Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Speed wobbles - thoughts on Radiohead and TV on the Radio

Two of my favourite bands, Radiohead and TV on the Radio have released albums in the last few months, and I am bitterly disappointed to report that neither offering is mind-blowingly, jaw-droppingly awesome.  All winning streaks must come to an end, and all things must past, but such knowledge doesn't really soften the blow all that much.

There is not much left to be said about Radiohead that has not been said before, but it's probably worth considering that their first album, Pablo Honey, was released in 1992, a whopping 19 years ago.  Between Pablo Honey and their new album, the King of Limbs, Radiohead went from looking like a one-hit-wonder brit-pop band to the inspirer of bands such as Coldplay, Travis, Muse and Snow Patrol (the Bends), to the saviours of Rock and Roll (OK Computer) and then the most avant-garde mainstream band on the planet (Kid A).  These are giddy heights, and their post Kid A (2000) legacy has been, to be honest, one of diminishing returns.

The King of Limbs is a good example.  Each song on the album is intricate, beautifully crafted and a joy to listen to in its own right, but as an album, the songs don't quite click.  This is in part because there is almost a lack of melody throughout the album, actual songs seems to have been sacrificed in the name of artistry.  The only song you might be inclined to sing along to is the last track, Separator, and thus it is too easy for the album to merge into the background.  Every time I put it on, the middle of the album seems to vanish.  It is bizarre, especially when there are so many delightful little musical tricks weaving in and out the whole time.  The King of Limbs is a good example of the sum being less than its parts, so while if I hear a track on shuffle I get excited, switching over to the album is inevitably disappointing.  Still I am not without hope; the band's latest release, Supercollider, is gorgeous.  Thom Yorke playing it solo is a treat as well.

TV on the Radio are meant to be New York's genre-bending poster child, championed by none other than Mr David Bowie, and beloved of hipsters, art students and folk like me.  However, In a review on Cokemachineglow, TV on the Radio's oeuvre is described as "stunningly ordinary indie rock records".  I think such a claim is a little harsh, Return to Cookie Mountain in particular still holds up really well, but it is a breath-takingly exquisite phrase.  Moreover, it made me think, and I have to admit that I am slowly coming to the sad conclusion that TV on the Radio is a band I love much more in principal than I do when I actually sit down and listen to them.  Nine Types of Light is a classic example.

The album opens with My Second Song, almost my favourite song on the album, opening with accordions and almost country-esque singing, and evolving into a glorious mix of Prince, Afro-Beat and Talking Heads.  The problem is though, that for every peak, such as Second Song or the singles I Will, as close to a ballad as the band will ever produce or Caffeinated Consciousness, which screams INXS (in a good way), there is a very solid trough.  Tracks like Keep Your Heart, You, or New Cannonball Blues feel like re-treads of songs from previous albums, nothing particular, but you get this incredible feeling that you've heard it all before (and it was much better the first time).  These lowpoints means that, overall, the album really drags.  It is a pity, because while the stand out tracks are just as good as anything on previous albums, Nine Types of Light is the first TV on the Radio album that I am unlikely to ever listen to from start to finish without skipping; (very) good but not great I guess, and that's a bummer.

Anyway, pop music wise, 2011 so far has been solid, but not outstanding. James Blake, PJ Harvey and Elbow have certainly delivered, as did Rival Schools, a guilty-pleasure of mine and after a decade long hiatus, but nothing has blown my socks off.  Luckily, there are new offerings from the Fleet Foxes, Liam Finn, Fiona Apple and perhaps even Andre 3000 and/or Outkast yet to come, all of which I am excited about.  Not to mention this dropping next week eh:

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