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High & Dry Play

"High and Dry" opened the eyes of many people when it was released as a single. It was a strong sign that Radiohead was much more than just another one-hit wonder, and that the band was capable of scaling delicate emotional highs. Along with "Fake Plastic Trees," "High and Dry" served as the bittersweet backdrop for the band's majestic album The Bends. The song is paired here with three previously unreleased B-sides and a live version of "Just." All three B-sides are quality compositions, bridging the band's more traditional past with its more experimental future. "India Rubber" is a somewhat breezy number, comprised of a heavy drum beat, whining guitars, and synth sounds reminiscent of a John Barry film score. The song has a preening swagger, but it ends rather awkwardly, via a goofy, repeated sample, suggesting the band didn't know how or care to successfully end the song. "Maquilladora" is somewhat similar in sound to "India Rubber," but it's more aggressive and features guitars more prominently than keyboards. There are hints of Joy Divison within the melody, or maybe just a taste of Bailter Space, but it's not necessarily one of Radiohead's more compelling moments. "How Can You Be Sure?" is the strongest included B-side. Amid a rolling keyboard sound, gentle drums, and Thom Yorke's plaintive vocals, the song acts like a lullaby to the band's naive past; it's a final moment of calm before Radiohead would reinvent modern alternative music (at least in the world of popular music). The live version of "Just," recorded at The Forum in London, is a bit weak and uninteresting against the studio version on The Bends. The guitars are employed with great power, but the track falters due to a rather lackluster mixing job. High & Dry is a quality EP. It's not groundbreaking, but it's worth a look for die-hard fans. ~ Tim DiGravina, Rovi

Fake Plastic Trees Play

The B-sides of the incredible "Fake Plastic Trees" are more gentle than those of the "High and Dry" EPs. Part one has two (shock!) non-LP tracks, "India Rubber" and "How Can You Be Sure." Both are the subdued, acoustic side of the band, as per The Bends' "Nice Dream." Part two contains acoustic versions of "Fake Plastic Trees," "Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was," and "Street Spirit (Fade Out). Only the last of these is worth writing mommy about, really. ~ Jack Rabid, Rovi

Airbag/How Am I Driving? Play

Once the incredible OK Computer went platinum, proving (at last) to be as impressive to the populace as to the press, Capitol salivated for quick new product, with a new LP two years away. Fortunately for the company that made Sinatra and the Beatles famous, their powerhouse Oxford five had been releasing B-sides in the U.K., on the back of the singles "Paranoid Android," "Karma Police," and "No Surprises." Presto!! Out pops this seven-song mini-LP, basically the LP's "Airbag" and six B-sides. Mind you, Radiohead are effective judges of their own material. Unlike many U.K. bands, they never serve up a non-LP track so fantastic it should have made the first team. But Airbag is a fine purchase, as their lesser material is still provocative, ambitiously stretching (Thom Yorke and pals take a few chances, such as the spacy instrumental here, "Meeting in the Aisle"), and, as usual, clash several moods together at once. So, if you didn't buy the expensive English singles, get this. You can't go wrong with the pile-driving "Palo Alto." Like the other true standout, "Polyethylene, Pts. 1 & 2," it deliciously comes off its hinges on a dirty-sounding guitar slash in the chorus (a nerve-racking churn comparable to the Kinks' smashed-up riff in "You Really Got Me"), triggering a descending, scary guitar trill that oddly echoes the keyboard solo in Frankie "Boom Boom" Cannon's 1963 number 3 hit "Palisades Park." Typically traumatic! One loud boo, though, to all concerned, for omitting the fine, gently moving "Lull" (from the "Karma Police" U.K. single). Likewise, where's the curious, glassy voice-and-piano fragmentary vignette "How I Made My Millions" off the "No Surprises" single? Or the live versions of "Airbag" and "Lucky"? What, there wasn't room on the CD (snicker)? ~ Jack Rabid, Rovi

OK Computer Play

Using the textured soundscapes of The Bends as a launching pad, Radiohead delivered another startlingly accomplished set of modern guitar rock with OK Computer. The anthemic guitar heroics present on Pablo Honey and even The Bends are nowhere to be heard here. Radiohead have stripped away many of the obvious elements of guitar rock, creating music that is subtle and textured yet still has the feeling of rock & roll. Even at its most adventurous -- such as the complex, multi-segmented "Paranoid Android" -- the band is tight, melodic, and muscular, and Thom Yorke's voice effortlessly shifts from a sweet falsetto to vicious snarls. It's a thoroughly astonishing demonstration of musical virtuosity and becomes even more impressive with repeated listens, which reveal subtleties like electronica rhythms, eerie keyboards, odd time signatures, and complex syncopations. Yet all of this would simply be showmanship if the songs weren't strong in themselves, and OK Computer is filled with moody masterpieces, from the shimmering "Subterranean Homesick Alien" and the sighing "Karma Police" to the gothic crawl of "Exit Music (For a Film)." OK Computer is the album that establishes Radiohead as one of the most inventive and rewarding guitar rock bands of the '90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Just [#1] Play

How bad are things here? The so-so acoustic version of "Fake Plastic Trees," from part two of that single, is like super value for money compared to part one of the "Just" EP. It features the third remix (Indian, this time) of "Planet Telex" (can't we blow up this planet already?), and a remix of "Killer Cars," not that we needed one. Finally, the second part leads us to live land, with decent versions of "Bones," "Anyone Can Play Guitar," and (yes, you guessed it) "Planet Telex" (albeit a killer one). ~ Jack Rabid, Rovi

Amnesiac Play

Faced with a deliberately difficult deviation into "experimentation," Radiohead and their record label promoted Kid A as just that -- a brave experiment, and that the next album, which was just around the corner, really, would be the "real" record, the one to satiate fans looking for the next OK Computer, or at least guitars. At the time, people bought the myth, especially since live favorites like "Knives Out" and "You and Whose Army?" were nowhere to be seen on Kid A. That, however, ignores a salient point -- Amnesiac, as the album came to be known, consists of recordings made during the Kid A sessions, so it essentially sounds the same. Since Radiohead designed Kid A as a self-consciously epochal, genre-shattering record, the songs that didn't make the cut were a little simpler, so it shouldn't be a surprise that Amnesiac plays like a streamlined version of Kid A, complete with blatant electronica moves and production that sacrifices songs for atmosphere. This, inevitably, will disappoint the legions awaiting another guitar-based record (that is, after all, what they were explicitly promised), but what were they expecting? This is an album recorded at the same time and Radiohead have a certain reputation to uphold. It would be easier to accept this if the record was better than it is. Where Kid A had shock on its side, along with an admirably dogged desire to not be conventional, Amnesiac often plays as a hodgepodge. True, it's a hodgepodge with amazing moments: the hypnotic sway of "Pyramid Song" and "You and Whose Army?," the swirling "I Might Be Wrong," "Knives Out," and the spectacular closer "Life in a Glasshouse," complete with a drunkenly swooning brass band. But, these are not moments that are markedly different than Kid A, which itself lost momentum as it sputtered to a close. And this is the main problem -- though it's nice for an artist to be generous and release two albums, these two records clearly derive from the same source and have the same flaws, which clearly would have been corrected if they had been consolidated into one record. Instead of revealing why the two records were separated, the appearance of Amnesiac makes the separation seem arbitrary -- there's no shift in tone, no shift in approach, and the division only makes the two records seem unfocused, even if the best of both records is quite stunning, proof positive that Radiohead are one of the best bands of their time. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Bends Play

Pablo Honey in no way was adequate preparation for its epic, sprawling follow-up, The Bends. Building from the sweeping, three-guitar attack that punctuated the best moments of Pablo Honey, Radiohead create a grand and forceful sound that nevertheless resonates with anguish and despair -- it's cerebral anthemic rock. Occasionally, the album displays its influences, whether it's U2, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., or the Pixies, but Radiohead turn clichés inside out, making each song sound bracingly fresh. Thom Yorke's tortured lyrics give the album a melancholy undercurrent, as does the surging, textured music. But what makes The Bends so remarkable is that it marries such ambitious, and often challenging, instrumental soundscapes to songs that are at their cores hauntingly melodic and accessible. It makes the record compelling upon first listen, but it reveals new details with each listen, and soon it becomes apparent that with The Bends, Radiohead have reinvented anthemic rock. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Kid A Play

Instead of simply adding club beats or sonic collage techniques, Radiohead strive to incorporate the unsettling "intelligent techno" sound of Autechre and Aphex Twin, characterized by its skittering beats and stylishly dark sonic surfaces, for Kid A. To their immense credit, Radiohead don't sound like carpetbaggers, because they share the same post-postmodern vantage point as their inspirations. Kid A is easily the most successful electronica album from a rock band: it doesn't even sound like a rock band, even if it does sound like Radiohead. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

My Iron Lung Play

The import EP My Iron Lung is as close to a forgotten, long-lost Radiohead album as you can get. Although marketed and priced as an EP, it contains eight tracks, seven of which are unavailable anywhere else, and is half an hour long (which more than meets the criteria for a full-length). But besides its length, what makes My Iron Lung such a find is the quality of the tracks, all of them being great outtakes from the sessions for their classic 1995 full-length release The Bends. And because of the tracks' consistency and sequencing, it plays like a real album rather than a collection of B-sides and outtakes thrown together haphazardly. Starting off with the title track, which is the only song available elsewhere (on The Bends), the band hits you with one strong track after another, such as "The Trickster," "Lewis (Mistreated)," "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong," and others. The only weak spot on My Iron Lung is a closing acoustic version of their breakthrough hit "Creep." Performed solo by singer Thom Yorke, it contains a surprisingly harsh and off-key middle section, but his sincerity helps overcome the version's shortcomings. No Radiohead fan's collection is complete without the My Iron Lung EP. [Note: The My Iron Lung EP is available in a few different formats, some including less tracks than others. Be sure to get the Australian import, which contains the full eight tracks.] ~ Greg Prato, Rovi

Hail to the Thief Play

Radiohead's admittedly assumed dilemma: how to push things forward using just the right amounts of the old and the older in order to please both sides of the divide? Taking advantage of their longest running time to date, enough space is provided to quench the thirsts of resolute Bends devotees without losing the adventurous drive or experimentation that eventually got the group into hot water with many of those same listeners. Guitars churn and chime and sound like guitars more often than not; drums are more likely to be played by a human; and discernible verses are more frequently trailed by discernible choruses. So, whether or not the group is to be considered "back," there is a certain return to relatively traditional songcraft. Had the opening "2 + 2 = 5" and "Sit Down. Stand Up." been made two years before, each song's slowly swelling intensity would have plateaued a couple minutes in, functioning as mood pieces without any release; instead, each boils over into its own cathartic tantrum. The spook-filled "Sail to the Moon," one of several songs featuring prominent piano, rivals "Street Spirit" and hovers compellingly without much sense of force carrying it along. Somewhat ironically, minus a handful of the more conventionally structured songs, the album would be almost as fractured, remote, and challenging as Amnesiac. "Backdrifts" and "The Gloaming" feature nervous electronic backdrops, while the emaciated "We Suck Young Blood" is a laggard processional that, save for one outburst, shuffles along uneasily. At nearly an hour in length, this album doesn't unleash the terse blow delivered by its two predecessors. However, despite the fact that it seems more like a bunch of songs on a disc rather than a singular body, its impact is substantial. Regardless of all the debates surrounding the group, Radiohead have entered a second decade of record-making with a surplus of momentum. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Street Spirit (Fade Out) Play

This Australian release of Radiohead's Street Spirit (Fade Out) single collects three of the four B-sides that appeared on the two U.K. singles. Only "Banana Co.," from the U.K. CD 2 isn't featured. The title song, taken from The Bends, features Radiohead at perhaps their moody peak when it comes to their more traditional releases. Like the other singles from The Bends, chief among them "Just," "High and Dry," and "Fake Plasic Trees," "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" displays textures and emotions that proved the band to be more than a one-hit wonder. The B-sides are the real story here, and they're all quite good. "Bishop's Robes" is a more subtle song, with Yorke and the band reigning in their bombast and performing a slide guitar shuffle fitted to a decent melody and a quality arrangement. "Talk Show Host," here in different form than on the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack, starts and stops as it marries a noirish jazz mood with sci-fi keyboards and sound washes. With Nick Cave appearing in Wings of Desire, one imagines Radiohead playing this song in a deleted scene from Blade Runner. "Molasses" sees the band affecting a swagger and spouting disconnected phrases to a decent musical ditty, but the song ends before it really gets started. Street Spirit (Fade Out) is a mature, worthy single release. ~ Tim DiGravina, Rovi

Radiohead Box Set Play

This simple, attractive, reasonably priced box set (issued in the U.K.) houses 1993's Pablo Honey, 1995's The Bends, 1997's OK Computer, 2000's Kid A, 2001's Amnesiac and I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, and 2003's Hail to the Thief -- each full-length Radiohead release on Parlophone. (The label released the box, marketed as "limited edition," between Radiohead's pick-your-price download and physical release of In Rainbows.) Each disc is in its own sturdy, foldout digipack sleeve, containing the original artwork in full, and they fit into a black sheath that slides snugly into a white box. No remastering took place with any of the recordings. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

The Best of Radiohead Play

The year 2008 might have been a slightly early point in time to release expanded editions of the first several Radiohead albums, so Capitol greased the reissue pipeline with The Best Of, a 17-track disc with a track list that is as debatable as any other. The idea of squeezing the band's first six albums into something resembling a definitive one-disc introduction seems almost as wise as presenting A Collection of Great Dance Songs (incidentally a Capitol release) as the one true and useful introduction to Pink Floyd, but to be more fair, the disc does cover just about all of the basics: all the singles and emphasis tracks, from Pablo Honey's "Creep" through Hail to the Thief's "2+2=5," along with a small assortment of the band's better-known album cuts. One track apiece comes from Pablo Honey (1993) and Amnesiac (2001); three are from Kid A (2000), four are from OK Computer (1997), and six are off The Bends (1995). The primary problem, of course, is that Radiohead are much more an albums band than a singles band, especially from OK Computer onward, so a natural reflex for someone who has valued the band since The Bends is to shriek in mild agony; in principle, a best-of Radiohead compilation is similar to a DVD containing somewhat thoughtfully picked scenes from films made by a specific director. For a very casual fan who has absolutely no interest in exploring beyond the songs he or she heard on the radio or through MTV and the like, this set will do (it has "Creep" and half of The Bends, after all, and then a bunch of "the weird stuff"), but otherwise it clearly serves a purpose more meaningful for the label than anyone else. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi
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