Image for Radiohead: A Retrospective Perspective 2001 – 2012

Radiohead: A Retrospective Perspective 2001 – 2012

Written by Alex Langlands on November 12, 2012

Radiohead stormed the stage last week in Brisbane, living up to the copious amount of hype that has surrounded their tour. They played a setlist that comprised mostly of songs released on the latter end of their discography. As a result of this, the need to complete our two-part series on the UK group was ever-pressing. And so, if you are attending tonight’s Sydney show and are yet to do your listening homework, Music Feeds have you covered, as we address the past twelve fantastic years of Radiohead’s career from Amnesiac to The King of Limbs, and everything in between.

Amnesiac – 2001
After the release of Kid A, Radiohead’s distinctive guitar-focused composition had transitioned into a more comprehensive, alternative sound. Recorded within the same sessions as Kid A, Amnesiac was released only eight months after, picking up just after the hype began to die down. Opening with Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box the change in sound was clear from the onset, swapping guitars for percussive instruments and violins, and Thom Yorke’s melodic vocals for an artistically repetitive monotone. However, it was the lead single Pyramid Song that caught the attention of the world, convincing them that this change in sound was not in fact the end of Radiohead.

The orchestral feel of the second track intoxicates a majority of listeners, as Yorke’s melodic voice returns and the powerful accompaniment of the string ensemble builds to the climatic point of the songs, with the lyrical content never changing, poetic as ever. Speaking out about Pyramid Song, Yorke described himself as “being totally obsessed by a Charlie Mingus song called ‘Freedom’ and I was just trying to duplicate that, really. Our first version of ‘Pyramid’ even had all the claps that you hear on ‘Freedom’. Unfortunately, our claps sounded really naff, so I quickly erased them.”

Yet for many, the climax came within Morning Bell (Amnesiac). The hybrid of Yorke’s melodic vocals with the combination of pianos and tuned percussion accumulated to produce one of their more moving tracks, and a relic of their work from Kid A. However, Greenwood’s technologically comprehensive understanding of the guitar did not disappear with this change in sound. Knives Out and Hunting Bears showcased his musical versatility and allowed fans of their previous work to easily approach Amnesiac.

According to a studio diary kept by guitarist Ed O’Brian, Knives Out took 373 days to record, “a ridiculously long gestation period for any song”. It is this time dedicated to specific tracks that result in their flawless production and unique sound. Despite comprising (technically) of B-Sides and left overs from Kid A, Amnesiac broke Top 3 in six different countries, including the UK and US, and was later nominated for the Grammy for Best Alternative Album.

Hail to the Thief – 2003
After being nominated for two Grammy’s for Best Alternative Album since their distinctive change in sound, Radiohead stood by this alteration to release their sixth album, Hail to the Thief. It was once again recorded with long-time friend and co-worker Nigel Godrich at Ocean Way Recording in Los Angeles. However, unlike their past two albums, Radiohead attempted to achieve a more “live” sound, telling MTV that “the last two studio records were a real headache. We had spent so much time looking at computers and grids, we were like, ‘that’s enough, we can’t do that any more’. This time, we used computers, but had to actually be in the room with all the gear,” and they achieved just that. Opening with track 2 + 2 = 5, Johnny Greenwood stepped back form the effects pedals to try and achieve a more authentic sound, stating that “I wanted to try and avoid relying too heavily on pedals, and see if I could come up with interesting things without them.”

At the time of writing, Yorke was lyrically inspired by political events, especially the events within America and their War on Terror. Lyrics such as ‘We don’t really want a monster taking over. Tip toeing, tying down. We don’t want the loonies takin’ over. Tip toeing, tying down our arms’, showed the influence that post 9/11 America had on Yorke’s writing, in addition to global events. Speaking out about these influences, Yorke told Rolling Stone “When I started writing these new songs, I was listening to a lot of political programs on BBC Radio 4. I found myself – during that mad caffeine rush in the morning, as I was in the kitchen giving my son his breakfast – writing down little nonsense phrases, those Orwellian euphemisms that [the British and American governments] are so fond of. They became the background of the record. The emotional context of those words had been taken away. What I was doing was stealing it back.”

Although the band later confessed that they would have preferred to re-record some tracks on the album, it received positive ratings from a vast majority of respected musical authorities and was later rewarded with yet another nomination for Best Alternative Album for the 2004 Grammy Awards.

In Rainbows – 2007
After the release of Hail to the Thief, Radiohead departed EMI, officially becoming an independent act. In light of this, they set out to record their latest instalment In Rainbows over a two-year period, creating a genuine work of musical art. Yet rather than releasing their 7th instalment regularly, the band decided to embrace the coming of the technological age, instigating a ‘pay what you want’ approach, to accommodate fans in all economic situations (provided they had internet). And surprisingly enough, although fans had the option to pay nothing for their latest release, pre-sale figures were more profitable than that of Hail to the Thief and became the 10th independently distributed album to reach number 1 on the Billboard 200 (US Charts).

However, all business aside, it was the album itself that truly made waves. It’s an impressively diverse collection of tracks, ranging form the white noise-inspired track to the ballad of Nude. It was this diversity, which had been built upon from their previous albums, that made it so enticing. The subtle presence of Greenwood’s guitar, alongside the string ensembles and Yorke’s vocal arrangements created a hybrid that had never been achieved on their previous albums. Yet it was the arpeggiated sequence of Jigsaw Falling into Place that caught the attention of most, showcasing the production talent of Nigel Godrich and the musical minds of Radiohead themselves.

Closing with Videotape, In Rainbows took a much more mature style. The simple piano chord progression, accompanied by Yorke’s vocals, created a mesmerising musical experience, which one will struggle to put into words. The band described recording Videotape as “absolute agony”; however, the end product must have been worth it. The emotionally moving piece embodies both pain and happiness, lyrically addressing death, and how the song itself will act as a representation of Yorke’s achievements. In Rainbows would go on to win two Grammy awards and clear hundreds of thousands, if not millions of units. To this day, it is seen as an iconic album, which showcased an alternative approach for bands struggling to cope with the growing reliance on the Internet, an action that has not fully been appreciated.

King of Limbs – 2011
Once again recorded in Los Angeles, Radiohead set about crafting their latest release, King of Limbs. Heavily reliant on rhythm and percussive elements, the band focused heavily on the instrumental combination of various percussive instruments to create a more electronic album. Lead single Lotus Flower is comprised only of vocals, percussion and deep keys, with a sprinkle of guitar work. The song was famously accompanied by a film clip of Yorke’s alternative dance moves.

However, Codex distanced itself from the album’s percussive roots, utilising the ever-famous keys work of the band, entering yet another piano ballad. The stripped-down piece yet again was the medium for the band to show that they had not lost their roots, reminiscent of Kid A in many regards. This nostalgic element of the album continues through to Give up the Ghost, which sees the use of an unmodified acoustic guitar and pure vocals to achieve an extremely authentic sound. The album closes with Separator, a track which is comprised mainly of the percussive techniques evident within the remainder of the album. The use of looped and recorded vocals, alongside a pure and rich guitar melody, creates the perfect closing song for any album. The King of Limbs was released accompanied by a newspaper promoting its release. However, it was not received as well as other releases, failing to peak any charts. That aside, it is still one of Radiohead’s most respected albums.

Radiohead will take the stage tonight at Sydney’s Entertainment Centre before continuing on to Melbourne and then home, and will most likely not return for another eight years. Over their eight-album career, Radiohead have caused more waves than most bands, covering multiple genres and styles. From Glastonbury to Coachella, and Argentina to Australia, they’ve been everywhere, done things bands couldn’t dream of, and have done so while maintaining their integrity. We salute you Radiohead, and seriously look forward to you taking the stage tonight.

Radiohead Australian Tour 2012

Tuesday, 6th November
Vector Arena, Auckland

Friday, 9th November
Entertainment Centre, Brisbane

Monday, 12th November
Entertainment Centre, Sydney

Tuesday, 13th November
Entertainment Centre, Sydney

Friday, 16th November
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Saturday, 17th November
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

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