Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Friday, August 27, 2010

By Popular Demand I Will Talk About Radiohead

Popular culture is remarkably resilient when it comes to meeting its own needs. It is a fact I touched upon when I wrote this piece about The Beatles. Another example is the influence of 1990’s Radiohead.

Radiohead is, or probably will be soon enough, considered the most influential band of my lifetime*. I am well aware that OK Computer and Kid A were monumental releases for the future of music, however I might argue that the influence of the actual records was less important than the stylistic shift itself. This move from a decidedly early-90s Alternative Rock sound to something a bit more cerebral/arty left a particularly large void.

A void that was divided and conquered by two, now, very successful bands:


The Bends alluded to two possible future roads for Radiohead to go down, yet those nerds zigged and/or zagged. The world liked the result, but still had a need for those roads. “OK COMPUTER” came out in 1997 and it took everyone a short while to realize it was not just a brief sidetrack. So it goes that in 1999 both Muse** and Coldplay released their first singles.

Case in point, Coldplay:

Famously, has always been compared to Radiohead forevers, however really they are just VERY comparable to the adult-contemporary parts. There was a need for a band that would make songs that sound like “Fake Plastic Trees” and “High and Dry.” The world wants mid-tempo ballads with vocals that are equal parts soaring and whining.

Radiohead - "Fake Plastic Trees"

Coldplay - "Shiver"

Case in point, Muse:

They decided to take on the need for a band that would make an easily-digestible sort of “heavy” music with vocals that are equals parts soaring and whining.

Radiohead - “My Iron Lung”

Muse - “Your Time is Running Out”

The point is not that these bands suck because they are so derivative. It is simply that they, unbeknownst to themselves, exist to please a predetermined need of the public. I also do not think it is too much of a stretch to argue that they are currently more, or at least equally as, successful than the band that birthed them. What seems to really be the case is that there was a need for all three types of bands. Meaning, if Radiohead decided to not go down the “OK Computer” rabbit hole, another band would have had to emerge to do so. In an alternative universe that band would be Pearl Jam, who at that exact time was also looking to experiment after being overwhelmed by the trappings of being the biggest band in the world***.

It is now 13 years hence and I wonder if Radiohead, a notoriously intelligent bunch, have realized what I have. Do they know that if they kept on making The Bends they could easily have been the next U2****? My guess is that, yes, they very much know and are quite happy with their decision to instead be the most lauded band of the last 15 years.

* Insert ironoic band joke
**If you Wikipedia Muse the entry on the Greek Goddesses of creativity comes up. It is the small things that make me respect Wikipedia.
***Sadly, the music that emerged to fill the Pearl Jam void was the shittiest shit in the history of noise. That time period (1997-2003) was the dark ages for mainstream American culture.
****I am aware you can argue that Radiohead already is the next U2, however I would strongly disagree. U2 existed to fill the need for the biggest band in the world that means everything to everyone. Currently, it seems like U2 was the next U2.

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