A guide to Radiohead albums: ranked from best to worst.
Radiohead is my favorite band. But that doesn't mean they're the best band ever. Just wanted to point that out.
1. OK COMPUTER (1997) 85
Hipsters will say it's overrated. Standard rockers will say it's their best. The truth is that this is radiohead at their prime, their highest achievement. It's a great accomplishments in terms of production, continuity and quality. From Airbag to The Tourist, it's filled up with solid and cohesive songs. It depicts their frustration with modern life and it has some trully emotional displays. The depth of Exit Music, the emotion in Let Down, the industrial poetry in Fitter Happier. It also containts their best and most genius song, Paranoid Android, probably their only one of 2 art songs. Radiohead's most appreciated qualities are on their zenith on this record, their unique musical phrasing, their juxtaposition of time signatures, their alien but glorious arrangements, the affectional and thoughtful performances and what I consider their most attractive feature: their layering of sounds.
Best Songs: Paranoid Android (*****) Let Down (**** 1/2) Climbing up the Walls (****) The Tourist (****)Exit Music (****)
What it lacks: Take Electioneering for example, great lyrics, you can see how great their guitar work can be, but it's still a common rock song. While being a very ambitious record, it doesn't go beyond pop boundaries except in Paranoid Android.
2.- KID A (2000) 80+
Hipsters will say it's their best. Standard rockers will say that this is when radiohead became a bad band. Radiohead have always had varied influences, from The Smiths to Miles Davis, from Can to Steve Reich. At that time singer Thom Yorke got into electronic Music; acts like Aphex Tiwn, Autechre, Massive Attack, etc. He transmitted this new passion to the rest of the band and the result was an album fulled with electronic and minimalistic textures. Radiohead once again were stretching the limits of pop music. While still audible in most tracks, the guitar featured a less promiment role. Instead, the focus was on the rythmic textures and the minimalistic arrangements. The dark surfaces and the intelligent beats made something new of rock, thousands of alienated fans were introduced to "underground" music. From the apocalyptic techno of Idioteque, to the intelligent keyboard of opener Everything In Its Right Place, to the Chaos of The National Anthem, the album was a take on jazz and electronic music from the point of view of a rock band. There's no pandering, just a band exploring their creativity and their musical cleverness. This album has the other art song in the entire Radiohead catalogue, the highly emotional and inventive How To Disappear Completely, a meeting of the simple construction of rock songs with minimalistic music. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood's string and ondes martenot arrangements contribute flawlessly to the mood of the song, while Yorke has never sound so honest, daring and affecting.
Best Songs: How To Disappear Completely (*****) Everything in its right place (****1/2) Idioteque (****1/2) The National Anthem (****) Motion Picture Soundtrack (****).
What it lacks: Radiohead flirted with avant garde. They embraced it at times, but sadly they didn't end up compromising with it fully.
3.- IN RAINBOWS (2007) 80-
A pretty solid radiohead album. This might be the single radiohead album that has perfect continuity (OKC is ruined by the bends reminiscent Electioneering and Kid A by Optimistic); the biggest quality is the constance in cohesion and quality. For some this is a standard rock record, but among those standard rock records, this one stands out clearly. It's a triumph of pop music. On this album the band is much more relaxed, more human and cozzy, things that have never characterized Radiohead, which is why it sounds fresh. Reckoner is one of their all-time recording standouts. Drummer Phil Selway wil satisfy with his clear and groovy beats, guitar and bass are back although more jazzy than rocker and the ocassional electronic, string or piano arrangement will add the final touch. This is an album that you can easily enjoy.
Best Songs: Reckoner (****1/2) 15 step (****) Weird Fishes (****) Nude (****) All I Need (****)
What it lacks: As I say, as a rock album, is excellent, but it doesn't contribute anything to music, it's not challenging at all. It's a beauty for sure, as the prettiest girl in School over whom you'll fantasize as an adolescent but would n't look afer as an adult.
4.- AMNESIAC (2001) 80-
From the same recording sessions as Kid A, this album is more jazzy than electronic unlike the latter. The guitar takes a more leading and divergent role, hence the higher remembrance of blues and jazz. Anyway, does it matter if it was made with a machine or with a guitar? No. Does it matter if the recording and composition techniques are different? No. What really carry weights is the result and the emotional and/or intelectual intentions that led to the resut. Amnesiac has some great songs, the problem is that others seem as the band is forcing themselves to being experimental, songs such as Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors or Like Spinning Plates (awesome lyrics), or the flawed revisition of Morning Bell and the rework of the Paranoid Android riff in Knives Out. Still, believe it or not, this is by far Radiohead's most underrated album, I don't know why I didn't put it above In Rainbows. The genuine mysticism of Pyramid Song and the overrall more confident and genuine approach to avant garde make it up in this album. Full of creativity, it covers a lot of ideas and has great moments. Sadly, this potential stays there, the focus remains on how it sounds, the way the music is delivered, not the true reasons that foster composition.
Best Songs: Pyramid Song (****1/2) Dollars and Cents (****1/2) You And Whose Army (****)I Might Be Wrong (****) Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box (****)
What it lacks: Same as Kid A and as I stated in the review. Radiohead has several shining and genius moment, however, they became industrial, artificial and gave importance to be different, an error when making art, it's not only originality that matters, it has to come from the heart, the spirit and the mind. Of course lots of Radiohead songs do that, but not as one wishes.
5.- THE BENDS (1995) 75
Sheer britpop. One of the best examples of a britpop record: guitars, personal lyrics, hooks, bridges. It's actually miles above most conventional rock bands. The album is a bit more honest, and begins to show sings of evolution in their sound. It's an easy album to like, although they were already working on complex structures and layers, songs are direct and have great riffs and catchy vocals. It's pretty enjoyable music, but not something that you would consider a masterpiece. I would like to stand out Fake Plastic Trees, it's a beautiful ballad, an excellent example of pretty pop music, sure it's a cheesy college radio song, but it has a deep and emotional meaning if you pay attention to it.
Best Songs: Fake Plastic Trees |ultimate ballad| (****) Planet Telex (****) Talk Show Host |b-side| (****)Street Spirit (****) Just (****)
What it lacks: It's way too direct, being honest and somehow emotional does not suffice, music must wake the intellect as well.
6.- PABLO HONEY (1993) 60
What? You may be thinking. Most fans will scandalize. This is the album that doesn't exist. The shame of Radiohead. Well, when you analize it, it works pretty well as a whole, after In Rainbows, this is their most cohesive album. In its genre it's excellent. "Big" drumming, guitars, bass, high technical challenging vocals. It even has guitar solos. As to what it was pretended, as a british grunge record, it's pretty good. It's just that most of us, fans, won't like to admit that Radiohead is pop and on this records that fact is blatant.
Best Songs: Creep (***1/2) Thinking About You (***) Blow Out (***)You (***)Banana Co |b-side| (***)
7.- KING OF LIMBS (2011) 60-
A big disappointment; OK Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac had ambition, artificial if you like it, but still it counts. This album is mediocre and although rythmically is very interesting and it's perhaps their more jazzy in that sense, it doesn't offer anything. No avante garde approaches, no exceptional emotional displays, no space for reflections, no virtuosity, no complex production, no layering of music. Just their phrasing remains, but that is not enough. It's, in addition a really short record. Some songs are great, in fact, most songs are better than those of Pablo Honey, but as a whole? It sounds more like an improvised playlist. The only stand out would be Feral, a genuine work on rythm and improvisation, many of their Kid A-Amnesiac era should sound as confident as this one.
Best Songs: Feral (****1/2) Bloom (***1/2) Lotus Flower (***1/2) Codex (***1/2) Separator (***)
What it lacks: Ambition, Cohesion, Effort.
8.- HAIL TO THE THIEF (2003) 50-
Awful Record. Here they look back at all the genres they have explored, guitar led rock, electronic, "blues"... And it's a mess, the albums has no continuity from track no. 4, Backdrifts, to no. 5, Go to Sleep, is horrible. It's not natural, most songs seem to be forced. There are some individual good songs, but mostly they are failed standard rock songs, with no emotion, not even joy. There doesn't seem to be a creative force between the songs, they have a light commitment with their current political issues, there's no maturity as In Rainbows, there's no cozyness as in The Bends, no ambition or sense of serious compositions as Ok Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac. Most songs are boring, dull or just standard rock songs, and as those standard pop songs, they aren't even as easy to assimilate as Pablo Honey. So then, what does this album has? Just a few songs to save it and good engineering to test your speakers.
Best Songs: The Gloaming (****) Sit Down Stand Up (****) There There (****) A Wolf At The Door (***1/2) 2+2=5 (***)
What it lacks: It doesn't even feel like it's an album. The band have apparently called it a mistake, they were apparently tired of the Kid A-Amnesiac sessions so they recorded this in 2 weeks or so.
PS: As a fanboy, I tried to be objective, don't be cruel (to your heart is true).
PS2: Add a "-" to all songs, i.e. if a song is shown as 5 stars it is actually between 4.5 and 5. I didn't do it because the "1/2" looked horrible already.