Saturday, June 22, 2019

"The sound of the album gestating"

So much for the circumstances surrounding the leaked OK Computer-era Radiohead material - what of the material itself? I haven't had the opportunity or - let's face it - the inclination to wade through 18 hours of music (even though it's one of my favourite albums of all time), but Darran Anderson has, and he's written a brilliant piece about it for The Quietus.

Anderson argues that listening to the tapes positions you as a voyeur looking in on a creative process that Radiohead would rather you didn't see - and indeed perhaps one that you would be better off not seeing. In many ways, he suggests, it's "an unromantic revealing of how much of a slog it must be to create such an album. Interminable repetitions, bumbling, revisions, excisions, increments, failed experiments and blind alleys that would dissuade all but the most fanatical completists." The experience sounds rather like that of witnessing a band playing songs you love live and feeling disappointed, as though the secret of a magic trick has been given away, as though they've shown their workings. When you hear how unfocused they can sound, Anderson argues, "you realise how judicious Radiohead's focus normally is".

The received wisdom - wisdom that I very much buy into - is that OK Computer represented a quantum leap forwards from The Bends, which in turn was a quantum leap forwards from Pablo Honey. So it's intriguing to read Anderson's claims that the tapes still contain plenty of evidence of the old Radiohead. Perhaps, then, it wasn't as clean a break with their past as the finished article might have suggested.

Nevertheless, Anderson does give some positive reasons for exploring the material for oneself - not least to eavesdrop on songs in development, to catch snatches of songs as they "evolve and divide". And the mere mention of 'I Promise', a song left off OK Computer, reminded me of just how high the bar was set.

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