Album Of The Week – In Rainbows Disc 2 / Radiohead


Yep, this was released back in 2007, but has made a surprise release on streaming services. The timing is odd, but then again, Radiohead have been significantly more generous when it comes to Apple Music and Spotify recently. It’s also going to be good news for anyone that had no idea this existed – I’d owned In Rainbows for at least a year before finding out there was a second disk. As the title suggests, it’s a continuation of In Rainbows, but has an off-cuts compilation style. That’s not to say these songs are any less good, some of the songs on here, specifically ‘Go Slowly’ and ‘Four Minute Warning’ could have easily replaced a song like ‘Faust Arp’ on disc 1 (the song does nothing for me). It emphasises a creative peak for Radiohead, as always they were overflowing with songs, but it’s hard to find a weak link on In Rainbows, plus it actually sounds like a band that were having fun for the first time in their career. There were no limits by their label, who they’d cut themselves off from, there was the entire ‘pay-what-you-want’ innovation, and nobody had any idea where they would go after the musical collage of Hail To The Thief. In response, they combined the more electronic elements that made up Kid A and Amnesiac with the rock side of HTTF. If anything, Disc 2 gave Radiohead the option to go slightly experimental again, with ambient interludes that recall ‘Treefingers’ spliced with snippets of the In Rainbows sessions. It’s hugely underrated, but maybe it’ll receive some more attention now that it is on a broader platform.

‘Last Flowers’ could have been ‘Videotape’, easily. It’s breathtaking in the same way, incorporating an acoustic guitar over Thom Yorke and a piano – essentially revisiting the ‘How I Made My Millions’ style. In Rainbows is interesting because it was infinitely less political than their last few albums, but didn’t go back to the personal side of Pablo Honey or The Bends because Yorke was also bringing in the more leftfield style that scattered Kid A and Amnesiac. He marries ‘appliances have gone berserk’ with a line so simple as ‘You can offer me escape’ (it’s actually hard to tell whether it’s ‘can’ or ‘can’t’). Yorke can often write songs that require interpretation and reading into, but he also has a knack for a simple line in the middle of more wordy verses, and it can stand out hugely – in a very good way. It’s a shame that songs like ‘Last Flowers’ don’t get the proper album treatment, but in a strange way, isn’t it more exciting to stumble upon ‘Last Flowers’ whilst combing YouTube for lost recordings? Maybe that’s the appeal of being a Radiohead fan, you’ve never found all the gems, there’s always another live version you haven’t heard yet.

‘Bangers + Mash’ and ‘Go Slowly’ will be familiar to anyone who watched the Basement session Radiohead did for In Rainbows and The King Of Limbs. ‘Bangers + Mash’ is the one where Yorke actually plays drums alongside Phil Selway whilst Jonny Greenwood gets the chance to properly rock out once again. ‘Go Slowly’ is the tearjerker where Jonny Greenwood plays those crystalline piano notes. Both show how Radiohead really could go where they wanted to at this point and were under no obligation to either write a scathing political electronic freak-out or a back-to-the-basics rock songDisc 2 serves best as a slowed-down EP that blooms on the piano-based tracks, of which there are plenty. Arguably the guitar works better on ‘Up On The Ladder’ than ‘Bangers + Mash’, despite the emphasis on the distorted sharp teeth of ‘Bangers’. It sounds more menacing on ‘Up On The Ladder’ and with Colin Greenwood’s bass much more prominent it becomes scary. Yorke paints life as a game of snakes and ladders, and I think when he says he’s a puppet, he imagines someone is playing with him in the game, it’s never his choice as to where he goes next, as someone much higher always has the dice. The song could have easily slotted onto Hail To The Thief.

It’s an interesting mini-album/EP. It was the first and last time that Radiohead attempted to do something like this, and that’s interesting. Of course many bands write songs for albums that don’t end up making the cut, but if they are ‘good’, then why not release them in some other form. The only other band I can think of off the top of my head that did something similar was Modest Mouse’s Interstate 8 and Building Something Out Of Nothing. But this feels more meticulous than just a compilation of songs from an era, it sounds like a continuation, and maybe this ‘Disc 2’ system has been overshadowed by the other innovation that Radiohead presented when releasing In Rainbows. Should every band release another mini-album a couple of months after the original with more songs from the session? Probably not, but in the case of bands that are prolific and/or consistently write good songs, it could be the case. Disc 2 is one of the best non-album collections that Radiohead have released, an essential part of what could be considered their We-Have-Nothing-Left-To-Prove trilogy of In Rainbows, The King Of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool. Also, while we’re on the subject of In Rainbows, listen to ‘Videotape’ backwards, you’ll have a lot of fun.

Funnel Recommends: Go Slowly / Last Flowers / Up On The Ladder

Album Of The Week – Heads Up / Warpaint


You know how Led Zeppelin are always attributed as the kind of band where each player is the best in their field of the time? Then there’s the original lineup of Pixies holding the corner for indie rock. Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their chart-topping prime have the four pillars that are unparalleled in talent. Warpaint (funnily enough, initially hyped for their association with the Chili Peppers) have come to represent that untouchable instrumental prowess, with maybe the best rhythm section going, compromised of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa. Heads Up is the album that they teased previously with their last two albums – and an excellent EP and collection of singles – but had detours down different routes that sometimes made for a more subdued version of what they intended. Finally, oh so finally, Heads Up is the dancey psych-rock statement that doesn’t lose its groove halfway through or disappears into sleepy R’n’B. Sure, there’s R’n’B, but it’s uptempo, buoyant and holds your attention – ‘The Stall’ is the upgrade to ‘Hi’ and ‘Biggy’ from their self titled album. In fact, most of it is a retooled, upgraded, funk-injected version of what Warpaint offered. Because Warpaint have always been a dance band, they just had to make the album to prove it.

The best Warpaint songs force you to latch onto an instrument for the length of the song and zone everything out, then move onto the next instrument, and the next, until you get the entire picture. Though in recent years the number of lengthy songs that they’ve written has thinned out, aside from the excellent ‘No Way Out’, Warpaint do slightly return to that longer tracklength on a couple of songs here, such as ‘So Good’ and the title track, with both stretching to five or six minutes. ‘So Good’ is an instant highlight, driven right out the gate by Mozgawa setting the tempo and some production wizardry by Jacob Bercovici, who sets the drums front and centre, making ‘So Good’ into the danciest track they’ve had since ‘Disco//Very’. The lyrics are about an on/off partner who the protagonist is almost dependant on, and contrasts ‘I’m going out my mind’ with the denial of the next line, ‘I’m handling it’. But the other side, the one who has the power, never seems to connect the way that Theresa Wayman, co-vocalist with Emily Kokal, conveys it. The guitars are way more subtle once again, providing a centrepiece in the gaps and bridges between verses and choruses. But it’s easy to latch onto the needling twin guitars that twirl around the drums and bass, you can zone out to the bass (provided by Theresa Wayman on a rare occasion), or if you’re like me, those crisp drums.

The psychedelic side of Warpaint appears in new ways. Instead of woozy guitars there’s woozy synths and electronics that blur into a haze with the bass and drums on ‘Dre’ and ‘By Your Side’, which has more hip-hop than indie-rock in its veins, though maybe the title of ‘Dre’ gives it away. The embracing of electronic music is smooth and weaves itself nicely into Warpaint, never sounding like this is Warpaint moving away from ‘guitar’ music, as they always slip in and out of sounds, making them one of the few acts around that defies genre within popular music. It’s very hard to define Warpaint, and it only gets harder on Heads Up. ‘Heads Up’, the title track, is a culmination of what Warpaint have done up to this point, beginning with the gloomy piano of ‘Son’ and the lo-fi vocals of The Fool (which at this point, sounds so far removed from Warpaint are presenting here), before Lindberg’s bass gallops in at full pace, a little bit like ‘Krimson’. ‘Heads Up’ – the song – does feel like a throwback to ‘Krimson’ and ‘Beetles’ with all of the time changes, guitar craziness and group vocals.

The album ends with a song Emily Kokal wrote when she was 19, ‘Today Dear’, and is much more in line with any of her solo work in that its just her and a guitar, but it becomes reinforced with bass, glockenspiel and ambient electronics towards the end. So, in the space of a song, Warpaint have transitioned from single performers, excellent or excellent-in-waiting in their field, and by the end, you have the rock-steady group of four that’s now writing some of the most interesting music around. Even in the lyrics, it’s clear this was written for a different time – ‘Today, dear / Today / I saw my blood drawn out / Saw my flood run dry’ begins the song. It’s one of the most beautiful things Warpaint have released, in the same lane as ‘Baby’ or ‘Son’. Heads Up is fully realised. It doesn’t dip in the middle like Warpaint tended to do after a few listens. Maybe it was the pace of recording that made Heads Up a more urgent release; they didn’t agonise over it like Warpaint. Maybe it’s just that they’re some of the best musicians around making pretty great music. We might not be able to label it, but we can enjoy the hell out of it.

Funnel Recommends: New Song / So Good / Today Dear

New Music – 22 (OVER S∞∞N) // 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ / Bon Iver

It must be pretty hard for what was once considered a folk band to escape that shell. It’s much easier for a rock band, or a rap artist, to completely immerse themselves in electronics without losing too much of an audience, but for folk, and all of the traditionalism that comes with it, electronics are alien. Bon Iver, who can no longer be called a folk band, is now something else entirely. Maybe it’s electro-folk, maybe it’s art-rock, or whatever. Justin Vernon’s last album, the second self titled album, dipped its toe in something beyond piano, acoustic guitar and strings, but these tracks only retain the folkish intimacy of that first album. Now, on the first track ’22 (OVER S∞∞N)’, there’s beautifully strummed chords, but also swirling synths and vocal manipulation, plus horns.The lyrics remind me of Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool from this year, specifically the track ‘Daydreaming‘, with the sigh of resignation and vaguer lyrics of ‘There I found you marked in constellation / There isn’t ceiling in our garden’ that retains some of that nature aspect. The other track ’10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄’, is another sign that Bon Iver have gone down the rabbit hole of electronic music. Maybe it’s all that time spent with Kanye. There is nothing about it has in common with Bon Iver as we first knew it. This is a bit like what Grimes did when she released twin videos of ‘Flesh Without Blood’ and ‘Life In The Vivid Dream’ at the same time, reassuring fans with the familiar yet new ‘Over Soon’ and also going completely new on ‘Deathbreast’. That way, fans get a bit of everything. 22, A Million is another huge album in a year that’s already had more than its fair share of surprises.

Album Review – A Moon Shaped Pool / Radiohead


For much of Radiohead’s career, stress, anxiety and cynicism has played a part in their sound. They’ve been described as ‘music to slit your wrists to’ by one lovely presenter and it’s impossible to not contend that some of their finest music has been borne out of isolation and disillusionment. Since their split from EMI after Hail To The Thief, the albums that came out after that had the sense of a band with the weight lifted off of their shoulders. They’d made two masterpieces and whatever they wanted to do after that was simply enjoyment. But instead, they became innovators of music delivery. A Moon Shaped Pool doesn’t have the meteoric impact of In Rainbows’ arrival, but the band’s new means of hype creation: mailing their fans, disappearing from the internet, suggest that Radiohead isn’t going to stop teasing any time soon. It’s also now very difficult to think of Radiohead as a band, in which the music is the key centrepiece and everything else is just a bonus. Perhaps this was why The King Of Limbs didn’t all hit the right notes. A Moon Shaped Pool is conceivably the most subtle Radiohead release yet, trading in huge sweeping statements and musical moments for complex, innovative microcosmic pockets of sonic exploration that doesn’t hit hard like The Bends or OK Computer did, neither does it pretend to have the answers to the problems of the world. Radiohead mature with every release, and it’s only right that this album is their most nuanced and beautiful yet.

Jonny Greenwood has always been Radiohead’s secret weapon, right from his early moments turning ‘Creep’ into a noisy mess and right up to his side projects making film soundtracks with Paul Thomas Anderson. That experience, especially the soundtrack for ‘There Will Be Blood’ influences A Moon Shaped Pool more than anything else, where he perfected eerie horror with breathtaking cinematic strings. Those strings tumble across ‘Burn The Witch’, the orchestra-led first single from A Moon Shaped Pool, the jazzy ‘The Numbers’ and the beautiful ‘Glass Eyes’, which sounds like Thom Yorke guesting on a Jonny Greenwood track. Elsewhere there’s acoustic guitar-led tracks ‘Desert Island Disk’ and ‘The Present Tense’ with minor electronic patterns and drum machines; though no-where near the amount that The King Of Limbs did. Instead of going synthetic, A Moon Shaped Pool has an organic, earthy sound from the orchestra, Colin Greenwood’s subtle bass and even less guitars than you’d expect. But where those creeping elements crawl back in, they’re always well placed, such as the guitar solo on ‘Identikit’ which is probably one of the most emotive solos that Radiohead has written since ‘Bodysnatchers’. It doesn’t explode into action like ‘Just’ would; it gently works its way out of the chorus of Thom Yorke singing ‘Broken hearts make it rain’  and snaps back and forth as the rest of the instrumentation recedes from view, all to the credit of Nigel Godrich’s production skills.

There’s no one unifying concept on A Moon Shaped Pool. It isn’t tied together in a neat bundle like Kid A was, and instead pulls from several different strands to get a good view inside Thom Yorke’s head. There’s definitely a political and ecological side to AMSP, but it’s less pronounced than Hail To The Thief or The King Of Limbs. ‘Ful Stop’ stands beside ‘Burn The Witch’ as a track where Thom Yorke blurs between personal and political, singing ‘You really messed up everything… Why should I be good if you’re not?’ before ‘A foul tasting medicine / to be trapped in your full stop’. He sings from the position of the authority before personifying the oppressed, trapped in the ‘full stop’ of someone in power saying ‘No’. ‘Truth will mess you up’ is suspiciously similar to the response of the US government to leaks of their military information – essentially scaring the public into thinking that the information would terrify them. ‘Ful Stop’, like the instrumentation, is Radiohead refining themselves further and not dealing in direct messages – these songs have multiple meanings and even ‘Ful Stop’ could be in reference to a broken relationship where the truth of collapse would rather be ignored than met head on.

‘True Love Waits’ finally gets a release after being stuck as a live performance on the otherwise forgettable I Might Be Wrong EP. And, to be honest, it doesn’t hugely improve on Thom Yorke’s rolling acoustic guitar of the original, instead layering on several pianos, and though the recording is much cleaner and Yorke’s voice finally punches through, it doesn’t have the pace or the desperation of the original. Perhaps it is just failure by comparison, as hearing this version for the first time and not hearing the live version might have provided more of a pleasant surprise. The lyrics haven’t changed, and the simplicity of ‘True love lives in haunted attics / true love waits on lollipops and crisps’ drags Thom Yorke down to earth with his plea of ‘Just don’t leave’, which is still so stark and easy to connect with. It would be easy to draw lines between the sudden reappearance of ‘True Love Waits’ and a track like ‘Decks Dark’ with Thom Yorke’s separation from his long term partner. Whereas before on ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ he begged for a UFO to come an take him away, it’s now a darkness ‘blocking out the sky’, but the spacecraft is like an elephant in the room that is casting doubt on the relationship.

There’s undoubtedly paranoia running throughout AMSP, but you could say that for almost every Radiohead release. It might be doubt over a failing relationship, government, planet even, but it’s there at the back of your mind. But what’s so engrossing is that the music no longer reflects that paranoia like ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ did. It’s joyous even, making use of all of Radiohead’s experience in and out of the band. So why is it called ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’? Surely that holds the key to what the album means? It has ecological implications, perhaps it is the impact left by a meteorite left on the earth in a pool. It’s challenging, and confusing, and maybe it should remain that way. You don’t need to explain this, or draw grand conclusions about a wide message that Radiohead are trying to say. It’s a collection of tracks that doesn’t have answers. Sometimes that’s ok, and this third album in Radiohead’s ‘independent’ cycle is just another great example of the band not forcing concepts, but maturing into a band that won’t fade out as it grows, but bloom into a more complex, but knowledgeable, beast.


Funnel Recommends: Daydreaming / Ful Stop / Identikit

Track Review – Daydreaming / Radiohead

Forget ‘How To Disappear Completely’, forget ‘Videotape’, forget ‘Pyramid Song’. Radiohead have done beauty before, and different kinds of beauty too. There’s a painful glory to ‘Videotape’, but ‘Daydreaming’ revels in a surface level of beauty – white rooms filled with sunlight, daydreaming, blissful failure – whilst simultaneously making a barbed political statement. It’s a bit like ‘Burn The Witch’, where the lyrics are very open ended and possibly even more implicit than ‘Burn The Witch’ was. It seems to come from the point of a person in power, a politician, corporate giant or another authoritative figure for Thom Yorke to point fingers at. He’s mocking when he sings ‘We are just happy to serve you’ in his fragile and wavering falsetto that’s come to become even more of an iconic vocal than his early scorchers like ‘Electioneering’ or ‘Just’. He may have calmed down vocally, but he’s distantly angry in his lyrics.

The key quote I saw when I watched The Big Short was this:

‘Truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry’

…which was overheard in a bar in Washington D.C. The film was about the global economy collapsing due to a system of stupidity letting the housing market fall apart. I’m no expert, but I was angry that only one banker went to prison and the system was bailed out to repeat the same events. Radiohead tap into that anger with figures of power in ‘Daydreaming’, assuming the position of that figure, who looks down on ordinary people as ‘dreamers’ who ‘never learn’ and uses remarks like ‘beyond the point of return’, when they got us there in the first place. It might not be about bankers specifically, but that quote ties into the complacency of ordinary people to let lies wash over them for the sake of letting someone else do that job for them. Poetry can be eye-opening, but when it’s such an effort, why not forget it is there and move on?

The instrumentation is beautiful. There’s no two ways about it, it has the blissful electronics of ‘Kid A’ and ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ with the pianos of In Rainbows and the strings of something otherworldy. It’s like floating on a glitchy cloud, elements of the past and future fusing together by traditional and cinematic strings overlapping Yorke’s glitchy vocals and bubbling electronics. This is everything Radiohead have ever aimed for; bridging the gap between the old guard of music with the possibilities for the future. This could be Radiohead’s next classic album.

Track Review – Burn The Witch / Radiohead


Well, here comes a review of the new Radiohead single, probably formed too early and probably missing the point entirely. But we’ll give it a go, right? Someone called ‘Burn The Witch’ Hail To The Thief-esque in the comments section of the elaborate stop-motion video, and somebody else violently disagreed, but I can see where they are coming from. It’s got themes of societal disorder, gag order culture, possibly even some criticism of a society afraid to offend. It’s also got that same combination of natural and synthetic instrumentation that Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows captured, with stabbing orchestral arrangements that are some of the most natural that Nigel Godrich, producer, has ever captured. It’s hard to describe the strings, but they don’t even sound like they have been recorded, it’s like you’ve got your own private orchestra in your ears.

I think there was always a chance that the first taste of their new album would be disappointing, it was inevitable. Their huge reputation plus all the right signs was building an anticipation that couldn’t possibly be topped, but the outcome is actually very satisfying. Remember when ‘Lotus Flower’ arrived? Neither do I, but ‘Burn The Witch’ is nothing like anything Radiohead have done before (other bands may have done it, but that’s beside the point) unlike ‘Lotus Flower’, which pointed to Thom Yorke’s solo career and the band’s electronic flirting. By cutting off any influence whatsoever (at least in the instrumental department), it’s hard to gauge whether it’s great or disappointing, as there’s nothing to compare it to. Kind of genius really, or a very good mistake.

Ok, back to the lyrics. Possibly an ironic smirk at mob culture with the lyrics of ‘Burn the witch / we know where you live’ and ‘Cheer at the gallows’. It’s spooky in the way that ‘We Suck Young Blood’, a supremely underrated piano piece about the abuse of power. On the other hand, we could be completely wrong and it is a comparison of the persecution of witches to the scapegoats that society creates in order to keep the masses in place. It wouldn’t be unusual for Radiohead to comment on society, drawing comparison of ‘red crosses on doors’ could be about the persecution of Jews by Nazis, whereby they would draw stars of David on their doors. It has similarities with George Orwell’s 1984 novel, where everybody is watched, nobody even trusts their family and surveillance has clamped down on free speech. THEN AGAIN, maybe it’s just Radiohead’s fairytale. It’s pretty great anyway.

Album Review – The Hope Six Demolition Project / PJ Harvey

905f75d3968cf2f03488996bd3bf836d.620x620x1Who wouldn’t like to be called a ‘controversial’ musician? That’s the tag PJ Harvey’s getting now that she received a backlash from her second single from The Hope Six Demolition Project, ‘The Community Of Hope’. To sum up, a bunch of people who disagreed with PJ Harvey’s portrait of Ward 7 in Washington D.C. Even without the lyrics, it’s one of the most immediate and buoyant songs Harvey has released in years. Harvey’s latest album is the logical extension of Let England Shake, solidifying Harvey’s place as a war commentator, though this time on a global scale. Perhaps it’s the widening of Harvey’s vision and the ambition of the project, but it fails to live up to her last album. It tries desperately to convey its message, so much so that it often forgets to have a soul in between the serious condemnations of governments letting down the people. That part it does fine, and Harvey is quickly becoming the go-to artist for level-headed criticism of the figures of power. She can deliver a stark state-of-the-nation reminder of the everyday murder that we watch every day on ‘A Line In The Sand’, but it’s a cold statement that has no warmth behind it. Sure, it doesn’t have to have an optimistic side to a brutally plain negative, but Harvey trots it out and walks away without batting an eyelid.

The instrumentation will be familiar to anyone who experienced Let England Shake, however Harvey allows some of her early blues-rock side to seep into the edges. It comes across as a combination between Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (Which was also Harvey’s ‘American’ album) and Let England Shake‘s embracing of the traditional orchestration. On ‘Chain Of Keys’ it combines a To Bring You My Love blues guitar with a deep saxophone, which reappears many times throughout The Hope Six…, and Harvey’s experimentation with sound never goes wrong, showing her ability to craft new sounds with what she’s previously learned. That’s what made her piano-ballad album White Chalk so engrossing and that’s what raises The Hope Six… into a project that can still excite instrumentally even if Harvey’s lyrics and vocals can disappoint. Sometimes Harvey’s scope can be bewildering and vast and that makes it hard to connect with the storyteller at the centre of it all. Harvey travels between Washington D.C., Kosovo and Afghanistan and her observations are thought-provoking, but nothing of Harvey’s personality comes through in her clear-cut inspection. If she’s not there, you might as well read a history book.

But that’s not entirely true for all of the songs. On ‘Dollar Dollar’, Harvey brings the interaction between a beggar boy and herself into the wider context of the album. She questions whether herself commentating on war and poverty; writing songs about it; does any good. And even she herself, as someone who is writing songs about those who are affected, cannot find any words to respond to the boy through the window of her car. She sings ‘All My Words Get Swallowed’, which could easily be a double meaning – As literally she cannot find the words to respond, but it’s a question as to whether anything she says has any meaning and impact on anything that actually happens. Is it just a drop in the ocean? This is where The Hope Six Demolition Project gets interesting, but unfortunately this song is not a representation of the album as a whole.

There are moments of greatness and reflection on this album, but there is also po-faced bleakness and statistic-stating that doesn’t evoke any sympathetic or angry emotions. Despite this, there is also some gems hidden in here, like ‘The Community Of Hope’, which is a great guitar-pop song with a definitive message and is now ‘controversial’, so you just kind of have to love it. Likewise, ‘The Orange Monkey’ is an example of how instrumentally tight PJ Harvey is these days, with her traditional and modern arrangements plus a trusty band of male backing vocalists. If this album had more of ‘Dollar Dollar’ in it, it might have been a success, but it’s disappointingly soulless even with the souls that her travels have provided. Harvey is perfect when it comes to articulating large concepts, but where is the personal?


Funeral Recommends: The Community Of Hope / The Orange Monkey / Dollar Dollar

Classic Review – OK Computer / Radiohead

81ni71zIxIL._SL1406_Radiohead’s visual companion to OK Computer was Meeting People Is Easy, an hour and a half of Radiohead making their way around the world, introduced to so many cultures and people, but constantly on the edge of mental breakdown. You could almost get irritated at their vocalist, Thom Yorke, as he gets fed up accepting awards, playing their old song ‘Creep’ and travelling the world yet not able to slow down enough to enjoy it. That’s the crux of OK Computer. It’s about loneliness in crowded places, the technological isolation of the new millennium, the zombified masses accepting false cures to pre-constructed illnesses. It’s utterly miserable… and it’s gone 5x platinum in the UK. It wasn’t simply a matter of right place at the right time. Yes, it did coincide with New Labour coming to power in the UK and whilst Noel Gallagher was shaking hands with Tony Blair and there was an atmosphere of optimism, Radiohead presented the situation as ‘The old government have been replaced by the same one’. It also preceded many of the post-9/11 statements by bands who feared a tyrannical government using fear to enforced their own agenda. It was way ahead of its time, and it’s also lost in time. There’s elements of prog-rock in there (Dark Side Of The Moon was banded about as an influence), the electronic music that the band would later dabble further in on Kid A, and the alternative rock sound was punctuated with whatever else they could lay their hands on. It’s a strange, weird, excellent and multi-layered album.

There are so many tracks on OK Computer which have been called Radiohead’s best songs: the proggy, twisted ‘Paranoid Android’, the tension-and-release of ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ or their more chart-worthy ‘Karma Police’, which is still astounding if you think about it. It has lyrics about Hitler hairdos and a man who buzzes like a fridge, completely contradicting the warm chord progressions. Our money, however, is on ‘Climbing Up The Walls’. It’s undoubtedly the creepiest track that Radiohead have ever made, and that’s counting ‘Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors’. The sounds that Radiohead create are somewhere in the middle of industrial and noise-rock, but the creepiness comes in Yorke’s voice. He’s not a technically proficient singer, but he’s always been able to contort his voice to the needs of the song, whether that’s his endearing howl on ballads or on ‘Climbing Up The Walls’, where he sounds like the wailing mental patient that he takes the perspective of. He sings ‘We are friends till we die’ and ‘Tuck the kids in safe tonight / and shut the eyes in the cupboard’, almost like a horror movie where there’s always someone over your shoulder. I don’t even think that Yorke is personifying the fear that the parent feels. The creepiest thing is that there doesn’t even need to be a serial killer coming for the parent – it’s the paranoia that will kill them. When he sings ‘Either way you turn / I’ll be there’, it’s not even a threat, it’s a fact that the mental illness will be there, even if the hallucinations aren’t. As any good horror film will show you, the fear of the audience comes from the unknown; not seeing the monster at all. That fear and paranoia is ten times worse than anything that the special effects department can dream up. The fact that the entire song occurs in their own home is the worse part. The home is meant to be a safehouse against the evil of the outside world and even if the physical evils cannot get in, the mental evils cannot be stopped.

It’s ‘Let Down’ that most matches the mood of Yorke and Meeting People Is Easy. He opens by reeling off ‘Transport, motorways and tramlines, starting and then stopping’ as the beautiful arpeggiated guitars soar around him. He combines the numbness of travel and success with ‘sentimental drivel’, his anger at being sold emotion by companies looking to make a profit off his emotions, only for him to be let down by the final product. Though Radiohead are often criticised for being miserable, ‘Let Down’ shows Yorke’s want to feel emotion, but it’s interrupted by the media trying to compete with what he ‘should’ be feeling for what he ‘could’ be feeling. The dual guitarists – Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien don’t get enough credit for how much they compliment each other, with Greenwood often taking ‘right-hand-man’ status for his ability to write sheet-metal industrial rock like ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ climax and then write something like ‘Let Down’s arpeggios, which he intertwines with O’Brien. ‘Paranoid Android’ is where the instrumental side of the band get a chance to outshine Yorke for once, beginning with the lonely guitar working its path through Phil Selway’s nimble drums. Jonny Greenwood takes over for the two guitar solos that completely obliterate anything in their path, but Ed O’Brien then joins Yorke for the goosebump-inducing bridge. Yorke wails out ‘The panic, the vomit / the panic, the vomit / god loves his children’. The unconventional structure sets it apart from the rest of the album, purposefully disjointed to tear up what might have been a good but unmemorable song. It’s prog-rock in the best possible way.

For an album that’s often a gateway to rock music, OK Computer is a multi-layered experience that reveals something new with every listen. Even the more subtle tracks like ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ and ‘The Tourist’ have some of the most interesting lyrics even if they can’t compete with ‘Electioneering’ or ‘Let Down’ instrumentally. OK Computer is perhaps the last great example of a rock band at their peak simultaneously rallying for and against that innovation. It has a sound about it that recalls Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Much like the car crash Yorke recalls on ‘Airbag’, the entire album is something painful that you can’t bear not to look at, because it’s so bright and dazzling. Though it tracks mental breakdown, loneliness and technology replacing human contact, it’s impossible not to listen and think how current it remains. Since OK Computer Radiohead tore up the rulebook further by releasing Kid A (The ‘connoisseurs’ best Radiohead album) and In Rainbows, which extended their innovation beyond the music and into the way that the music is delivered. It’s an album that stuck out like a sore thumb as Britpop was dying a painful death and grunge had become a fashion accessory, but that’s what has allowed it to age so well. OK Computer fears what it can’t touch – the paranoia, the government, the corporations, the technology. It’s the lack of contact that is breaking the world apart, Yorke fears, and we’re all falling for it.

Funnel Recommends: Paranoid Android / Exit Music (For A Film) / Climbing Up The Walls

Classic Review – White Light/White Heat / The Velvet Underground

velvetFor the 1960s, there was not a band as innovative and as influential as
The Velvet Underground as a template for rock music afterwards. Their debut, with Nico, is arguably better known, and has the fingerprints of Andy Warhol all over it, from its pop-art cover to the pop sensibilities intertwined with Lou Reed’s controversial (at the time, at least) lyrics about drugs, transgender characters and established himself pretty much as a personification of New York dirt. If The Velvet Underground And Nico was dirty, then White Light/White Heat is filthy. It features the larger role of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter John Cale, who is largely credited with the Velvet Underground’s more avant-garde performances and as this album was his last with the group, the Velvet Underground bounced back into pop with their self-titled third LP. It was on their album where their influence can be rooted. It was too much for their producer Tom Wilson, who reportedly walked out during ‘Sister Ray’ and the public, who were listening to the Beatles and the Stones still, were not prepared for the shock of such a recording. It set the scene for everything noisy that came after, bypassing the Kinks’ invention of distortion by transforming it into something that might not hit the charts.

Without Nico and Warhol, the Velvet Underground had a chance to make a record that matched their chaotic live performances. So songs such as ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’, with its extended guitar solo paying no attention to structure and song convention, and the masterpiece that is ‘Sister Ray’ in all of its seventeen minutes is the Sonic Youth bible. The most pop they get is the two minute ‘Here She Comes Now’, one of the few songs featuring Reed on vocal duties. It’s funny that this song slots so easily onto an album made up almost entirely of ramshackle noise, but it offers a moment of peace following the wordy ‘The Gift’ and ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’ with its peaceful guitar line and Reed’s more conventional singing compared to Cale. But the song is wrapped in innuendo, which works well as Reed never makes it sound like a joke song in his deadpan vocal. Reed has a way of inserting dark, violent and often sexual references in pop songs, which translated to his later solo career where he was allowed to indulge in his pop side whilst retaining a screwball lyrical style. It’s almost like he wants to be a commercial project just so he can hear people who don’t care about music, or the conservative parents, singing songs about heroin and botched transgender operations.

If you listen to the last half of ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ you can almost hear the no-wave scene birthed from this very song (plus ‘Sister Ray’ mind). The guitar pays no attention to anything, the limits of noise, structure and songs were being tested in 1968 and nobody paid attention. Saying that, anybody approaching ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ without an investment in noises that are going to test the listener probably won’t enjoy it. It’s a niche attachment, but it’s the gateway to everything that came afterwards. Imagine what it must have been like to be the Velvet Underground in the 1960s. Nobody likes the music, nobody likes the lyrics, they polarise opinion. To carry on making the music, in the belief that someone someone, somewhere will enjoy it, is admirable. Most bands would have given up. Maybe the reason the Velvet Underground are held in such high regard today by young bands, compared to musicians such as the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, is that both the music and the lyrics are timeless. Mick Jagger singing ‘Under My Thumb’ with its gross sexism is regarded as an ugly habit of the time. Lou Reed singing ‘Sister Ray’ in the midst of Reed and Sterling Morrison’s guitars wailing away and Maureen Tucker somehow keeping time at the root of it all could be transplanted to the music scene right now and it would fit in. Of course, it would still be a niche album, and some parents might squint at lyrics like ‘She’s busy sucking on my ding-dong’, but it would be a band you could devote your life to. Reed as a prophetic everyman, Cale as the artistic multi-instrumentalist, Morrison as the counterweight to Reed and Tucker as the firm beat not allowing Cale and Reed to command the rhythm as well as the lyrics and the melody.

Back in January, when David Bowie died, Thurston Moore offered his thoughts. He said that when punk exploded in 1977, not many of the pre-1977 rock’n’rollers were saved from the cynical punks. The few that were – Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed – were permitted as influencers and tastemakers. This was because Reed, and the Underground by extension, had something that the Stones, the Beatles and Led Zep didn’t have. They were freaks. In a subculture that treasured freaks, a character like Reed, who claimed to be homosexual and a transvestite and wrote candid songs about drugs, sexuality and depravity, was a god. For the style of White Light/White Heat, they completely moved beyond what was expected of them. They discarded their pop art connections and set out to make an album which would represent their live show. Cale is the centre of this all, and often gets less credit than Reed, but he anchored the Underground’s most experimental moments and through his guidance they carved out a new sound that would go on to impress the likes of Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Wire, My Bloody Valentine and the Fall. By accepting their freakiness, they inspired a legion of freaks who looked less and less like a strange minority, and more like an alternative underground culture.

Album Review – Blackstar / David Bowie

David-Bowie-Blackstar-640x640David Bowie really needs no introduction at this point. When you can’t possibly think of anyway for him to innovate any more, he’ll completely cut off interviews, proclaim himself to be a ‘Blackstar’ and sends Michael C. Hall to do his chat show performances for him. At this point, he’s less of a man, and more of an idea about how little reality matters when you’re David Bowie. And sometimes, you tend to forget the guy writes music. In the lead up to Blackstar, longtime producer Tony Visconti likened the new music to Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar, both equally innovators of their respective genres, but the comparisons are a little lazy. It felt more like a name-drop than anything, associating Bowie with acts that are carrying the torch for what Bowie is famous for. David Bowie doesn’t especially need to associate himself with any other musician at this point because he’s running his own race. We have no idea where the finish line is, but Blackstar screams another easy picking for Bowie. A art-jazz-rock fusion which seems like a natural next genre for Bowie to explore.

Two of these songs have been heard before, albeit in a different form. ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ and ‘Sue (In A Season Of Crime)’ both appeared on a single back in 2014 for another compilation album, however ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ is significantly jazzier and ‘Sue…’ is even rockier; the only track evoking Death Grips with its noisy industrial outro, but both tracks are infinitely better produced than before, fitting in with the rest of the immaculate production on Blackstar. ‘Tis A Pity…’ cuts back and forth between images of war and being ‘punched like a dude’. While it might be easy to criticise Bowie’s somewhat offensive language and comparisons, it could easily be another example of Bowie’s self-examination that takes place on Blackstar, leading on from the self-titled single and ‘Lazarus’, where he is the ‘whore’, and he ‘smote the mistress’, with the mistress being himself. Bowie, famous for his androgyny, has an inner turmoil, with different aspects of himself fighting each other. It’s a huge leap to make, but throughout Blackstar, it’s littered with ambiguous lyrics that almost wink at the listener and test them whether to take it literally, as the video director for ‘Blackstar’ did, or to read between the lines.

The experimentation runs further on songs such as ‘Girl Loves Me’, where Bowie’s lyrics get increasingly fragmented (he references a ‘Giggenbach Show’ and ‘Real bad dizzy snatch making all the homies mad’, which is more than likely part of Bowie’s trademark cut-up method of lyric-writing) but also contributes to the dizzying thud of the song, which mostly consists of a repetitive bassline, fluttering hi-hats and swellings of strings. The orchestration throughout the record is always beautiful, never taking up a chunk of song, but sweeps in and out, much like Bowie’s vocals, which on songs like ‘Girl Loves Me’ consists of several layers of different vocals and his voice gets higher as he reaches into the upper registers for ‘Where the fuck did Monday go?’. Who would have guessed that David Bowie had to endure Mondays like the rest of us mere mortals, but it looks like he does.

‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ finishes off the album with another self-referential track. ‘Seeing more and feeling less / saying no but meaning yes’ is his criticism of the rock star lifestyle, where people want to know every detail of his life and he’s meant to enjoy experiencing the world, but he can’t feel anything. It’s almost a tragic end to Ziggy Stardust, the rock star who committed rock ‘n’ roll suicide. The track is another jazzy standard for Bowie. At seven tracks but 40 minutes, the album just about gets across everything it wants to, but it isn’t sure, like the last track, whether it wants to extend the myth of Bowie or directly address parts of Bowie’s real life that he hasn’t before. In the lyrics, there’s always a second reading of real thoughts on fame, getting old and dying, but in front of it all are oblique words. The instrumentation is spot on, but rarely surprises, which is infuriating. ‘Sue…’ mixes the album up with a faster pace and a stab at noise-rock, but mostly Blackstar consists of stop-start jazz.


Funnel recommends: Blackstar / Lazarus / Sue (In A Season Of Crime)