Where the hell is rock going? Rock has managed to produce some of the most critically acclaimed records of all time. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Dark Side of the Moon and Nevermind should be enough proof of rock’s profound influence on music. However, since the death of Kurt Cobain, rock’s direction has become murky. Great records by indie rock bands, such as Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire, don’t quite hit the charts as much as Taylor Swift does. Is rock truly dead? Is EDM and hip-hop going to take over the realms of innovative and critically adored music?
Here’s where Radiohead comes in.
I revisited and dissected each of Radiohead’s albums, in an attempt to decode what they could possibly do next. I have concluded that it is impossible to know what these crazy aliens are doing next. Radiohead hates staying put. They’re always smashing their heads against the wall, in search of something new. The grunge aspect of their first two albums, Pablo Honey and The Bends, proved popular but Thom Yorke and his gang of paranoid androids were up to something greater.
In 1997, Radiohead released OK Computer, and shook the world of rock music with its combination of electric and acoustic instruments, eerie atmospheric sound and dystopian lyrics of the impending 21st century. Ranging from the avant-garde rock masterpiece “Paranoid Android,” to the piano ballad “Karma Police,” all the way to the hypnotic “No Surprises,” every song is superb. Fans learned the album by heart and critic’s mouths’ foamed with superlatives, some even calling OK Computer the new generation’s The Dark Side of the Moon. With a defined sound and even larger critical acclaim, Radiohead were ready to utilize the same winning formula for their next album. Right?
Apparently not. Instead they threw an ondes Martenot at our heads with their krautrock influenced ambient electronic masterpiece Kid A. Fans and critics were perplexed. However, those computerized vocals and cryptic lyrics never left the minds of listeners. Once people returned to Kid A, they realized how disturbingly beautiful it is, how intricate the compositions were, and how everything was just in its right place. Radiohead’s two next albums, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief, retained the same electronic sound but incorporated jazz and politically aware lyrics.
After Hail to the Thief, Radiohead had already established a new sound for alternative rock AND brought ambient krautrock back into the mainstream eye. What else could they possibly accomplish? After a four-year wait, Radiohead released In Rainbows. Radiohead returned to the emotionally powerful music of The Bends, except this time the music soars symphonically, backed by Jonny Greenwood’s acoustic guitar backbone. This is the most humanized Radiohead has ever been. Ranging from the tear-jerkingly delicate “Nude” to the sonically celestial “Reckoner,” listeners found themselves weeping track after track. If OK Computer was Radiohead’s The Dark Side of the Moon, In Rainbows would be their Wish You Were Here. Four years later, Radiohead dropped The King of Limbs. This time Radiohead allowed the drums and bass to dominate, creating more rhythmic music.
So now I’m here, waiting for Radiohead’s next album. But more importantly, I’m waiting to see rock music will go. Maybe Sticky Fingers will bring relaxing reggae rock to the mainstream. Maybe The War on Drugs will revive folk rock. Maybe the next Arctic Monkeys albums will redefine alternative rock. The point is, Radiohead managed to stay relevant for two whole decades by constantly adapting and searching. If one band can do so much with rock music, then other bands certainly can as well.