Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why Radiohead Sucks

Since the collapse of the British empire after World War II, the English mostly stopped trying to subjugate native peoples and turned their attention to a different, though related, field: rock 'n' roll. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Cream, T. Rex, Pink Floyd, Queen, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, Gang of Four, The Fall, The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division, Blur,'s hard to name a rock band that isn't English. Even His Holiness Jimi Hendrix had to go to their side of the pond to find success.

The British music press helps out by finding every band that looks halfway appealing and hyping them until they're the second coming of Oasis, who the media hyped into the second coming of The Beatles. Much like some people in the basketball media compare every good young player to Michael Jordan, every good young English band is the Next Savior Of Rock 'n' Roll. Remember the Arctic Monkeys? Neither do I.

Radiohead, of course, is different. They weren't over-hyped to start their careers, possibly because their first album, Pablo Honey, wasn't very good. And when they were anointed the Best Band Of All Time, Or At Least Of The 90s—this happened sometime between The Bends and OK Computer—they responded not by self-imploded, but by putting out Kid A, which even snobs who only listened to free jazz and “post-rock” had to admit was pretty good. In my part of Brooklyn, where it is traditional to scoff at the bands and things other people enjoy, very few people say they don't like Radiohead—except for “dean of American rock critics” and professional asshole Robert Christgau, everyone who cares about music made mostly by electric guitars has decided Radiohead is a good thing.

I'm one of those people: I have all of Radiohead's studio albums, Thom Yorke's solo project, and a fair number of their B-Sides (“Cuttooth” is under appreciated), I paid a hefty sum to see them in concert on their last tour, I carpooled to that concert with people I met through W.A.S.T.E, the band's social networking site, and I even wrote a fake Thom Yorke blog for a while. I'm listening to the recently-released “These Are My Twisted Words” as I write this. Until recently, if you asked me what my favorite band was, I would have said Radiohead without thinking about it.

The problem I have with them now is that in all the hours I've spent listening to nearly their entire catalogue, I've never heard anything that I would describe as “light hearted” or even “fun.” Radiohead Matters, they're Serious and Thoughtful and Complex, but for a band that plays pop music they take themselves awfully seriously. They kick ass live—for lack of a better term—but they run through their technically demanding songs like classical musicians: accurately, passionately, and with an almost total lack of improvisation or stage banter. Simply put, they don't usually look like they're having a good time up there.

That sounds nit-picky, but isn't it important for anyone who's doing anything as self-evidently absurd as playing rock music for a living be having a good time? Radiohead may be enjoying life, and I've read enough interviews with Yorke to know the guy has a sense of humor, but there's no evidence of that in their music or in his lyrics, which Christgau describes accurately as “how about that, Thom Yorke is bummed.”

Radiohead comes after a long line of important bands who took themselves extremely seriously, but nearly all of their influences were able to write a nice love song or crack a smile when the occasion demanded it. The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but they were also a lot more fun; sometimes they just wanted you to drive their car or hold their hand. The Clash were serious and politically minded, but also had some lighthearted head-bobbing songs (“Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and “1-2 Crush On You”). Talking Heads, who wrote the song Radiohead is named for, had a whole lot of jokes in their songs and their videos, or at least they did if you got them (“Nothing But Flowers” is hilarious). Even The Cure had that song about Friday being better than all the other days, a level of silliness that would just make Radiohead embarrassed. Heck, even Pink Floyd wrote a few off-kilter love songs once in a while before Syd Barrett lost his brain on a trip.

These days if you asked me who my favorite band was, I'd talk about Talking Heads, who were as artsy as Jonny Greenwood or Yorke but didn't feel the need to beat you over the head with their importance. Or I'd mention the Flaming Lips, who are both crazier and more cheerful than any band to come out of the English music hype machine. Or maybe Pavement, who became a band around the same time Radiohead did, yet didn't end up obsessed with the end of the world (and wrote some of the best lyrics you'll find anywhere). Radiohead is a gloomy band, and these are some admittedly gloomy times, but just because cars and capitalism are slowly destroying us doesn't mean we can't flash a smile or wink at the audience once in a while. Yet Radiohead seems determined to keep a straight face through everything, and though they might be a great band, they'll never be a fun one.

Correction: My mistake! Radiohead did record a happy song, just to prove they could. Here it is:


  1. I think your avoiding the point that Radiohead has never had an original thought and steal from bands like Fugazi. And now they crave so much mass appeal that they feel the need to be a bunch of whiny coldplayers, who are already watered down to begin with.

  2. High five for another Fugazi fan.

  3. i'm sorry. i must refute this argument. passionately.

  4. so.. they're not fun, that's why i listen to other music. this is silly and you know it. Radiohead is a great band

  5. You people disgust me. On Google, I typed in "Radiohead sucks" to see if there was actually anyone who had their heads far enough in Meshugga's asshole to think that an amazingly, almost impossibly talented and beautiful band like Radiohead was anything close to bad. Oh and by the way, i gave a listen to "Fugazi." (to Quinten) Are you fucking joking? In what way did the masterminds behind Radiohead take ANYTHING from Fugazi? The two groups shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence, they're too different. Your all probably just pisses that Radiohead was so mean to Bush on Hail to the Thief.

  6. And by the way, Radiohead deeply regrets recording Pablo Honey and the posted song above.

  7. I totally agree with andrew! I understand if people dont like radiohead, i mean, different strokes for different folks. But to say they suck despite the sheer talent and incredible influence they have, is just ignorant. And i also love Pablo Honey, its a great record.

  8. Pablo Honey is an alright record, but certainly not great does have some great songs though. (Blow Out, Creep, You, Thinking About You)

    well I've never seen Radiohead live. Though it's #1 on my priority events for the future. but I've seen tons and tons of concert footage, interviews etc, and they clearly love what they're doing, and are having a blast on stage even if it may not look like it. Though how does Thom NOT look like he's having a blast when he's going crazy dancing to Idioteque? or 15 step? and I know Thom cracks smiles at the audience as well.

    and the thing is, I just don't think they feel the need to put out a poppy fun song. I think they feel enough bands are already doing it so they just stick to slightly more intellectual routes. though House of Cards is total pop bullshit, and pretty meh, but I love pop bullshit sometimes (not counting House of Cards, not a bad song, just boring) Beatles are my favorite band, tied with Radiohead I'd say. but Radiohead I think treats their music like making good films. I don't think they're beating everyones head over with importance. I just think they do take their craft seriously and would feel dumb putting out true bubblegum pop love songs, as in filming a romantic comedy. you've never seen Chris Nolan do that have you? I think of it the same way.

    Music can be fun and engaging and even thoughtful without having to be mindless fun pop. but there's NOTHING wrong with mindless fun pop. only when you use it as a way to make money and not something you inherently enjoy does it become real bullshit. Thom Yorke probably loves The Beatles and even their mindless pop songs but I think he thinks he'd feel weird putting one out. Though 15 Step is fairly close, but it's still dark in it's own right. but I think they still are fun at times. I mean Idioteque, 15 Step, even parts of These Are My Twisted Words, are fun. It's not necessarily poppy uppity love songs but it's still dancy and "fun".

  9. I have never seen Radiohead live, a state I will remedy with lots of cash on their next tour, but Tom looked like he was having a BLAST at Coachella during the Atoms for Peace set.

  10. This was very interesting! but I just think Radiohead is happier and better at playing and writing not-so-happy music. Just because they haven't written one outwardly happy pop song doesn't mean they suck. I feel like they do write happy songs though, but happy like content happy. Like I'm just now getting better from the flu and my mom just made me some soup and a grilled cheese.