Matthew Ford’s Infernal Blog

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Another paean to Radiohead; indulge me

I am finally back to my rich blog-scribing tradition after a long break of intense work, holidaying, and procrastination. To make more bite-sized the mountainous prospect of updating this blog after my long period of taking short vacations (the subject of a later post, which is the whole point), allow me to write about something short and sweet. Ah, I feel less oppressed already… I’m not writing a five-page travelogue, I’m just writing yet another paean to Radiohead’s latest album In Rainbows. I could just copy-and-paste one of the thousands of other love-fests frolicking on the web, but none of them are my style so I’ll give it my own shot. Besides, now there is a dandy Amazon pay-me widget I can imbed in my post, so go buy it now! I’ll wait while you download the MP3s.

You’re back? Good shit, huh?? Now you’re listening to it as you read the rest of this post, hopefully drinking a glass of Syrah (note to my legion of Aussie fans, it’s called “Shiraz” here in Australia and good on you). You’re sipping Syrah|Shiraz even if you don’t like it, because I do like it, and I should not be drinking alone at 6:07AM. (Kidding!)

First thing, to shake off some fanboy odor, let me say that I think the title and the album art are the worst of any Radiohead album, and rank pretty badly against just about all of my favorite albums. I doubt Thom jumped past the “continued” link so I won’t bother explaining myself, and it’s obvious anyway. There– now I can gush without reaching a dangerous 100% suck-up purity level.

We have 26.2 gigabytes of music on tap here in the Brisbane home, often set on random play. That’s about 370 CDs worth. I am proud to say they are at least 99.9% all fully paid for– as a vendor of IP snake oil myself, I damn well better not be shafting a neighboring province of the entertainment world. I am even more proud to say at least 99% of them don’t suck. I’ll lay down my set of 4-star songs against anyone’s at my dinner party. In fact, here, I will put on my 4-star random set and tell you what song it plays next, and I won’t even chicken out if it’s embarrassing… OK, see, it’s Isobel from Bjork’s album Post. Not your average boring dinner party fare, unusual, very pretty, evocative of the great snowy European north… a brief paean to Isobel as well as eerily befitting Kat! So you see, I really love music, love it like Salieri loved Mozart or Humbert loved Lolita, a love born of worship at a pained distance, of knowledge that I can admire it but never be a creator of it, never really touch it, never be inside it… OK, now I don’t like my examples, erase that, oh curse my stream of consciousness rules. Anyway, back on track now, I love music, in a very pure and noncreepy way.

And In Rainbows is music to love, body and soul. For the new listener, it shows you the best of what they can do. Though I’d have to decide between this and OK Computer as the ideal introduction to the band, this new one deserves to be up for comparison against the stunningly awesome OK. It could be argued that OK Computer, being nothing less than Gen-X’s own The Wall, is a must-hear for any music fan, while Rainbows, good as it is, could be skipped and still result in a fulfilling life. Fair enough, but– and I cringe to say this– OK Computer is an album of a past era just as The Wall is, and though it has a perfect resonance with a particular time, that time is just as past, dead, and gone as Pink Floyd’s downer-holiday 70′s. Hell, when I was obsessed with OK Computer I was listening to it repeatedly while flat on my back in San Jose, nursing a hangover from a barrel of cider consumed after my beloved lost Lenore of a game project, Paradise, was cancelled by Accolade. Clinton was in the White House but mothers still thought Monica would be a lovely baby name. The newly forged Kyoto agreement was largely dismissed as a lefty feel-good solution to no real problem. E-mail was a new, hip, geeky thing and “google.com” was just a DNS claim newly registered by two nerds. The Twin Towers were standing and you could happily eat your airline steak with a Chinese box cutter. It was simply a different time, and each track of OK Computer drips with that era’s lonely, bored cynicism, streaked with fantasies of technological salvation from our beautiful ennui. Now we have all been seared to one another by fire and wire-wrapped with perpetual connectivity; we can’t afford the luxury of passive cynicism, and loneliness is a luxury. But In Rainbows is in our time, nay, like all Radiohead albums, ahead of our time.

To the Radiohead fan, it’s yet another fascinating turn by the band, and it’s a homecoming of sorts, a tightness of musicianship that had faded more and more into the background ever since The Bends. To be unfanboy blunt, I get the feeling that as time went on, the rest of band felt more and more like a pretty frame around Thom Yorke’s genius. I think Yorke is amazing, I worship the man, but it seems like the music got more abstract and less fun to play as his lyrics and singing got more finely crafted. My theory is that The Eraser was where Yorke realized this and broke off to indulge himself to the fullest. The result is brilliant and one of my favorite albums, albeit I listened to it while teaching myself OOP coding and as a result my synapses got permanently rearranged. When Radiohead got back together for Rainbows, Yorke gave these amazing musicians their proper place again and the result is a gorgeous synthesis of lyric and music. Everyone is on the same vibe, the voice shares the spotlight with the instruments, and the result is magic.

I am revisiting this post in its draft form after a few months of it sitting on the shelf, and it was prescient to compare In Rainbows to OK Computer and deem the latter a slowly fossilizing emblem of its time… or, now that I read my cider-laden description, a Gen-X-appropriately Matthew-centric slice of time. Now I feel the same happening to Rainbows and though I’m a bit wistful, wishing I had the pleasure of listening to it for the first time again, I have also gained a sweet comfort that it will represent a time in my life, the way all my favorite albums do. It makes me recall vividly when I was driving back from scuba lessons in Bulimba and got a mistaken phone call from someone from who I thought was permanently in my past… peeling open that scab and enjoying the brilliant redness again. As it turned out, the mistaken call was indeed a mistake, and though we tried again to fit the jigsaw together, a few weeks later she had once again given up. But in the meantime I was jubilant and conflicted, and I will always think of this when I hear the restless and keening Jigsaw Falling Into Place, just as I will always think of Kat’s awed, “Fuck, these guys are so gooood” when Reckoner‘s guitar started again during that trip to the airport, just as I will recall how I nearly crashed due to heedless dancing-while-driving as I listened to Bodysnatchers just after reading the lyrics. With a memory bank as not-OK as mine, these musical triggers are as valuable to me as Proust’s madeleine, and I am thankful.

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