Ranking Radiohead

A few years ago I ranked all of the Radiohead albums, even at the time it was an unsatisfactory ranking, but since then another album has come out and I’ve spent a lot more time with the albums in general so I felt like it was time to rerank them. This year I plan on not cheating by combining Kid A and Amnesiac and just for the sake of completion I’ll include Pablo Honey. What follows the ranking isn’t a review, but more of a fan’s appreciation.

8. Pablo Honey

A perfectly respectable debut that is of interest only in seeing the later style in immature form. The one exception is Creep, which was the song that first brought Radiohead to my attention and still has some cultural cache as demonstrated in the cover by the Vega Choir for The Social Network.

7. The King of Limbs

Still fresh in my ears is their most recent effort. It hasn’t had the chance to stretch out yet so this album is at an unfair advantage against the history of hearings that the above albums have, but here is where it fits in my evaluations currently. I would like to believe the theory that The King of Limbs is part one of a two part sequence, but even taken alone it is clear that Radiohead is transforming the idea of an album in a downloadable age. But at only thirty seven minutes in eight songs it’s slight, especially when you take out the weaker contributions of Feral and Mr. Magpie. I look forward to future deep listenings, but I don’t see it climbing any higher. Favorite tracks : Little by Little, Codex, and Lotus Flower.

6. The Bends

The Bends was the first cd I bought myself…alright, fine, second album, but should Garbage’s self titled album really count? When High&Dry hit the airwaves I earmarked their name for future purchase. Once Fake Plastic Trees dropped I proclaimed them my favorite band (up there with Remy Zero, who opened for Radiohead on The Bends tour). After Radiohead I instituted the Three Song Rule, which was if I like three songs from a band I will buy an album, Creep, High & Dry, and Fake Plastic Trees sparked the first purchase under the Three Song Rule. Favorite tracks: Fake Plastic Trees, High & Dry, Just.

5. Amnesiac

I never gave Amnesiac much of a fair shake. Kid A owned my life well past Amnesiac’s released date. I liked You and Whose Army and Spinning Plates immediately, but I’ve never gotten into Pyramid Song. Amnesiac’s Morning Bell is the better version, but overall I treated the album as the b-sides to Kid A, much like the Airbag/How Am I Driving EP that was released after OK Computer. I’ve listened to it regularly, but it wasn’t until In Rainbows came out that I started listening to it in order to rank the albums. Immediately I realized how much I loved the album. It starts out a little lethargic with Packt Like Sardines and Pyramid Song and then becomes abrasive at Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors. I found it off-putting initially. It took me awhile before I got the opening. You and Whose Army goes up as one of the funniest songs in their catalogue and has always been a favorite, but in the context of the album it’s still pretty low key. It isn’t really until I Might Be Wrong that the album comes alive. Favorite tracks: You and Whose Army, Spinning Plates, and Life in a Glass house.

4. In Rainbows

Radiohead’s seventh album was released with such hype that it was impossible not to get swept up in it. This album unfolded relatively easily for me and Reckoner immediately jumped into my top 10 favorite Radiohead songs. It’s a great album top to bottom, even the pallet cleansers are interesting (House of Cards, Jigsaw Falling Into Place, Faust Harp). Rigorously plotted, perhaps the greatest song progression of their career, In Rainbows is flawlessly structured and ends on a perfect note. It has slowly moved up my rankings each year. Dont’ forget Scotch Mist the video Radiohead made featuring every song from In Rainbows. Under the innovative Pay What You Want model, I paid seven dollars, which was under the average apparently. So I’m a cheapo. Favorite tracks: Reckoner, Nude, and Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.

3. Kid A

Kid A was the first album I anticipated. OK Computer just showed up at the store, but the day Kid A came out I stood at the door of the music store waiting for it to open so that I could buy it. My roommate and I each bought a copy and disappeared into our rooms. An hour later we emerged with bewilder looks and frightened thumbs up. The bobulation of Everything in Its Right Place, the alien chimes of Kid A, the ominous droning of The National Anthem before it collapses in tortured horns, it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. In fact, I skipped the NA for the first three months solid until I got the humor of those agonized horns. Since then I’ve read that Thom giggles every time he hears them. Treefingers is certainly one of the slightest palate cleansers in the canon, and Morning Bell isn’t interesting until it’s remade for Amnesiac, but Idioteque and Motion Picture Soundtrack are perfect. Kid A is a tightly made package that even with its two tiny flaws continues to command my attention. Favorite Tracks: Idioteque, Optimistic, How  to Disappear Completely.

2. OK Computer

Each time I return to evaluate Radiohead’s work I think that OK Computer will drop. Then I pull it out and it blows me away again. OK Computer defines an era; it remains one of the few true concept albums that is organic, yet sprawlingly unified. Let Down is not only my favorite Radiohead song, it is one of my favorite songs of all time. The remarkable thing is how adaptable it is to any emotional state; sad, happy, angry, or undetermined it always speaks to me. In the six years from its debut to the release of Hail to the Thief, I listened to OK Computer more than each of the other Radiohead albums combined. Over the years, songs that I liked or disliked became songs I loved and liked and loved. At one point the only song I didn’t care for was Electioneering, but that changed once the Cold War Kids version of the song helped me understand it better. I’ve been trying for several years to individually rank each Radiohead song, but the difficulty for this album (as well as HttT) is that they fit together so seamlessly that to strip it from the album causes it to lose some of its power. My only regret is that I can’t buy this album every week of the year. Favorite tracks: Let Down, Karma Police, No Surprises.

1. Hail to the Thief

Hail to the Thief was well received by critics, but begrudgingly praised. They generally seemed peeved by its length and its lack of simplicity. Even the band has acted cool toward the album. In my opinion Hail To The Thief is the climax of everything Radiohead accomplished in their previous albums. Nigel Godrich, their longtime producer, convinced bandmembers to record in L.A. in two weeks, which was the quickest recording session ever for the band. There was no belaboring of the songs, no overproduction, no endless tinkering. Relying on instinct and the skill acquired over their careers they channeled it into an epic, unkempt masterpiece. It is because of it sprawling, disparate threads that it is great. With all of their other albums I’ve needed some downtime after listening to them heavily, with Hail being the only exception. I’ve played it for weeks on end and return to it frequently. Every playlist I make, every trip I go on, features HttT. There is not a single flaw on the entire album and it’s as catchy as all hell. I could rhapsodize  for longer… Favorite Tracks: There, There, Wolf at the Door, Sail to the Moon.


The King of Limbs : The Robotanists

In the 24 hr cover of Radiohead’s The King of Limbs by the Robotanists it becomes clear that a majority of disappointed feelings were due to the enormous expectations that the band is held to. The album, by any other standard, is very good. The Robotanists do a great job of revealing the strengths of the album.

Get it for freebies here.

Click here for more Robotanists


King of Limbs : Radiohead : On First Listen

It seems like people always rate a new Radiohead album by where it fits into their musical taste, but really Radiohead albums are about moving your taste. Seems like albums that move people’s taste the least are better received than the ones that move it less. So when I listen to a new Radiohead album I’m interested in where they’ll take me, not how they live up to standards they previously set.

1. Bloom

Radiohead always throws me off with their opening track; the descent into Planet Telex, the abrasion of Airbag, the alien Everything in its Right Place, the distant tin toy sounds of Packt Like Sardines, and ecstatic drums of 15 Step have all left me scrambling to get a hold on where the band is going. Bloom is a softer Packt Like Sardines that fades into the atmosphere (past the two minute mark) like Everything in its Right Place. It feels stunted, the drum beat, which is ironic in light of its lyrics: “Open your mind wide.”

2. Morning Mr. Magpie

A concert constant from the Hail to the Thief days that’s been reworked, maybe overworked. Its ominous lyrics hearken back to Paranoid Android: “When I am king you will be first against the wall” and the taunt of You and Whose Army. Thom really lunges with his voice in this one. Doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

3. Little By Little

Bit of a James Bond feel to it. Once again, the middle of the song shifts, giving it a more ominous feel. At the end it feels more wistful. The first song that grips me immediately.

4. Feral

I like the dueling beeps over the drums. Idioteque-ish. The Treefingers of the album, except not terrible like Treefingers.

5. Lotus Flower

I watched the video of Lotus Flower  while downloading the album to get a little taste so this is my second hearing. Sounds very familiar (which might mean I have a live version that I’ve been listening to). Kind of a siren song. The album is starting to warm up.

6. Codex

The piano ballad. Bent just a little to avoid the deep dark; a bit like Videotape. This would’ve annihilated my teen years.

7. Give Up the Ghost

The album already feels like it’s on a landing pattern. Chilling in places, but takes on the feeling of a sing along toward the middle. Feels like a concluding song.

8. Separator

Seems like all of the songs start the same. Very jolly.

Early bird favorites are Little by Little, Codex, and Lotus Flower.

For more here’s an excellent review at Obscure Sound

Ranking Radiohead : Albums

[I’ve recently updated this post and have added commentary]

In 1993 Radiohead put out Pablo Honey. On the strength of the hit song Creep they went on to release some of the best albums of the era. Critics compare them often to the Beatles with regards to their popularity, innovations and influence. The following is my ranking of their albums that followed Pablo Honey.

5. The Bends (1995)

4. Kid A (2000) & Amnesiac (2001) tie

3. In Rainbows (2007)

2. OK Computer (1997)

1. Hail to the Thief (2003)

For a similar list consult this Jen-sized ranking of Radiohead.