The way Radiohead have been spoken about in recent years, it seems pretty evident that people want to lumber them with Coldplay. Makes sense: the two did, after all, reinvent an entire landscape at the time, earning international recognition and, as with any career beyond a certain lifespan, the odd detour into self-indulgence.
For Coldplay, that detour doesn’t seem to have ended. But what seems to delight and infuriate people is the way Radiohead not only play to the upper tiers of the arena they fill, they do with striking, startling commentary and forever vivid ways of expressing it.
Take Burn The Witch for example. Its sense of urgency takes hold from the opening seconds, those strings rousing first as a gallop to counterbalance Thom Yorke’s impassioned yearning before the theme hits. “This is a round-up,” he says gently, and suddenly those strings become more and more menacing, taking the song to a climax, a headline, that you almost want to turn away from.
That ability to manipulate narratives, sonically and lyrically, is what reminds us of Radiohead’s brilliance on A Moon Shaped Pool (moon-shaped perhaps too unambiguous for this lot). If they’re mining the earthy pool of politics on that opening track, they’re nestling in the celestial world of relationships on Daydreaming, once again the strings and cosmic production a deceptively bleak window into the collapse of Yorke’s marriage. The phrase “half of my life” is reversed in its coda, a hypnotic chant, a capsule of otherness, all wrapped in delicate simplicity.
To be fair, an entire thesis could be written on some of songs here. Whether it’s the pointed pain of Decks Dark (“it was just a lie, just a lie”) or the frantic demolition of ‘truth’ notions on Ful Stop, whether it’s the cinematic Glass Eyes (dear God those strings again) or the more traditional structure of The Numbers, Yorke and co have never sounded more immediate or indeed more bare. In a way, that’s what sets them apart from any other band of our generation – they remain concerned with the intricacies of the personal and political, but they do so with such earnestness that it’s hard not to continue applauding their presences after decades.