I’ve known for years that I was missing something. While I enjoyed their songs on the radio and even owned The Bends and In Rainbows (because every Gen X music fan should have some Radiohead in their collection, right?), I never craved their sound like that of other bands. Radiohead’s catalog was a lot of work. The sound, dense and off-kilter, resisted casual listening. Plus, I thought the instrumentation was electronic rather than guitars and drum kits, and I just couldn’t connect.
Admittedly, I like a more raucous, emotional sound. Sixties and seventies rock like Zeppelin and the Stones, with blues-inspired riffs and drum beats big enough to fill stadiums. Alternative country and rock influenced by that sound—bands like The Drive-By Truckers and Pearl Jam. For that reason, I preferred Radiohead’s early music—more anthemic songs like “Just” (The Bends) and “My Iron Lung” (OK Computer). Until now.
Last night, I watched Radiohead perform songs from The King of Limbs on The Colbert Report. I witnessed the band build each song, adding to the silence first a keyboard burble, topped by a drum scatter, texturized by a guitar riff. And on and on, the band members added layer upon layer before singer Thom Yorke began dancing atop and dropping into that beautifully complex sound. Yorke, set in motion by the music, was a perpetual motion machine—his leg pumping, his head bouncing back and forth atop his neck, eyes closed.
Suddenly, the sound that has seemed so impermeable, so clinical is opening up before me like a world unfurled, inviting me inside its machinations, less the binary toggling of a computer and much more the complex and mysterious synapses of a human mind.