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Wednesday, June 11, 2003
I do hate Pitchfork sometimes.
As Yorke put it in Meeting People Is Easy: "English people aren't impressed. There's this automatic assumption that any degree of success means that you've cheated. Or you're full of shit."
That's a cross Thom no longer has to bear, since whatever shit he was full of was kicked out of him-- in his hometown, no less-- one night in 2000. Like Johnny, the similarly bloodied main character from Mike Leigh's Naked, the assault appears to have Thom dealing with reality for possibly the first time. Protected from street-level human misery-- first by privilege, and then as a celebrity-- by a misguided belief in the world as something definite and easily changed, Yorke's pummeling rightly refocused an unparalleled modern songwriter on more immediate and emotionally resonant issues, stuffing him back in boots he was growing too big for.
Secondly: I think this is a critical attempt to draw a narrative that doesn't exist, or at best, to draw a counter-narrative to the one the boys in the band are trying to push. So "we wanted to rawk more" does battle with "Thom got beat up and it changed his life" and, Occam's Razory, the first one comes out triumphant. I just don't buy that this album is more emotionally resonant, or personal, or immediate. There are more slow ballads, but that's not the same thing. Thom's voice is more prominent in the mix, but that's not the same thing. Ott wouldn't say this if he had listened to Amnesiac more, I suspect (he says he didn't like that one) since there was a whole lot more emotional immediacy on that one.
Here's the thing: I'm a musician. And I've had the crap kicked out of me. And it didn't make me write more emotional songs. Hell, I didn't even write a song about having the crap kicked out of me. It's just a strange thing to suggest. I do think that Thom knew about "street-level human misery" previously; indeed, a more reactionary (and probably more accurate) interpretation for the lessened political content on this album (again, kind of questionable, but I'll go with it) would be that it's a reaction against ingratitude from the people he's trying to help. Of course, I think that interpretation is bullshit, too, but it's still more valid than Ott's. Getting beat up changes your social behavior (you're generally a bit more leery of large men from then on, in my experience) but I don't think it has a damn thing to do with your songwriting--or, at least, I don't see any evidence of that on HTTT.
As for politics: if he thinks OK Computer portrays "the world as something definite and easily changed," I wonder whether he got some secret reviewer-only copy with different lyrical and music content. "No Surprises" anyone? Honestly, one of the big criticisms I've had of Radiohead's 'political' song (No Surprises, You and Whose Army) is that they primarily express resignation and impotence, not exactly the best base for political action.
Later in the review, he writes, "Kid A and Amnesiac were written and recorded before Thom was attacked, before he became a father, before the world became a lot smaller, when nothing really mattered. Hail to the Thief is almost four years removed from the reality Yorke last wrote about..." Now seriously, Chris, what kind of "9/11 changed everything!!!" (and, holy christ, "Being a father changes everything!!!") bullshit is this? You think the pre-HTTT albums don't represent a stultifying, enclosed, suffocating reality? Sheesh. The songs are different, but they're always different from album to album with Radiohead; that's one of the big reasons why we like 'em. And we all know that the leap between Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief is just not as big of a jump from OKC to Kid A--or, hell, not even as big as the jump from The Bends to OK Computer.
It's an OK review otherwise, but the opening and the framing device is just horrible. I can only assume (as he more or less states at the outset) that he's trying to prevent this narrative in order to counteract the band's, but people, people, how many times do I have to say it--don't write reactionary reviews. Eek.