Firstly, let's make one thing clear - I'm not a Radiohead fan(atic) - they inspire a kind of mad devotion along the lines of the equally deranged Dr Who-ists (or Trekkies for our American friends) that I just don't get. I like the band sometimes, that's it.
In my humble opinion OK Computer, if not in my all time top 10 albums, is certainly in the the top 20. It had everything- tunes, rock, vast swathes of emotion, weirdness, roll, the kitchen sink. Since then - jeez was it really 13 years ago?! - they've gone all experimental and, dare I say it self-indulgent, and with the largely failed noodlings present on Kid A and Amnesiac they have shown themselves to be ambitious certainly, but maybe lacking in the chops to carry it off. To make truly inspiring experimental music you have to have either an intuitive musical genius, or be highly technically proficient, or in very rare cases both. Look no further than the unsurpassable Can of the 1970s for that elusive mixture.
Radiohead returned from the brink with a couple of decent if underwhelming albums in Hail To The Thief and then the "controversial" In Rainbows. Both had their moments but have not been returned to that often in chez moi. An obsession with Aphex Twin style rhythm tracks persists to this day, and the new album suffers for it. Does Phil Selway still own a drum kit?
Opener Bloom sets the scene for the album and exists in an eerie abstract soundscape that will come to define the album. It's the kind of thing Elbow might come up with, but with an Afro beat twist. "Open your mouth wide" intones Thom, "Don't blow your mind with why" - a noble sentiment. There's some nice instrumentation on this track and although it never gets beyond a kind of loud ambience it's probably the most in-yer-face thing here.
The second track Morning Mr Magpie is dominated by the kind of Richard D James ants-in yer-pants rhythmic wibbling that I can find irritating, but this does actually bubble along quite nicely. Little By Little actually has guitars as dominant instrument, but don't get carried away, it's only in an idling along fashion, with a bit of syncopation that never really gets out of second gear. Lyrically this is a typical Thom-doom piece, right on down to "The pit of my soul". The track threatens to break out but never does, in fact the whole album so far has built on layers of increasing tension, leading one to expect that the next number will release some of this angst, but of course it doesn't! The instrumental Feral features the most Aphex Twin-like jiggling about so far, and is bloody annoying to these ears. You realise by now that there will likely be no uplifting anthemic moments to be had on this album, not that that is necessarily a bad thing.
Lotus Flower features yet more Afro-Melt rhythms and has an accompanying video of Thom throwing shapes which is actually more interesting than the song in my opinion. Next up are the two best songs on the album. Codex is a simple but gorgeous piano led Thom piece of soul bearing that works really well, it brings a sigh from the listener as the previous tension is dispelled, but not in the manner you might expect or maybe are nostalgic for. Following this is the beautiful Give Up Ghost with the mantra "Don't haunt me" repeated over the main lyric and some nu-folk strumming. The tension now completely dissipated, the album closes with Separator, Thom reckons "It's like I'm falling out of bed from a long, weary dream" and the music sounds like the outpourings of a group on a collective comedown.
If you forget the Radiohead of 10 or more years ago and accept that this is what they sound like NOW, then it's not a bad album. Despite the occasionally annoying over reliance on electronic wibbling, it's ok, but not OK Computer! It's no way a case of instant gratification, but it's definitely a grower.
3 out of 5
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