By Humaam Said
Radiohead is an English rock band formed in 1985. The band consists of 5 main members: Thom Yorke (singer vocals, guitar, piano), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar), Colin Greenwood (bass), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals), and Philip Selway (drums). Starting off as an alt rock band, Radiohead evolved in their style of music. In the early years of its existence, the band was dominated by the typical style of rock. Over time, the band evolved to more electronic and experimental music, giving fans a taste of more deep, cryptic sounds.
As a long time Radiohead fan, I’m releasing my tier list of Radiohead albums. Radiohead’s music is one where you have to peel back layers to find meaning and enjoyment. This tier list factors replayability, roundness, and impact.
- OK Computer
Ok Computer is the most acclaimed album of Radiohead. After the release of The Bends (a more rock based album), Radiohead released a more electronic album that had more abstract, densely layered sounds. The album, released in 1997, focuses on the world through the obsession of computers, the isolation due to the constant use of computers, and the distraught world that would eventually come. Ahead of their time, they broadcasted messages of unrest and insanity.
“Karma Police”, through the atmospheric sounds and strained vocals of Thom Yorke, talks about karma catching up to the people around him… only to remember that karma will also catch up to him. “Let Down” documents the narrator’s view of the world around him as hollow, melancholic, and depressing: “Transport, motorways and tramlines, Starting and then stopping, Taking off and landing, The emptiest of feelings, Disappointed people clinging on to bottles, And when it comes it’s so, so disappointing.”
The album is chalk full of messages of isolation and political unrest. “Subterranean Homesick Alien” shows the narrator imagine aliens above him in that film, similar to filming a documentary. He wishes to be freed from the Earthly prison and find security above. “Elecontineering” talks about the rigging of elections and the lack of help from political institutions.
OK Computer was critically acclaimed upon release. The experimental electronica and rock advanced the sound of alternative rock. The album is worth the listen for fans of any genre of music.
- Kid A
After the release of OK Computer, Radiohead reinvented their sounds and created a more electronic, abstract, and ambient album than OK Computer. The album had different parts composed separately and mixed together to create the confusion and desynchronization of the album. The album focuses on the dystopia the first human clone, Kid A, will live in. The album continues with themes of government failure and isolationism. “Everything in Its Right Place” signs of confusion, change, and depression. Thom Yorke repeats lines trying to find meaning in the world that is constantly changing. “How to Disappear Completely” is an atmospheric song detailing Thom Yorke moving throughout a dream where he has no control – finding the world around him moving faster and faster.
The political messaging in the album told of the problems. “Idioteque” brings the paranoia of technology overtaking along with global warming into the conscience of a person trying to escape in a bunker. Yorke repeats the lines “Let me hear both sides, Let me hear both sides, let me hear both” mocking political figures that would rather deliberate, even the face of disaster, than fix the problems today.
Kid A is a beautiful album that departs from all sense of harmony masterfully; The effect of the album can only be created through the confusion. Peeling back the layers of the album will reveal the underlying isolation and paranoia that really exists in the subconscious. Despite being a rough first listen, Kid A eventually endears through its messaging.
- In Rainbows
Released after their experimental album Kid A, In Rainbows creates a more synchronous and melodical album. The warm arrangements create feelings that transcend through the music. The track compliments itself, feeling similar to moving through the waves of grief, jealousy, and despair. “Nude” describes the feeling of being ripped away with everything. Over the top layers of drums and soft vocals, Yorke describes the feeling of having nothing and going purely on the emotions felt day to day. “Now that you’ve found it, it’s gone. Now that you feel it, you don’t. You’ve gone off the rails” describes the feeling of attaining what the brain wants, only to lose it again. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” describes the journey from hope to hopelessness, where the narrator is swallowed by the deep ocean of hope and finds himself without hope. “Reckoner”, the strongest song on the album, details the feeling of death. “Reckoner, Can’t take it with you, Dancing for your pleasure” illustrates the feeling of eventually meeting the Creator without any of the belongings in the world.
In Rainbows feels out the human psyche and pushes those feelings through music. The album is approachable for any listener.
Near Perfect Tier:
- A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead’s recent project released in 2016 to more acclaim from listeners. The album forgiveness, love, and regret. “Daydreaming” describes walking through life, unsure of what is about to happen next. Thom voices his feelings while walking through an abstract reality. “We are, Just happy to serve, Just happy to serve, You” is interpreted as the band expressing that the one thing that is constant throughout the turns of their lives is their production of music.
While the album has the same feel as Ok Computer and Kid A, the album can be seen as more dull and lethargic as their other albums. A great album full with the classic Radiohead, the album has great replayability for the deep emotional dread.
- The Bends
The Bends was the 2nd album released by Radiohead and was the prequel to OK Computer. The early beginnings of electronic and experimental rock. The album stays more on british rock trends, changing from their earlier Grunge trends.
“The Bends” details Thom’s struggle with depression and slums he faces in his life. “My Iron Lung” talks about their struggle getting rid of their one-hit-wonder label from their song “Creep.” “(Nice Dream)” shows Thom dealing with escapism.
The album does have one smudge on it for me: “High and Dry.” The classic, cheesy, rock song doesn’t feel at place with the deeper lyrics of the album. The Bends is near perfect in terms of album composition, replayability, and meaning.
- Hail to the Thief
Hail to the Thief changes sounds from Kid A to a more guitar driven album. The album has more political themes on the album. “2+2=5” serves a hard critique of those people who are willing to stay at home and accept the political messages they get from the government instead of changing the world around them. “Sit Down. Stand Up” detailing the control the government has over us. They can tell us to sit down, to stand up, to “Walk into the jaws of hell, Walk into the jaws of hell, Anytime, Anytime” and we’ll do so without question.
Overall, the album has strong political messages. The harsh reality that Thom paints throughout the album questions the inner soul and beliefs of the people that listen to it. While great, it’s more abstract listening experience allows for a few favorite songs, with a couple you find yourself skipping.
Remember how revolutionary Kid A was for experimental rock? The new found power Radiohead held after finding their new genre created more songs than they were willing to put on Kid A. Just as cryptic, the deep messages of isolation and politics create a strong impression of the album. :”You and Whose Army” is a slow, methodical song that ends with Thom Yorke detailing his fame like ghost horses riding along a path. “Pyramid Song” sees Thom voicing over slow piano chords with his own thoughts. Staring with Thom’s suicide into a lake, he finds himself in the afterlife detailing what he’s seen. He sees the ghosts of the people of his past, along with all futures he could’ve happened. Mellow, somber, and terrifying, the song reached critical acclaim on the album for its beauty and structure.
While the album is great in it’s own right, getting into the album is difficult for any listener. The collection of sounds doesn’t sound appealing,a dn the desperation and despotism can drive those away.
- King of Limbs
The eighth studio album from Radiohead enters a more confusing and more niche part of Radiohead. A very short album, the songs seem to be more cryptic yet simple; It feels like the album attempts to build to something but is still short in its delivery. “Little by Little” describes a couple that eventually lose their passion and care for each other through small transgressions everyday. “Feral” finds Thom wishing that his ex girlfriend would not wish him wrong and just go on with their lives. It captures the feeling of being separated. Masked underneath the altered vocals Thom says, “You’re not mine, I’m not yours, It’s all fine.” It’s a simple lyric capture that the truth is basic to the people, disregarding the feelings.
While the album does have great moments, the album is not the perfect album we’ve been expecting from Radiohead. While the messaging feels like it’s building to something, it falls short in its delivery. TKOL is not an album that people find coming back to listen to.
Let’s Forget This Exists
- Pablo Honey
Oh lord. Pablo Honey is Radiohead’s debut album. In the early days, the band was more focused on British grunge, alternative rock featuring heavy electric guitar and dragging lyrics. Forming the base of Radiohead, Pablo Honey skyrocketed Radiohead into the light with “Creep.” An all-time rock classic, “Creep” details a person stalking his crush and lamenting on his own perversion. Pablo Honey is a lot of cheesy, basic rock songs that breaks the momentum and feel of the album. “How do you?” feels weird as Thom Yorke’s voice attempts to fit a style that doesn’t seem to fit him. “Stop Whispering” is a song about self-confidence, but it is wrong hearing Thom Yorke’s voice in grunge.
While Pablo Honey helped put Radiohead onto the map, the album should be forgotten over time. It doesn’t reflect the actual growth, complexity, and beauty that lies in Radiohead’s music. This album was great to help Radiohead, but God forbid you catch me listening to this album ever again.