And here we are with the judges on Radiohead. Next up, Vampire Weekend.
And here we are with the judges on Radiohead. Next up, Vampire Weekend.
Mark Radcliffe: It’s a great Radiohead album. It may be the best Radiohead album. They’re one of a rare breed who’ve become an international arena-filling rock band that have had the courage to play with it and fuck about with it once they got there, rather than keeping going just the same. I think this has got better songs than certainly anything since OK Computer, possibly ever. There’s songs on here which are absolutely out of their top drawer; “House Of Cards”, “Nude”.
I know they’re constantly eulogised and it sounds daft to say we take them for granted, but you would expect Radiohead to make a marvellous record every time. Pretty much they do, but this is better even than their usual standard. I think Thom Yorke’s voice has just got better and better, the space it occupies, the air around it, the self-consciousness of the falsetto that he’s developed.
Funnily enough, I was listening to “Creep” the other day, and where he goes into the high register there’s nothing like the purity that there is on these songs. The end section of “Nude”, which is like a choir but it’s all him, is incredible. What they’ve managed to do is distill and reduce the absolute essence of what Radiohead is. I think they’re one of our most precious bands, a brilliant record.
Danny Kelly: I share some of Mark’s views, but not all of them. It is their best record since OK Computer, but I don’t share the view that they’re a national treasure. I don’t blame them for the horrible bands they’ve set in tow any more than I blame Kraftwerk for the horrible bands they set in tow in the ‘80s, I don’t think that’s fair. My dislike of the way they’ve gone and how to be just discordant and screechy is good enough now. At one of the awards ceremonies he did a seven or eight-minute solo number on the piano in front of people who were clearly wishing to kill him.
Mark: That was from his solo album, though, Danny.
Danny: Yeah, I know, but I just wanted him to stop making music and leave the building. This record, however, is really good, there’s no point in pretending that it’s not; there’s more melody on it, they’ve rediscovered rhythm – even the opening track [“15 Step”], the way it bounces along is lovely to hear. It’s an enjoyable Radiohead record, after they’d become torture for me. It’s enjoyable maybe because Jonny Greenwood went off and did the thing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, maybe because Thom Yorke had done his solo album, they’d got all that stuff out of them and they’re back to being the basic band they were when they made The Bends.
Mark: No, they’re not, they’re not like The Bends at all, they’re a completely different band!
Danny: What I’m saying is they’ve gone back to way of making records, they’re not having to add a load of stuff into it. I liked “Reckoner” a lot, I like the way it goes all symphonic, and “House Of Cards” is a great song.
Allan Jones: This was quite a revelation for me, especially the latter half of it. I think Mark is absolutely right, it’s the concision of the songs on there, nothing out-stays its welcome at all. It’s really, really spot on.
Linda Thompson: I love this record, I’m a big Thom Yorke fan. I liked all the mad stuff that came between OK Computer and OK Abacus, or whatever this is. I really like the way he’s gone for no grandstanding at all, I like the way they’ve let the music speak for itself. I’m a big fan of Nigel Godrich, too. He can overproduce things a bit too much, like he’s got his eyes on the charts a bit too much, but he is a wonderful producer. And I’m really soppy about Thom Yorke, because I think he’s a great talent, very spiritual. I keep coming back to the fact that you can always tell that he’s doing it from the right place. Some of you guys, all of you for all I know, might be musicians, but, y’know, it’s not as easy as it looks. I wouldn’t be unhappy if this won. They’re amazing live, and I like the stuff Thom did with Polly Harvey too.
Tony Wadsworth: Declaring an interest, I worked with them throughout their career, and if you think you’ve been tortured, Danny, it’s nowhere near as much as they torture themselves. They turn themselves inside out between every album, it’s almost like they break up after every album, because they feel such a massive obligation to do something different and amazing and better than they’ve ever done. It doesn’t always work, and I think on the couple of albums prior to this one it didn’t.
This one, I think, everything really came together. They were touring the songs for a couple of years before they started recording, and that really shows. What struck me about the songs when they were first trying them out live and finally went they went into the studio is that this is almost like their soul album. That may sound weird in terms of Radiohead, but I started hearing Curtis Mayfield in there, and Bob Marley. There’s a rhythm and more of a sexy thing going on than you’re used to with Radiohead.
I think the songs are great; “Nude”, I know, was written at the time of OK Computer, and suffered that Radiohead editorial process. When someone says to them “that sounds like a hit!”, you’ll never fuckin’ hear it again! They put it away for 15 years. I think, until now, they never felt they’d made the definitive version of it, but of course there’s no such thing as the definitive version of a song. I think this is probably their best album. It’s great that somebody is so damn serious about making pop music with skill.
I think it’s shame that the music kind of got obscured by the way they released it, which from an industry point of view was quite a pivotal moment. Basically, they took two ends of the market, they said “OK, here’s the download, pay what you want for it”, and most people paid nothing. “Oh, and here’s a special edition of the album, pay £40”. And both of those were very interesting things to do, because they were playing with the perceived value of music. You could say that file-sharing has effectively made music worthless, but of course we all know that it’s worth so much, it’s priceless. So their £40 box set was them asking “how can we bring the value out again?”. They hit upon a couple of really good ideas, from a business point of view it was a very clever thing to do. After they’d done those two things they did a conventional record deal with XL, so they had their cake and they ate it.
Mark: Well, they always knew that they were gonna sell a truckload of CDs anyway. They had the security of knowing what their fanbase was and that it would still buy a CD for a tenner from Tesco’s.
Tony: Absolutely, but I think the pity is that it became the story of the album at the time, it wasn’t the music.
Allan: That’s a very good point, it did overshadow the music. I think I was more interested in the background surrounding it, and it was ages before I actually got round to listening to the record.
Alison Howe: I love Radiohead, I’ve liked all their albums for different reasons. I’ve always found something on each one to like, and I like this one more than lots of the others. It almost feels like their pop album to me, it’s got lots of tunes on it, which you can’t say about recent Radiohead records. I think they play it very well, I think this year and the shows they played last year were almost like a new chapter of Radiohead. They looked like they were into it again, I don’t know if maybe for a couple of years they got a bit bored. This feels a bit like a Radiohead record on an independent label, it just feels different to me.
Tony: What I can assure is that it wasn’t made in any different way from when they were signed to a major label. If ever a band was truly independent they’re one of ‘em.
Alison: I’ve been thinking about this, and my three or four favourite records have come from the same place, the stable of XL or Beggars; The Raconteurs, Vampire Weekend, this one and Bon Iver. I think that’s really interesting, because they’re four very different records. I wouldn’t want Radiohead to win, but they’d be in my Top Three.
Mark: I think they wouldn’t want to win, they didn’t want to win the Mercury.
Allan: Well, let’s give it to them, really wind them up!