Courtesy of Mitch Manzella / Pitchfork

April 18, 2017

ALUR | Radiohead’s Unmatchable Melancholy

Print More

Like many Millennials, I have a deep-rooted fondness for Radiohead. They’ve been a favorite of mine since their 2007 release, In Rainbows. I distinctly recall my brother paying zero dollars for the album on their website, as it was originally released as a downloadable, pay-as-much-as-you-want LP. We got ahold of the album, and it was unlike anything I had ever heard. It was one of the first albums that my dad, brother and I enjoyed together, something all three of us could relate to. It had intricate rhythms and instrumentation, gaining my father and brother’s approval, as well as enigmatic lyrics, which appealed to me. I wondered what the words in “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” meant, as Thom Yorke sang, “I get eaten by the worms and weird fishes.” I was amazed at Yorke’s ability to create painful poetry, lines that have stuck with me for years.

This past summer, I lived out my adolescent dream of seeing Radiohead live. It was just a few months after their newest release, A Moon Shaped Pool, and I managed to secure a day pass for Outside Lands, a music festival in San Francisco, CA. I prepared in the months leading up to the show by filling my ears with as much Radiohead as possible and taking mental notes on the songs I hoped to hear. On that day in August, I stood in a packed crowd of what felt like 50,000 people. I remember the flashing lights on stage, the entrancing sound of Yorke’s tenor timbre and watching people dance and sway to an assorted set of new and old songs. What amazed me most about this performance was that it left me wanting more. I’ve often attended concerts — amazing ones for that matter — and have had to swear off the bands for the months that followed, feeling overwhelmed by the experience of seeing them live. This time was different. The concert gave me a feeling of longing, of continual awe and admiration for the band on stage. I continued to listen to Radiohead for days, weeks and even months after the concert. Here I am, nearly a year later, still listening to and thinking about them.

Radiohead is iconic for many reasons. They paved the way for many, if not most, alternative/indie-rock bands. They’ve done pretty much every kind of rock, and with each release of theirs, we’ve heard something new from the band. The Bends had some of Radiohead’s poppiest tracks, ones that carried emotional weight despite their consumer-friendly chord progressions. Kid A was a more electronic-heavy album, featuring synthesized drum-lines and background vocals. And my favorite, In Rainbows, was beautifully produced and complexly composed, featuring tracks of seriously different intensities that somehow manage to fit together. Their latest release, A Moon Shaped Pool, is perhaps their most lucid and emotionally raw collection of tracks, released soon after Thom Yorke’s separation from his longtime partner, Rachel Owen. The album meditates on loss, loneliness and life in an emotionally disconnected world. The final song on the album is the most haunting, and perhaps the most open, track on the album. In “True Love Waits,” Yorke pleads, “Just don’t leave” amidst a backdrop of muted piano. It’s profound in its simplicity — one of Radiohead’s most nuanced tracks.

I can’t say I’ve loved everything they’ve ever made. I still struggle to sit through The King of Limbs, as its heavy, busy instrumentation obscures its emotional meaning. Likewise, some of their singles, especially “Supercollider,” exist in a stylistic realm that I’m not as fond of. However, I respect their everlasting efforts to innovate and experiment musically. Each album is a departure from the last, marked with familiar hints and poetic lyrics. And, they create melancholy music unlike any other.

Anita Alur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Millennial Musings appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.