“Hey man, check this out… You gotta give it a listen,” my friend Pat pauses between phrases to inhale a puff of Marijuana smoke.
“What is it?” I ask.
“You’ve never heard of Radiohead [he exhales]?”
“Nope.” After staring me down with a look of befuddlement, Pat inserts a disk into the CD player of his Green Honda; I’m listening to the album OK Computer (1997) for the first time—it was love at first listen.
There was a time in high school, some ten years ago, when I could recall every album, song title, and lyric of England’s penultimate rock group. I was obsessed. Why? I’m still not sure. My obsession became pernicious to my romantic relationships. I remember the look of horror on my high school girlfriend’s face when I forced her to listen to The Bends album one day in her Toyota Rav 4. I’m certain our relationship would have reached immediate eradication had I brought Kid A with me that day; she stayed with me, but clearly not because of my fandom for Radiohead.
At the time, Hail to the Thief (2003) was the latest album released; it won a Grammy for its innovations in sound engineering. The album’s meaning to me was ineffable. I just liked what I was hearing. The music took me to a place outside of my head and into a pocket of existence where peace and joy were inescapable. The ineffable nature of the music has escaped definition from my mind, but many have persevered to provide meaningful nomenclatures appropriating Radiohead’s music with tangible descriptions.
Channeling the zeitgeist of Radiohead’s endeavors, singer/songwriter Thom Yorke once said:
Even with electronics, there is an element of spontaneous performance in using them. It was the tension between what’s human and what’s coming from the machines. That was stuff we were getting into.
There’s no doubting the increasing presence electronics imbedded into Radiohead’s music, especially, when observing the shift in musical construction from Pablo Honey (1992) to Kid A (2001). The former of which consists of a primitive line up of instruments (guitar, bass, drums, and vocals) compared to the orchestrated, electronic soundscapes heard in later tunes, such as: “How to Disappear Completely”, “Everything in its Right Place”, and “Kid A.” But the relationship between “spontaneous performance” and electronics is only a singular agenda amongst the myriad of philosophies instilled in Radiohead’s discography.
In addition, Radiohead is well known for sustaining a relationship with Politics. Ironically, I’ve always listened to their music to get away form political agendas. Not that I’m apolitical, I just reinterpret the lyrics of most songs to fit my own agenda. Selfish? Perhaps, but I’m the listener, the one paying for the music, the one attending shows, the self-promoter of one of my all-time favorite rock groups, and I’m not ashamed to say I rarely look into the politics of anyone’s song lyrics. For this reason, I share drummer Phil Selway’s credence in suggesting that Radiohead’s aim is simply towards “escapism.” In this belief, the music is less enigmatic, yet highly varied, and open to the listener’s interpretation. This description of escapism parallels the malleable nature surmised in Radiohead’s latest album entitled A Moon Shaped Pool.
What shape is A Moon Shape Pool? Well, it’s somewhere between a circle and blank space, a pool waxing from nothing or waning from 360 degrees. This album title typifies the malleable genre of music Radiohead has engendered over there twenty-plus years of existence. A Moon Shaped Pool contains new tonalities, as in the opening track “Burn the Witch,” and also harkens back to older tonalities of previously conceived tunes like “True Love Waits.” The latter of which, I could do away with entirely; I much prefer the acoustic version Thom created on the live album “I Might Be Wrong.”
Regardless of my opinion, the innumerable stamps of interpretation are at fault in their attempts to ink out a singular definition of Radiohead’s music. For a band that has been creating music at such a prolific rate for such a long time, it is impossible to funnel such an expanse of creative ingenuity into a singular, parochial view.
I think back to that Marijuana smoke-filled car concomitantly filled with the music of OK Computer. Since then my relationship with the music of Radiohead, although consistently positive, has changed immensely. From my teen years to my mid-twenties, I’ve always built up a prejudice of positive influence for their music; however, I’ve become less inclined to simply fall in love with everything the band comes out with. I no longer view the band like that one girl that got away, the girl that, seemingly, would have held my affection for eternity—Lord knows a penchant for Radiohead wouldn’t keep her around. Eventually, she would break my heart and steal away with my affections for good. But no, I haven’t broken away from my affections for the music of Radiohead. Just like their music, my affections are malleable. I wonder how much they will alter after seeing them this weekend at Chicago’s Lollapalooza? Something tells me there will be thousands of Pats puffing Marijuana cigarettes and saying, “Hey man, check this out… You gotta give it a listen.” In return, I’ll listen with a fresh eagerness in anticipation of something serene—guess my prejudice nature hasn’t waned completely…