If you’re a long term Radiohead fan like me, you will be sure to have heard this phrase at some point. Similarly to Nirvana fans, Radiohead fans take a very deep sigh when fake fans claim to adore their hit ‘Creep’, then proceed to show they know no other songs by the band. Sometimes I guess it’s because some people just enjoy the big hits, which isn’t a crime. However this situation is slightly different. Specifically for Radiohead, it’s not rare to come across those people who claim to be a die hard fan, but didn’t listen past their most successful album ‘OK Computer’. And to be fair, I can see why.
The albums ‘Pablo Honey’, ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’ were leading an alt-rock sound. Using typical instruments that any other band would use. But even at the very beginning with their debut album ‘Pablo Honey’, you could pick up a unique style that guitarist Jonny Greenwood was producing. Slightly out of the ordinary, but in no way dislikable at all. Along with their layered compositions, Thom Yorke’s unique vocals and paranoid lyrics. It distinguished them away from any typical alt-rock band. It distinguished them as Radiohead.
Following the immense success of their album ‘OK Computer’, the pressure was on for the entire band to outdo this album, particularly vocalist and lyricist Thom Yorke. It was hard to see how they could possibly top this iconic, influential rock album of the decade.
Then 3 years later after much anticipation from fans, enter Radiohead’s next album, ‘Kid A’. So after going out and purchasing the CD, fans sat down to listen, eager. They weren’t sure what to expect, but surely it was going to be another great rock album right? Hopefully filled with more haunting anthems like ‘Karma Police’. And I’ll admit right now that ‘Karma Police’ is an excellent track, however they’d brought something new. They did deliver new haunting anthems, but they sounded rather different, which left a lot of people sat very puzzled indeed.
‘Kid A’ was Radiohead’s way of holding up the middle fingers to guitars, to generic rock instruments. To Rock music in general. They’d moved to synth sounds, evolving into a more eerie, chilling sound. Some with even eerier lyrics I might add. And in my opinion, I think this album expressed Radiohead as a band better than their previous albums all put together. Obviously it goes without saying that ‘Kid A’ sounds a whole lot different to their other albums. So some fans cut it off right there. They couldn’t understand what had happened, or what they were even trying to say. To simply put it, they wanted the rock sound back. And some fans welcomed this new sound and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just feeling blessed that Radiohead had finally returned after shaking the world.
It’s not out of the ordinary for bands to experiment with sounds, new instruments and such. A lot of artists do it, people just don’t seem to realise it or pay attention unless they dislike the sound. But the leap from ‘OK Computer’ to ‘Kid A’ was pretty big. A bit too different for some people’s liking. Overall, it confused people more than anything. But a beautiful confusion if you will. To be honest when I first listened it had me thinking, but as the album progressed I began to love it. Particularly ‘Idioteque’.
I know some people were praying that this was just a phase for the band. That it would purely just be experimental for the future. But once the following album ‘Amnesiac’ was released, it became clear to fans that Radiohead had changed their sound. Ever since they have released more hauntingly beautiful tracks. You could argue they lost fans because of it, but then you could say they gained a whole lot more.
Another thing I’d like to add is that Thom Yorke enjoys himself more. What you don’t see a lot of with artists is their struggle, fans just eat you up. Although he created amazing rock tracks, he didn’t enjoy it. For ages he avoided performing ‘Creep’, no matter how much the audience would beg. That’s why it came as a rather big surprise at Glastonbury 2017 this year when they performed it towards the end of their set (which I’ve watched like 10 times now its fucking amazing). Thom hit a massive writer’s block after ‘OK Computer’. The pressure built, and it brought him down. I can only imagine how stressful that would’ve been after creating something massive. Rock music has seemed to leave somewhat of a scar on Radiohead.
The way I see it, ‘Kid A’ helped Thom. It helped him break out of the shell that rock music was pressing on him. I mean if you watch his performances now he’s actually enjoying himself a lot more on stage. I mean have you seen him dancing? He’s great! Their most recent album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ was in the top 10 of Best Albums 2016. So their large change from rock to a more experimental and electronic sound wasn’t a gigantic crash. It made them just as successful.
Even though I mentioned before that they aren’t fans of their past rock stuff, they certainly don’t despise it. If anything, they embraced it after doing what they enjoy. While before they’d ignore the idea that they’d ever go near ‘Creep’ again, they seem a lot more comfortable performing the old stuff. ‘OK Computer’ had a re-release for its 20 year anniversary with all the old tracks along with the extra B-Sides to go with it which all fans can enjoy.
To conclude, I don’t blame people for preferring Radiohead’s older stuff. I loved their old rock stuff too. It was a rather large change that not everybody was expecting or even particularly enjoyed. But Radiohead has moved on from typical guitar stuff, of course they can still use it. But Radiohead are not and no longer will be the original grunge that some fans want. Embrace their new sound because it’s actually pretty fucking magnificent and artistic.