I’m listening to the Radiohead 01 and 10 playlist. The conspiracy theory behind the mashup between OK Computer and In Rainbows is an internet legend and actually rather compelling. I don’t really buy it, though. It’s not really amazing that the earlier album complements the latter in sound and message. I do accept the rather pleasing decaphilia that seems to pervade In Rainbows but I simply don’t believe that the two albums were ever meant to be heard together. The fact that they sound awesome together is all the more wonderful, then.
I first listened to the playlist without the 10-second crossfade recommended by some of the initiated. I figured that a band like Radiohead, who famously eschewed their record label and feel ambivalent at best towards the idea of corporations etc., would design something that required an iTunes feature to be fully appreciated. (Insert your preferred proprietary software if you like, but you get my point.) I’m listening to the crossfaded version as I write this. Alarm bells ring for me when the lovely, fitting, shudder-to-a-halt ending of ‘Paranoid Android’ is obliterated by the next track starting. It’s just not an enhancement of the art. Other segues between the tracks just sound like crossfades to me. Adjacent songs are in different keys and my ear recoils a little when they’re mashed together.
It’s a great, great idea, however, and I’m looking forward to a day when a band releases an album that does sound coherent when the tracks are rearranged and crossfaded in a particular way. That’ll be exciting; this playlist ain’t it, though.
What the 01 and 10 playlist does demonstrate, though, is the remarkable music of the Oxford band called Radiohead. Listening to the tracks in an unfamiliar order, harkening closely to the ending of one track and the beginning of another, attending to the lyrics, amazed me anew at the gift to the world that their music represents. Complex, yet often irresistably danceable (yes, I’m listening to Weird Fishes/Arpeggi at this moment…), sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous.
My main aural observation was that the guitar lines are absolutely vital to what makes the songs brilliant. (More so in OK Computer – the interim period of experimentation saw the band explore a wider palette of instrumental possibilities.) The music, especially on the later album, is often truly contrapuntal, instruments and voice(s) twisting together without a reliance on chordal parts to underpin the texture. (It’s interesting that one of their most chordal songs, ‘Karma Police’, disintegrates into the unforgettably chilling ‘Fitter Happier’, almost as if they already knew at that stage that such songs were no longer going to be possible as their musical horizons expanded.) I’ve always especially loved ‘Electioneering’ from OK Computer, and it was listening to the fretboard-spanning guitar line that runs through the chorus that really alerted me to how important such discernable, often singable parts were to the band’s sound and musical vision.
So, my recommendation: read (a bit) about the idea behind it, put together the 01 and 10 playlist (sans crossfade), plug in a good pair of headphones and enjoy the music of one of the world’s very best bands from a fresh perspective. Then let me know what you heard.