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Tuesday, July 01, 2003
Robert Christgau actually manages to stay coherant for a good 3/4 of his Radiohead review, although he loses it at the end. (Sample bit: "This is for the better if you believe songs should stand there hand on hips and demand you stop and listen—that in music, construction-shaped classical cogitation is the model of effective thought. It isn't for the better if you prefer that listeners absorb disturbing information on their feet—if you believe rhythm implies a healthier future than harmony." WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?) This is probably aided by the fact that we actually know what he thinks about the damn thing due to saying at the beginning that he doesn't like Radiohead.
Fair enough. What's less fair is the by-now fifthand brush he tries to use to tar Thom: "he's too sad." He goes off on this a lot, and it's almost not worth responding to, the suggestion being so hackneyed. Briefly, though: Radiohead can be a bit off-putting, and this hostile front is admirable in an indie-rock kind of way, but once you're in, it's pretty warm and welcoming and joyous and beautiful, to not a few people. HTTT might be a rainy-day album, but that doesn't mean it's sad necessarily; like the good album it is, it has a number of different moods, although it is certainly more subdued than, say, The Bends.
The new charge about Thom, though, is that he's too white. Whoa. Check it out:
While stray suggestions that Yorke's vocal equipment is operatic overstate a power and range dwarfed by Jeff Buckley's as well as Pavarotti's, they certainly get at what people love about him—a pained, transported intensity, pure up top with hints of hysterical grit below, that has as little Africa in it as a voice with those qualities can. Fraught and self-involved with no time for jokes, not asexual but otherwise occupied, and never ever common, this is the idealized voice of a pretentious college boy.
Yoinks. Hate a band because of its fans much? Christgau's losing me here--I never thought that "the idealized voice of a pretentious college boy" was at the helm of one of the biggest rock bands in the world; I thought it'd be more, say, a character in a Cassavettes film, or Kenneth Tynan or something. Anyway, what a sad misunderstanding of Thom's skillz. After all, HTTT is a good rainy-day album because it's comforting ("There There"), a warm blanket whose warmest bit (aside from the drums sometimes) is Thom's enveloping voice, and you and I both know that it warn't so warm round 'bout two albums ago. This album is a lot of "The Tourist"'s pat-pat warnings, politics as motherly concern rather than rants or apocolyptic warnings, because Thom is ambiguous enough about all this to know that even if you don't get on the anti-globalization bandwagon, going your own way is more important. It's not tragic, really, and it's not all that self-involved--he reasonably makes the point that one of his biggest reactions to "Creep" was to turn his concern outward, and I think he does that successfully here, where so many of the tracks are concered with a "you" or a "we" and with warnings and comfort and concern. And "no time for jokes"? Hippie, please. Check out "Wolf at the Door," which sounds, as Christgau says, fraught and self-involved and harrowing at first, but then read the lyrics and you see stuff like "get the flan in the face." Now if that ain't a joke, I don't know what is.
It's weird, here: Christgau says that Radiohead's music requires close listening and rewards examination, but he seems unwilling to examine it and floats along the surface instead, complaing about dourness and Thom's voice. Like, super fuckin' yawn. C'mon Robert--gimme something I can't whack down here. Something beyond "there's no Africa in it," because if you think that's a valid criticism ("white boy ain't black enough, for some reason!") then I'm not really interested in debating.