Friday, 23 June 2017
One OK record
It's mildly astonishing that this record is now twenty years old. I bought it, if not on the day it came out, then certainly at the first immediate opportunity, on CD, from a record shop in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, which no longer exists. I think I played it about six times that day. I still think it's remarkably good. What I find surprising is not the length of time that has passed since its release, because - really - quite a lot of things have happened in those two decades - but how fresh and modern it still sounds, how engaged and forward-looking. How bright and exciting and adult. It's been said before but with this record Radiohead threw down a gauntlet which was never really picked up, at least not by any acts of similar commercial reach.
There was a lot of buzz around this record before it came out, a sense of keen anticipation. I think people instinctively knew that it was going to move the boundaries, and it did. I'd heard one track on a compilation CD some months previously, enough to whet the appetite - either Lucky or The Tourist, I can't remember which - but more than that I'd become a fan of the band via the first two albums, which I'd been exposed to via a home-made tape done for me by a friend. Yes, "tapes", they were a thing back then.
Music critics sometimes speak of bands and artists having "imperial phases" - a relatively brief window in a longer career in which they're simply untouchable on all levels. You could debate the inclusion of The Bends (it's very, very good) but for me this is the album that opened Radiohead's imperial phase, and it continued with Kid A and Amnesiac, both of which I regard as phenomenal, peerless records that define and bracket a particular moment in time around the millennium. Then came Hail to the Thief which I remember waiting for which great anticipation, and then not being quite so blown away as I'd hoped. After that came In Rainbows, which I greatly admired, and then The King of Limbs, which again I didn't rate quite so highly. Then, last year, they released A Moon Shaped Pool, which I think is fabulous. I mention these ups and downs not to belittle Radiohead, or suggest that they're past their best, but to reflect on their longevity and willingness to experiment, which I continue to find admirable and exciting. I must have written a great many thousands of words to their music over the last twenty years, so thanks, Thom, Johnny, Colin, Ed and Philip - and long may you run.