Radiohead has recorded and released seven albums to date beginning with their debut
Pablo Honey in 1993. That debut album is the only Radiohead album that is not
essential for all true music lovers. The other six albums they have released have all
been absolutely excellent.
Pablo Honey (1993)
Their debut album is mostly known for "Creep." And at the time many people thought
Radiohead would be a "one hit wonder." This was the height of grunge and Radiohead
sounded more like a British answer to Nirvana than anything truly original to many
people's ears at the time. And while Pablo Honey wasn't particularly original it did
have some great songs. "Creep" has certainly worn better than most songs of the
period and some of the other songs on the album such as "Blow Out" show signs of
their later greatness.
The Bends (1995)
This was a huge step forward for the band. To me it's sort of like Radiohead's Rubber
Soul. I know, why does everyone have to be compared to The Beatles? It's just the
way it is, and I really do think in a way this comparison works. Of course in others, it
The Bends was a band becoming themselves. And they sounded amazing. One thing
that caught me right off with The Bends was the atmospherics of the songs. Certainly
that's something the band has continued to explore even further since then.
The albums big rockers "Just" & "My Iron Lung" showcased Jonny Greenwood's
unique approach to guitar playing. In my view there's no other modern guitarist who
is as interesting. No one else sounds like him. He's a real "mad scientist" and that's
just how I like my musicians.
It was the ballads "Fake Plastic Trees" & "High and Dry" that really got the attention
of a lot of people. For one they showcased Thom Yorke's incredible voice and for
another they were the sorts of melodic songs that anyone can fall in love with. To this
day this album and and these songs in particular are highly influential on bands like
OK Computer (1997)
To continue with The Beatles comparison, this is Radiohead's Revolver. They were
really pushing the musical envelope with OK Computer. I don't think they expected
the hugely positive response it received. It's really quite a weird album in a lot of
ways. But it's just so brilliantly done that it's become one of the absolutely essential
albums to own for anyone who cares about modern music.
Kid A (2000)
Yes, I've saved the Sgt. Pepper comparison for Kid A. Why? Because Kid A is the
album that really holds together as one piece. It's like everyone thought they must
have hit some sort of limit with OK Computer, but they didn't. They broke themselves
down and started from scratch and went in an entirely different direction.
Kid A has more detractors than does OK Computer, as it's just not as easy to love for
some people, the sort of people who think that music must be based around guitar for
it to be good.
Too often it's considered a collection of Kid A b-sides. It's really not that at all. A song
as great as "Pyramid Song" is definitely not a b-side! I believe these are the songs that
just didn't fit well on Kid A so they became Amnesiac. And that is the sort of thing
that is hard for people who have to rank everything as better or worse than something
else to understand. This isn't sports, it's art. It's not about what's "best," it's about what
says what you want to say. What works together to make some sort of cohesive whole.
Hail to the Thief (2003)
Admittedly not quite as strong as the albums that came before it (or the one that has
come since) but it still really has a ton of great music on it. I'm not quite sure even
why I don't like it as much as Kid A and In Rainbows, but I just don't. It's great, but
something about it isn't quite perfect. Hard to put my finger on. Still probably the best
album of 2003.
In Rainbows (2007)
Definitely the best album of 2007. In Rainbows is a perfect album. It's absolutely
astonishing to me that Radiohead is still working at this kind of level for as long as
they've been making music together. They are still the best band in the world, and
honestly no one else is even coming that close to them.
The "flavors of the week" that Pitchfork and the like try to force feed us just don't
match up. I mean, Arcade Fire? Are you kidding me?