have the time.
My final judgment?
6/5 Talking Heads. It breaks the scale.
I must say, I love these albums, and if you’re into The Smashing Pumpkins, early Coldplay, Fleet Foxes, and being really sad, you would enjoy these, too. Though Radiohead isn’t for everyone, it’s music that fits almost perfectly into how it feels to be in college. Give them a try, and if you hate it, that’s understandable, but if you even slightly like it — embrace it, you’re a loser. And that’s okay.
(If you want all of my selection of songs in playlist form, you’re in luck!)