I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with Radiohead, I mean I like them, I really dig their attitude on a whole range of issues*, I own a fair chunk of their stuff and I’ve seen them twice – both times they were excellent. But, and there is a but – I can’t quite commit myself to loving them unreservedly. I’m not sure what it is, maybe their British reserve rubs my British reserve up the wrong way. Anyway I find myself in possession of four Radiohead 12″‘s covering the period September ’94 to January ’96 (all from The Bends), all promo copies and I’ve just spent two interesting afternoons listening to them all.
As a responsible listener I made sure the usual Radiohead Protection Protocols (RPP, as defined by the W.H.O 1997) were in place first:
- General sense of wellbeing before listening – Check.
- Sunny, bright weather outside – Check, sort of.
- Mindless hair metal to play straight afterwards – Check, Look What the Cat Dragged In primed and ready to go.
- Someone else in the house ready to turn the power off if they think you’re getting in too deep – Check
Actually, piss-taking aside, my view is that Radiohead don’t get enough kudos for a) rocking out like behemoths occasionally b) being quite funny at times**. Obviously, being a wild-eyed big-bottomed maverick type I worked through these discs in reverse chronological order – I know, I know, it’s just CRAZY around here, who knows what I might do next, misfile a Black Sabbath LP in with the Black Crowes?
First up was Street Spirit (Fade Out) which I remember the Darkness playing last time I saw them live, albeit a bit sped up and more falsettoey (falsettoish?). Now this doesn’t really do my whole, they’re-not-as-miserable-as-you-think theory too much good, a sample:
Cracked eggs, dead birds
Scream as they fight for life
I can feel death, can see its beady eyes
All these things into position
All these things we’ll one day swallow whole
And fade out again and fade out again
Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh Lord, it’s just the way he tells them! Hmm, Thom Yorke described this one as the band’s saddest song and as ‘a tunnel with no light at the end’. I love it because of that, totally. I also love the fact that the song is so restrained and controlled throughout, there is a dignity and elegance to it because of that, that would be lost if it just became too anguished a shriek-fest; it hits the mark for me every time piercing my hard exoskeleton and hitting the marshmallowy gooey feelings locked up within. If you ever wanted a song to invoke a mood of pure existential sorrow then ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ is your bunny, it’s also possibly in my Top Three Radiohead songs ever.
B-sides: ‘Talk Show Host’ is another incredibly good track, I can’t believe it was only used as a B-side until it was picked up as soundtrack material later, again it would take up another berth in my Radiohead Top Three ever. I love gentle guitar over the top of the sparse, then churning, rhythm and, of course, Yorke’s bruised vocals. It is also the recipient of extra 1537 bonus points for some brilliant swearing,
You want me?
Fucking well come and get me
I’ll be waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches
As a sound of a man unravelling, it’s pretty hard to beat. The other B-side is a track called ‘Bishop’s Robes’, which is a lesser thing. Radiohead were a bit prone to hitting a default wonky U2 sound around this time and this track is one of those, albeit with some quiet atmospherics thrown in.
Next up is Just, I really like the title track for the opening chords’ mockery of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and the fact that Radiohead really do rock out on this one. There are traces of Beatles-esque harmonies sprinkled throughout, allied to some stun guitar from Jonny Greenwood as well as a funky rhythmic thingies going on throughout. This is a more ragged take on Radiohead than most of the tracks hereabouts. I also award this 12″ bonus points for being pressed on at least 180g vinyl, it’s so substantial and lovely I can barely lift it.
B-sides: ‘Planet Telex (Karma Sunra Mix)’, a remix of The Bends track by U.N.K.L.E, I like what they’ve done here – they have added some slowed-down tablas, leaving the vocals poking through the mix almost apologetically. The passion of the original track is splayed out and elongated on this mix to great effect – chuck in some great old school scratching effects and (praise be!) some talking towards the end and it becomes a really intriguing remix. Then we have ‘Killer Cars (Mogadon version)’, which differs (by being much better) from the version of this track found on all the various collectors disc versions of the LP, is another solid tune. Lots of strumming then loud bits, coupled with some fabulous electric piano sounds AND some more talkie bits about cars in the background AND I’ve always been a sucker for a false ending on a song AND it has some tasty noisy soloing – something for all the family on this track.
And for my third trick we have Planet Telex, which differs from what has gone before by being four mixes of the track, none of which is the ‘Karma Sunra’ version above; in fact the promo version I have is called ‘Club Mix DJ’. Now I really like the track ‘Planet Telex’ which is here in all its’ original glory as the ‘Album Version’, which I’ve always thought is a frightful swizz on 12″s. I love the stuttering keyboard and drums, the forceful delivery Thom Yorke gives it and the fact that it is basically rather similar to the racket U2 reached on my favourite LP of theirs, the criminally underrated, Zooropa. There’s a certain amount of form over substance happening here, but in a good way ‘Everyone is/ Everyone is broken’ indeed. In fact legend has it that the music was put together one very drunken night from fragments of the original version of ‘Killer Cars’.
Now unleash the remixes Mr DJ! The Steve Osborne ‘Hexidecimal Mix’ is pretty straight forward really, personally I think it loses a whole chunk of the melodic impact in exchange for some, umm, phatter beats^, I’m a fan of some of Osborne’s work with U2 but to my mind this mix doesn’t add enough to keep it interesting. The B-sides are the ‘L.F.O JD Mix’ and the ‘Trashed Mix’ by Alien Beatfreak. Now I like electronic pioneers L.F.O and their brand of minimalist techno, but their mix does very little for me, they seemingly took out all the melody and replaced it with the sound of bits of metal hitting other bits of metal, just keeping Thom Yorke in the background singing ‘You can crush it’ over and over and over again. Mr/Mrs/Dr/Messers Beatfreak adopt a very similar approach, albeit a bit louder and a bit more bludgeoning. I think this was the weakest of the four 12″s here. The best remix I found trawling the web was this live version, which really really rocks – just like when I saw them on this tour:
Last is My Iron Lung, which comes in a cool logo sleeve, rather than the plain black all the rest come equipped with. The song is about the success the band had with ‘Creep’ and the fact that whilst it kept the band alive and financially sound, it became something of a millstone around their necks, a stifling influence^^. Again I really rate the title track, with it’s Beatlesy opening guitar refrain and the whole quiet/loud dynamic. When the band cut loose on this one they REALLY cut loose; the savagery contrasted with the normal melody is brilliant.
B-sides: ‘The Trickster’ is a bright, loud tune without too much substance behind it, or at least not enough to hold its head up in this company. ‘Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong’ is nearer the mark with some disquieting minor-key discordancy and some, umm, punchdrunk lovesick singingalong. Again the Beatles are a good reference point here and for the next tune too. Lastly, ‘Lozenge of Love’ (it sucks?) an acoustic, eastern-tinged, sad number also hits the spot, it’s a trifling tune by Radiohead standards but it is a decent one.
Overall I am impressed at the sheer value packed into these four 12″s, Radiohead were clearly striving to give their fans the best possible value and I really appreciate that. It’s nice to see that the bulk of these extra tunes and bits and pieces are supplemented still further by even more different tracks on the various CD versions of the singles too. Radiohead were clearly going through a really fertile creative period, throwing off tracks and ideas as quickly as they could record them; and this of course before they had got anywhere near OK Computer and the wide blue yonder. You can get most of these tracks now on compilations and deluxe 2 disc editions of the albums, but there are one or two you can’t and the mean collector in me likes that fact.
Radiohead were pretty good really, weren’t they? You disagree? well I’ll be waiting with a bun and a pack of sandwiches, cheese and pickle.
*mostly because it chimes with my own, I’m genuinely the sort of weak-assed liberal who just wants my own views parroting back at me, rather than being challenged in any way shape, or form.
**am slightly worried I may be the only person in the universe who thinks this.
^I’m not on home turf here – but I think I can bluff my way through it all regardless.
^^I’ve seen them play ‘Creep’ and it was just flat-out amazing.