Radiohead are one of the few bands to have truly mastered the art of reinvention, and it’s no overstatement to say that they will stand the test of time because they’ve been able to stay so far ahead of the musical curve.
There’s no such thing as a bad Radiohead album, just different, daring feats of musical exploration. If you want safe repetition between albums go and listen to AC/DC!
9. Hail to the Thief, 2003
Hail to the Thief has the longest track listing of any Radiohead album (14 in total). There are many songs like, ‘2+2=5’ and ‘Sit Down. Stand Up’ that leave you begging for more of the same, but instead you get a lot of meandering, anticlimactic additions like ‘Sail to the Moon’ that interrupt an otherwise solid album. Unlike the rest of Radiohead’s releases, Hail to the Thief has an identity crisis. It’s a strange hybrid between their electro-beat and the guitar-driven songs. All of their other records stick to a certain sound, whereas this one jumps all over the map with no clear reasoning – it just comes across as less thoughtful than their other albums.
All in all, there’s a great record hidden in here somewhere, but the filler tracks let it down.
Underrated Gem: ‘A Punch Up at a Wedding’
8. Amnesiac, 2001
It’s well documented that these songs were recorded during the Kid A sessions. Coming off the success of OK Computer, Radiohead were already wary that their new direction was too big of a departure from the sound which they’d built their fan base on. Perhaps Amnesiac was the collection of songs that they were too scared to put on Kid A for fear of being totally alienating. Could you imagine taking ‘Pyramid Song,’ ‘Knives Out,’ and ‘I Might Be Wrong’ off this album and it still being successful?
While Amnesiac is still a solid album, once you realise it’s essentially a collection of B-sides you can’t really hear it as anything else.
Single: ‘Pyramid Song’
Underrated Gem: ‘You and Whose Army?’
7. Pablo Honey, 1993
It’s no secret that Radiohead owe most of their early success to the resurgence of the grunge movement, and the attempts of all the major labels to find their own Nirvana. Lead single ‘Creep’ seemed to fit the bill due to its angsty lyrics and thunderous, distorted guitar chorus. Yet whilst the album is primarily remembered for ‘Creep’, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the whole album is very consistent and holds up better than most other alt-rock records from the time.
Plus – the fact that Thom Yorke turned from the rock god wannabe he was into the anti-rock star figure he soon became makes this release particularly close to my heart.
Underrated Gem: ‘Prove Yourself’
6. King of Limbs, 2011
How many bands can say that they still make conscious efforts to break all their rules and release daring albums two decades into their career? King of Limbs does exactly this, becoming so ambitious that it required two drummers to be performed live. People may not have given it the chance it deserved because it’s not easily digestible. But no Radiohead record is or ever has been upon first listen.
It’s my hypothesis that King of Limbs didn’t get the recognition it deserved because it was released during a time when music consumption had changed so drastically; people didn’t have time to let an album get under their skin the way they did with Kid A anymore.
Not to mention, Thom Yorke invented the weird dance we see on the ‘Lotus Flower’ video clip. This was way before Drake made ‘Hotline Bling’ and don’t you forget it!
Single: ‘Lotus Flower’
Underrated Gem: ‘Give Up The Ghost’
5. The Bends, 1995
Whether you’re a guitar-only fan of Radiohead or not, this is just a classically well-structured and beautiful album. There are absolutely no filler songs on The Bends making it excellent from start to finish. Old-school fan or glitch-loving modernist, surely this is an album that all Radiohead fans can agree on.
Single: ‘High And Dry’
Underrated Gem: ‘Bones’
4. OK Computer, 1997
What is there to say about this album that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before? It’s their Dark Side of the Moon – it was a rocket ship to stardom for the band.
By this time, Radiohead had come a long way from the kids who would play MTV Beach Houses. They were now serious artists who were willing to tackle big themes like isolation, consumerism and the banality of modern existence, all whilst pushing themselves musically to create multilayered and dense compositions.
Single: ‘Paranoid Android’
Underrated Gem: ‘Climbing Up The Walls’
3. A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016
The release of a new Radiohead album is like when a new kid joins your class halfway through the school year. Everyone is excited to make their judgements and find out where this new addition will fit into the social hierarchy. Cool? Not cool? Only time will tell. A Moon Shaped Pool has become an instant classic for Radiohead fans and well deserves a seat amongst the best of their works. Will it still be the cool kid in a decade when it comes time to graduate? Maybe somewhere along the way it’ll accidentally call the teacher mum but the fact that we already know and love many of these songs leads me to believe that the initial excitement of the release hasn’t clouded our judgement.
Single: Burn The Witch
Underrated Gem: Decks Dark
2. Kid A, 2000
There’s much debate among Radiohead fans as to which album is better: OK Computer or Kid A. The sheer fact that the band had the guts to reject everything that made them hyper-successful and to record in an entirely new way speaks volumes about their creativity. That they managed to create a superior record in the process is truly incredible.
Plus how many other rock bands use the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument from the 1920s? None. That’s how many.
Single: ‘Everything In Its Right Place’
Underrated Gem: ‘How To Disappear Completely’
1. In Rainbows, 2007
This album represents a culmination of everything great about Radiohead. The ‘pay what you want’ tactic was an exquisite middle finger to both music pirates and the mainstream press who called them bleak and depressive. It showed that they still believe in the good of their own fans and the population as a whole.
Musically, In Rainbows is a return to the band’s dominating guitar sound with a more sincere and honest voice behind it. After all the years of brilliant electronic experimentation, the Oxford boys return home to show you their stripped back songwriting skills and oh how it’s beautiful. Heart-wrenching and cathartic, it’s the most attractive sign-post in the ongoing Radiohead legacy. Bring on the next!
Underrated Gem: ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’
Here’s what Sydneysider punters thought of the new release…