Tuesday, September 1, 2009

number five

5. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief. Radiohead has been the greatest band in the world for - what? Five years now? Or has it been even longer than that? Their music is consistently innovative, sophisticated, complex and yet accessible at the same time. I'm amazed sometimes at how sound is put together on some of their songs to create something beautiful without any readily identifiable melody. This Thom Yorke fellow: clearly a tormented genius. Maybe the other guys in the band are, too.

But here's the question: what is Radiohead's opus grande? It's an easy question to answer for a lot of other acts. Michael Jackson, for all his fame and King of Pop status, really had only one good album. Bruce Springsteen had a number of great albums, but most critics and fans agree that Born to Run is numero uno. U2? They may have been the biggest (but not necessarily the greatest) band in the world at one time. What was their best effort? My money's on Achtung Baby, but I also acknowledge that there may be less of a consensus there.

But Radiohead - man, that's tough. For quite a while, I had Kid A pegged for this spot. A great album, with my favorite Radiohead song ("Morning Bell") and a lot of other good ones. OK Computer also has a big following. And I know one wayward soul who recently spoke highly of In Rainbows, almost as if he thought that might be their best. (Sure, you could get it for free, more or less, but better than Kid A or Hail to the Thief? Come on ...)

No, I'm gonna have to go with Hail to the Thief. It starts off with a blistering hit ("2+2 = 5"), proceeds through a bunch of other great songs (including maybe my 2nd-favorite RH song, "Where I End and You Begin"), and just keeps on going. And just when you think RH couldn't fit any more great songs on one album - you know, when you're getting to the point around song #10 where even great albums typically crap out with a bunch of filler material - all the sudden you get this insane electronica groove with "Myxomatosis." (And what other band could put out a song called "Myxomatosis," that's about myxomatosis, that actually sounds this good?) And then you close with "A Wolf at the Door," a glorious burst of hope, the perfect closing song.

So it's a great album. Although, to be honest, there are other albums in my Top 20 that I may enjoy listening to a little more. But Radiohead is the greatest band in the world, and has been for a while, and for that reason alone and on the strength of several other albums, they deserve to be in the Top 5. Some have accused me of "cheating" by ranking certain albums based on the cumulative output of the artist, but I think that's unfair, and such an ugly word! I prefer the term "cognitive dissonance," or maybe "myxomatosis." Yeah, "myxomatosis." I like that ...

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