For Radiohead Heads
For many recent weeks there was speculation that Radiohead would be putting up another album, an LP or perhaps at least an EP, online for free. Spoilt by 2007’s In Rainbows, which was put up for free downloads by the band for three months, fans expected another album that they could download without paying any money. Technically speaking, In Rainbows wasn’t really free. The band let you pay anything or nothing to download it, an offer that lasted three months. I downloaded it for free and know many other people who did the same thing. It’s another matter that I liked In Rainbows a lot and when the brick-and-mortar version came out, I did buy myself a copy.
Yet, yes, in recent weeks there had been quite a buzz on the Internet about a new album from the British, Oxford-based stars. That didn’t happen but on August 17, Radiohead put up a track for free download on its website. Actually, even before the band put it up on their site, it had leaked and flooded the web. It’s called These are My Twisted Words and it’s brilliant. Listen to it and, if you’re a Radiohead fan (how can you not be!), you’ll love it but even if you’re unfortunate enough not to be one, I’m quite sure you’ll be turned on to the band instantly. It’s a little over five and a half minutes long but Thom Yorke’s falsetto-like voice kicks in only around mid-way after an uncharacteristically long instrumental overture. If this is a sneak preview of Radiohead’s new album, I’m going to be first in line to buy it.
That is, if the entire album isn’t offered as the pay-as-you-like In Rainbows was! Radiohead was perhaps one of the few big bands to offer an entire album that could be downloaded for free. Many new indie bands do that. And, even older, typically jambands have been doing that for a while. The Grateful Dead used to allow tapers to freely record and trade recordings of their ubiquitous live shows they’ve disbanded and a couple of years back Bob Weir, the band’s erstwhile singer and guitarist got shirty about soundboard recordings that were freely available on the www.archives.org website. Nevertheless, more contemporary jambands, like Umphrey’s McGee and Widespread Panic, have free podcasts of their live shows that you can download within days after the gigs. And it’s common practice for new indie outfits across genres to supply mp3 bloggers and podcasters with preview tracks or show recordings that can be freely distributed.
More recently, it has become a marketing tool that even the granddaddies of contemporary music are quickly adopting. Bob Dylan’s website offered a song from his latest album, Together Through Life, free for download for a limited period before the CD was released. So have other oldies, including Bruce Springsteen. In their case, usually it is the record company that runs their websites as well as all their marketing paraphernalia, unlike independent bands that either have small record labels or publish their music themselves.
Radiohead does its stuff somewhat differently than what other big, established bands do. In 2007, they turned indie by choosing to drop EMI, their erstwhile record company, and releasing In Rainbows independently. Early in August this year, lead singer Yorke mentioned somewhere in the media that the days of full-length albums was over for them and that subsequent releases would be shorter EPs (extended plays). If that happens, it will be a pity because Radiohead’s bittersweet albums are best heard full length.
I got turned on to the band with their second album, The Bends, and not the one they debuted with, Pablo Honey. I still remember listening to it the first time—on a cassette on my old and whimsical Walkman, while visiting Germany. It was in Frankfurt that I bought a copy of the latest Rolling Stone magazine because it had the Radiohead on the cover. They were young lads from Oxford, a low-key and depressed looking bunch who talked in the story about sadness and celibacy. Their music reflected those things and more. The melancholy nature of the songs—Yorke’s high pitched singing rising above the trademark churn of the guitars–grew on me like I know they have grown on millions of people, and I turned into a fan.
I liked Pablo Honey too. Their big song Creep is on that. As is You and Stop Whispering, the music video for which shows Yorke untypically in a white suit and long blonde hair. One went on to buy every single album that those chaps released—seven in all—although I really didn’t like Hail To The Thief and Amnesiac as much as I did OK Computer and Kid A. I found Hail To The Thief a bit too contrived, although the overall sound is less experimental and electronica infused than Kid A (and, well Amnesiac) is. I bought Yorke’s solo albums, the full-length, The Eraser, and the EP, Spitting Feathers, and have followed his collaborations with Bjork, P.J. Harvey and Modeselektor, among others.
I love Radiohead’s melancholia and sadness—which is so much pleasurable to wallow in than sustained uptempo music can be—and I shall certainly buy their next album, whether it is an LP or an EP. Unless of course they put it up for a free download. In that case, I shall….
Listen to ‘virtual’ tracks: