Arts Desk

Killer Serials: Another Radiohead Release?


It’s Christmas in August for Radiohead fans. Pitchfork reported yesterday that yet another new Radiohead track has hit the Internet, the second in a week!

The first—“Henry Patch (in memory of),” a paean to the eponymous last British World War I veteran, who died in July—was announced on the band’s Web site and covered widely in the press. The latest one, called “These Are My Twisted Words,” appeared yesterday without fanfare on a Radiohead fan site. Its origins are, apparently, a mystery—so much so that Pitchfork was unable to verify that it’s actually a Radiohead song. (It definitely is.)

The appearance of these two singles is part of a Web-era trend that has bands releasing material bit-by-bit, rather than in LP-sized chunks. Although musical purists might decry the incipient death of album, Thom Yorke—perhaps music’s purest purist—isn’t one of them. He hates making albums, calls the process “creative hoo-ha,” and finds recording them insufferable. This from the architect of arguably the best album of the 1990s.

In unrelated news, Slate’s Emily Yoffe today writes that because of something to do with the distinction between dopamine and opioids, animals are driven into insatiable fits when given morsels of sustenance at a time, rather than a full ration.

So, is our reverence for albums simply arbitrary, based on archaic packaging methods? Is the serialization of music going to turn us into crazed lab rats?

While you think about it, enjoy maybe-Radiohead’s latest song:

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  • Rich

    Yorke didn't say he 'hates albums' (it'd be a pretty odd U-turn as Radiohead have supported the format in the past, and this isn't a change of heart as much as keeping away from them out of necessity), to give the wider picture he said;

    "None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off"

    What this says to me is that they want a break from spending time on large projects, trying to meet extremely high-expectations, possibly so they can experiment with their current direction. (In other words their own success has pressurized them from trying to follow-up In Rainbows 'straight off', as they fear another album will only be met with disappointment) I find it odd how the press try to turn such musings as prophetic statements, this isn't some attack on the album format. Which whilst is in decline in terms of sales (though probably not on torrent sites), still has alot of artistic merit to it, that an EP or single release simply can't challenge out of their limiting nature.

  • Steve Kolowich

    Hey, Rich. When I wrote that Thom Yorke "hates albums," what I meant was that he hates making them himself, not that he hates the medium objectively. I have edited the passage to reflect this more clearly, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    I do, however, think you're wrong about Radiohead taking a temporary break from LPs to escape the pressure of expectations. To read your post, I would think that "In Rainbows" was a) the band's breakout album, and b) representative of a new sound (or "direction"). Neither is true.

    These guys are gods in the music world; they can pretty much do no wrong, and they know it. Besides, the band's always done what they want anyway without regard for how the public might react (e.g. when Yorke mailed in the last half of the OK Computer tour because he was bored of playing that album).

    As for the question of taking time to explore a "new direction" established by a recent album, the last time Radiohead made a serious change in musical direction was with "Kid A" (2000). If ever there was a time for existential dithering, it was then. And what did the band do? Turned right around and put out "Amnesiac" (2001), one year later -- that is, "straight off." "In Rainbows," while a fine album, was not experimental, and I doubt it would drive this outfit to years of soul-searching.

    I think the key to interpreting Yorke's remarks about declining to make another album for fear it might "kill" them is to note the timing. He made the comment last week; it's been TWO YEARS since "In Rainbows" was released. The fact that the band still feels such a strong aversion to the album-making process can no longer be blamed on a post-recording exhaustion.

    So if it's not fan pressure, and it's not an existential crisis, and it's not exhaustion, it's got to be something else -- something more measured, more intentional. Sure, Yorke might have been "musing." But he's the leader of a trailblazing band that's never been afraid of dramatic change. If anyone's musings are worth being taken prophetically, they're his.

  • Rich

    Thanks for the reply Steve (really wasn't expecting a reply from the author of the article), I can see what you mean in terms of them not treating it as a break from album-making. Though what I meant is that they'll probably spend an amount of time making loosely-connected EP's, that all fall under a common aim as the following project. (Or at least that's what I get from the recent press coverage, though I still think they'll do another album maybe that's just my wishful thinking, but I doubt they'll stick rigidly to some set plan)

    Though what I don't subscribe to is 'gods in the music industry', which completely discredits their hard work. When an artist of whatever form gains a substantial reputation, the idea that their talent is limitless inevitably happens, but it ignores at the heart of it they are people and their work depends on what situations their lives pose. There was a very good article in The Word magazine which covered the way critics hail artists as 'geniuses', when they should be saying an artist had a 'moment of genius'. As it's forgetting that alot of the time creativity depends completely on circumstance and not just a click of the fingers.

    (Would for example Joy Division albums be as great as they are reputed to be, if it weren't for the surrounding characters involved? Martin Hannet's production, Tony Wilson's willingness to give the band full creative freedom, and the environment they grew up in)

    Being hailed as god-like can only ever lead to disappointment if you try to follow the same path that made you famous. There are a examples like the Stone Roses where the hype practically killed the band. I think Yorke knows that hype is a double-edged sword, on the one hand you're insured commercial success and on the other if you don't meet your fan's ever increasing expectations you risk alienating them. (Followed by speculation that you've run out-of-ideas, adding pressure to the said artist to prove otherwise)

    I remeber on a show about the greatest albums ever, which said that Radiohead felt great pressure to follow up The Bends, of course that time they were successful. But they raised the bar so high they practically had to change course, although as I was saying before it's all circumstance. People change, whether that be tastes, viewpoints, lifestyle or through external events. Yorke for example was once quoted as saying he'd rather use a computer over a guitar for the rest of his career.

    Anyway thanks again for the response Steve, it's much appreciated.

    - Rich.