By Álvaro García Montoliu and Franc Sayol
Are Radiohead the most decisive and liberalising rock band of recent years, or an overestimated group with more talent for self-promotion and recycling other people’s ideas than for innovation? Is all the flattery they have received since “ Kid A” (2000) renewed post-rock justified, or should Thom Yorke and his partners be judged more severely?
The question isn’t easy, because Radiohead is, in effect, a band that matters, and for objective and verifiable reasons. But the level of acclaim is often higher than they deserve, and there are also a lot of haters, who criticise with the intentions of detracting merit and puncturing the bubble. We can’t seem to come to an agreement when it comes to Radiohead. While the transition sounds of “ The King Of Limbs” are still fresh, the album has once again divided opinion –to some, it’s revolutionary and risky, and to others, utterly boring– we wanted to highlight the reasons why we admire Radiohead (and those why we can’t stand them). Confronting opinions in a crossfire of arguments are: Álvaro (for) and Franc (against).
Point 1: Radiohead revolutionised the music industry permitting the free download (or at a price at the fan’s discretion) of their album “In Rainbows”.
Yes: Right when it became clear that the music industry was going down if its players didn’t do something radical to change their ways, Radiohead had the courage to defy the hard times by offering “ In Rainbows” at a price the fans saw fit. It was a good way to calculate the real value people were giving their music in order to be able to earn several million pounds afterwards, with an official physical release and a tour that confirmed their status as one of the biggest bands of alternative rock. In other words: they passed their marketing exam with an extremely high mark.
No: Radiohead didn’t defy anything because there was no risk whatsoever in their idea. Nor was it new. When they released “In Rainbows” in 2007, MySpace, the real first great revolution of the last decade with regards to the interaction between creators and their followers, was already four years old. Once they had finished their contract with a major label, to give away the album on the Internet was the most logical decision to raise expectations to the maximum (with a lucrative tour in mind) without the need of even one note sounding. Marketing? Yes, but not innovative at all. With the flourishing of net labels that had been going on for years already, Radiohead hardly invented giving away a record online.
Point 2: Radiohead are not self-indulgent and are always avant-garde.
Yes: “The King Of Limbs” is more evidence that Radiohead are always avant-garde. In fact, a few days before releasing it, they uploaded a chart of their favourite tracks of the moment on which we found names like Untold, Nosaj Thing, Ramadanman and Jamie xx. A declaration of intent that is reflected in “Feral”, a song that took many people by surprise because of its resemblance to Burial’s productions. Wasn’t it Thom Yorke who ordered a remix from Burial for one of the tracks from his solo record “ The Eraser”? Isn’t it better to vindicate dubstep than, for example, Kings Of Leon?
No: Today, anyone who’s slightly clever and has an internet connection can seem very good at almost anything, without a lot of effort. Especially music. You only need to read the most influential magazines and blogs during one afternoon to get an idea of the state of things. Ranking Ramadanman is avant-garde? Avant-garde is to set the trend, not follow it.
Point 3: Radiohead are one of the few alternative rock bands who don’t let themselves be influenced by current tendencies of the market, and who do their own thing.
Yes: People can call their music alternative rock or whatever, but Radiohead go their own way. Although they are selling millions of records, they don’t care about market movements. They are on the same level as other giants of the genre like Coldplay and Muse, but they don’t go for the epic stadium sound, which would be the easy way (“ OK Computer” was a long time ago and it’s not going to come back). “The King Of Limbs” is their least accessible record to date and we all know that while on tour, they like to present all or almost all of their new songs. The audience will undoubtedly respond as well as ever.
No: But didn’t we agree that they were super hip and that Thom Yorke is très cool because they know who Nosaj Thing is and the rest of the world doesn’t? The previous argument forms itself. Radiohead “go their own way” in a pretty peculiar way, making the same songs they’ve always made and making them sound as up-to-date as possible in accordance to the sonic zeitgeist of the moment they are releasing the record. Granted, they always nail it when choosing where to find new ideas. Their talent as coolhunters is undisputed, yes. Furthermore, it’s very easy to go your own way when your name is Radiohead and you have millions of loyal fans, the house paid for and not a care in the world. With a net to catch them, anybody can perform trapeze acrobatics.
Point 4: Their social commitment and ecological antics are admirable.Yes: Like many bands that have achieved great global success, they show their solidarity with the world and display their love of nature. In fact, the title of “The King Of Limbs” could refer to an ancient tree. Their only concert in 2010 was in Los Angeles. The half a millions dollars they earned there went straight to the hands of NGO Oxfam to help rebuild Haiti after the earthquake that left the country in shambles. And all that, without making a whole lot of noise, unlike U2 or Coldplay.
No: While I definitely applaud the donation of half a million dollars to Haiti, I don’t buy the “without making a whole lot of noise” bit. If they really wouldn’t want anyone to know about it, you can be sure nobody would. What can you say? Obscenely rich artists who play Robin Hood always carry the stigma of being perverse. Radiohead know all too well that their fans have a slightly thinner skin than those of U2 or Coldplay, so they try to be more discrete. But let’s not kid ourselves, they are just like them, though a stealthy version. Like the hyena and the pitbull. Which is worse?
With the dust around “The King Of Limbs” not yet settled, two PlayGround writers enter a dialectic duel: are Radiohead a band that deserves beatification, or do they have weak points? Let the debate commence.
The King Of Limbs
"Radiohead had the courage to defy the hard times by offering “ In Rainbows” at a price the fans saw fit. It was a good way to calculate the real value people were giving their music in order to be able to earn several million pounds afterwards, with an official physical release and a tour that confirmed their status as one of the biggest bands of alternative rock."
"Granted, they always nail it when choosing where to find new ideas. Their talent as coolhunters is undisputed, yes."
Concierto benefico para Haiti
"Radiohead know all too well that their fans have a slightly thinner skin than those of U2 or Coldplay, so they try to be more discrete."