November 6, 2003

Crypt of Mediocrity

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My favorite Radiohead song is the Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead.” Everything was downhill from there. Lots of people I formerly knew called 1997’s OK Computer album of the year, the decade, their lives, all of Western civilization (forgetting that Blur released nine albums, all much better than the concept of time itself).

Unless you’ve been living in some place that isn’t Greenwich Village or your high school’s drama department, you probably already know the “plot” here: a concept album depicting the rise of a police state masquerading as technological innovation, the isolation of modern existence, and the general corruption of a formerly sacrosanct humanity. If you think this is the best album of all time, you better damn well prepare to cast your vote for A.I.: Artificial Intelligence for movie of the millennium. Ray of Light has a better concept that that. This was not a good idea when Pink Floyd did it, when Nixon did it, when the goddamn Aeneid did it. I can effectively ensure that it is still not a good idea when you give an elfin post-grunge dyspeptic the keys to the synthesizer room and tell him to record his 8th-grade diary. I will concede that there is a modicum of musical professionalism on this album. Jonny Greenwood knows more about guitar than I do, but so did Charles Manson and at least Manson actually had some original ideas.

The foundation of the album is the 6.5-minute “Paranoid Android,” easily the most pretentious song this side of everything Nick Drake ever wrote. It’s a poor man’s musical sophistication, claiming to be Stravinsky when it’s more “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I know some people love that song. Grow up. Lyrically, “Paranoid Android” goes like this: there are covert despots controlling people’s actions and minds. Why does this sound familiar? Where have I heard this before? Oh; oh yes, that’s right. THE BEGINNING OF TIME. Sample line: “Rain down, rain down, come on, rain down on me.”

Wow, I bow in awe. Who else but Thom Yorke could think of putting a “come on” between a repetitive, entirely unaffecting weather report. Here, please, Mr. Yorke, take all my money and then continue to denounce the rabid maniacal society that paid for your children’s indoctrination in their Luddite anti-God school. I can appreciate that there are a lot of criticisms of capitalism and hegemony. I’m just thinking maybe a MEGA-TOUR WITH ROCK STARS, hundred-dollar seats, teenyboppers in denial, and millions of dollars in merchandising is not the best forum for this investigation. If only there were some way to convey important ideas in a manner that did not involve bombastic guitar solos and pompous lyrics. I call my invention good music. Actually, I call it this column.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt