On December 3 last year, Nigel Godrich sent an early Christmas present to his 62,000 followers on Twitter. In a move doubtless sanctioned by his old friends, the producer posted a photograph of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood poring over a fiendish tangle of studio kit, styled very much as radiophonic engineers absorbed in the process.
Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes had recently been disseminated via the one-time pirate channel, Bittorrent (I reviewed Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes here). Greenwood’s score for another Paul Thomas Anderson movie, Inherent Vice, was being readied for release. Philip Selway had a run of solo dates booked for February. No other comments, from either Godrich or the perennially enigmatic band, were forthcoming. Nevertheless, the implication was clear: Radiohead were active once again.
As another chapter in the Radiohead story begins to open, then, it feels like the perfect time to reconsider what has gone before. Our latest Uncut Ultimate Music Guide is dedicated to Radiohead, and is on sale in UK shops this Thursday – though you can buy a copy of Uncut’s Radiohead special from our online shop now.
Inside, you’ll find a tranche of old interviews, from NME, Melody Maker and Uncut, that chart the band’s long and sometimes tense relationship with the press and the music business, with their fans and even with themselves. Often, this manifests itself as wariness and frustration: Yorke’s annoyance with an Uncut writer’s flippantly provocative line of questioning in 2001 being a justifiable case in point. “Maybe you want to retract that…”
Just as often, though, the terrific interviews compiled in the Uncut Ultimate Music Guide reveal a band whose reality is at odds with the morose stereotypes: an endlessly droll and charming group of men, whose wry contempt for the wearier rituals of rock’n’roll has informed most every professional and artistic move they’ve made in the past 20 odd years. “I’m not trying to define rock’n’roll,” Thom Yorke told NME’s Stuart Bailie in February 1993. “To me, rock’n’roll just reminds me of people with personal hygiene problems who still like getting blow-jobs off complete strangers. That’s not what being in a band means to me.”
Radiohead’s music is the product of notable hard work and no little angst. But, as we put together extensive new essays on each of their albums, patterns started falling into place, and certain inherent virtues recurred again and again. Images of fairy-tale forests and twilit roads. Songs that aren’t exactly about a world on fire, but which could only have been written by men with consciences and aesthetics informed by very 21st Century anxieties. A creative desire to avoid the obvious, which at this point feels far more intuitive than self-conscious.
How such an adventurous, uncompromising band also became such a successful one is among the best and strangest musical stories of the past two decades, and we hope we’ve done it justice in the Uncut Ultimate Music Guide: Radiohead. Optimistically: “It’s the best thing that you ever had/The best thing that you ever, ever had…”
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