Radiohead Won’t Save Us

Is anyone else over Radiohead?

By my count, this is the third (maybe fourth) time that Radiohead is going to “save” Rock’n’Roll, somehow.  This time it’s going to be with a “newspaper” record, which means that they are going to charge you more for extra packaging and clear vinyl.  Of course, you can simply download the album, without all the stuff – but who wants to do that?  It comes with “tiny art”!  This seems to be te next step for Radiohead.  In Rainbows was interesting – but only for the “screw the industry” pricing model.  “Pay what you want” was a stupendous step in a different direction.  It was a path that no one else followed, but it was a great experiment that should have made us look critically at how music is priced and shared.  In the end I think some people got a record from their old favorite band for 50 cents.  Now we have the same record in two wildly different formats.  But, will it matter?

Fake Plastic Trees, Creep, Karma Police, and Paranoid Android were a decade ago – at least.  Has there been a meaningful song from them since?  No.  It’s been a series of ingenious P.R. stunts and sort-of-good music, but nothing memorable.  Years ago, when Kid A was on its way out, Thom Yorke and the boys were on the cover of Spin.  We had been “waiting” for Kid A/Amnesiac forever.  There was a lot of talk about how whatever they were going to release was going to change everything.  I read Spin fairly religiously at that point, ever since the Gwen Stefani Cover in 1996.  I was excited – it had been a particularly bad time for music.

This Radiohead cover was the last Spin I ever bought.  The title of the cover story was something like this: “In Order to Save Rock, Radiohead had to Sacrifice Themselves”.  Puh-lease.  Kid-A was good, and different for the band.  It wasn’t revolutionary and I’m not sure it holds up.  Radiohead encouraged this savior imagery by shunning it – they were Oasis, without the drinking and fighting at the point.  This is theme has played out with every record since Kid A.  It’s tiring.

It’s not Radiohead’s fault.  We are constantly seeking to justify the time we spend cultivating our collections of music and the money we spend on concerts.  It’s OK to spend $50 on an album if they’re artistesThe King of Limbs is a newspaper record, whatever the hell that means.  It’s a double LP with a lot of stuff!  Here’s a question: Was anything from their last “innovation” to the industry memorable for anything other than the pricing model?

We do this.  Arcade Fire was going to save us.  Everyone hyperventilated over the record and couldn’t wait for it.  But, was The Suburbs really a better effort than Funeral?  It won a Grammy – and that’s great for Arcade Fire and indie in general, but The Suburbs is simply a more accessible record.  I think some are as disappointed as Bieber fans that Arcade Fire won.  They’re no longer a little secret.  Now it’s time for Radiohead to save us. We’ve always wanted them to be our generation’s meaningful contribution to music.  Our Beatles, our Cure.  They’re not.  Maybe it’s time to let them fade out – something our parents could never do with the Stones.

If we’re not careful we’re going to turn Radiohead into U2 and Thom Yorke is going to be composing music for Superman: the Musical.


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