Radiohead - Hail to the… E.P. and digital download?

Dan Round 26/08/2009

Just as Radiohead's music began to stray away from conventional guitar rock in the late 1990s, so too they began delivering their albums in unconventional ways. First came Kid A in 2000 without any singles or videos to promote it, then in 2007 In Rainbows was delivered with the much hyped “pay what you like” download scheme and then released physically with the subsequent discbox. Now, if Thom Yorke is to be believed, the way Radiohead release their music henceforth will change even more drastically.

Earlier this month, Yorke stuck two fingers up to the LP format in an exclusive interview with The Believer magazine, declaring that Radiohead “did not want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again”, and suggested that future material could be released in alternative ways. Branding recording a full length album “a real drag”, Yorke hinted there is a possibility the band could release further albums, but not in the immediate future, with downloads of individual songs and perhaps E.P.s being favoured as opposed to LPs. It was revealed that a possible new direction may be the recording of an E.P. of orchestral work, an idea that has apparently been discussed by band members.

Just before Thom Yorke's dramatic interview came what could be the start of a string of stand alone song releases via the internet. A tribute to WW1 veteran Harry Patch who died on 25th July, simply entitled “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”, was released on the Radiohead website w.a.s.t.e with a small charge and proceeds going towards the British Legion. The song caused a rare mini-backlash amongst many Radiohead fans; some saw the song as opportunistic, some criticised Yorke's lyric and vocal, while others just found the song bland. The song, however, is an important one for the band, being the first to really consciously incorporate Jonny Greenwood's orchestral prowess at the forefront of their music (it sounds more like something from Greenwood's There Will Be Blood soundtrack than anything off a Radiohead album). Though slow-burning, and at first Yorke's vocal may appear to be lazy, given a handful of listens it becomes apparent the fragility of Yorke's crackly vocal is infact intentional, cohering well with the subject matter. The lyrics, too, are fitting, influenced by an interview Harry Patch gave to a Today reporter in 2005. Yorke integrated Patch's words into the tribute as the interview affected him deeply; the line “give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves” being particularly prophetic. Overall, despite the criticism, the tribute to Harry Patch is graceful and emotive, and touchingly apt.

“These Are My Twisted Words” was the first, and so far only, stand alone song to be released after Yorke's interview about the future direction of Radiohead. Released online via w.a.s.t.e like the Harry Patch tribute (though downloadable for free) “These Are My Twisted Words” kicks off with possibly the coolest intro to any Radiohead song. A screeching swirl of guitar noise is followed by pulsating electronic percussion and then a trademark Johnny Greenwood riff. The song sounds a bit like how you would imagine Can playing "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" would sound. With rattling guitars and twitchy background electronics, ghost-like vocals courtesy of Yorke, and a bustling rhythm, “These Are My Twisted Words” is quite different to anything on In Rainbows, sounding more like the Hail To The Thief era. Though it takes forever to get going and its brooding, spooky ambience is not new territory for Radiohead, it is nevertheless a worthwhile addition to the bands back catalogue, and Yorke's desperate closing couplet “when are you coming back/I just can't stand it” sees Radiohead at their gloomy best.

Neither of the new songs will go down as among the best in Radiohead's expansive cannon of material; however they nevertheless suggest the bands creativity is nowhere near close to waning. As for their new chosen direction of releasing their music - only time will tell if less emphasis on the LP format is a successful formula for the band, and whether or not Radiohead will seize the initiative on releasing music as they did with In Rainbows and the “pay what you like” scheme. Though altering methods of releasing music may be seen as detracting from the music itself, as the debate commences about how the most effective way is to deliver music is in the “digital age”, one thing remains consistent; Radiohead continue to release really rather great songs. Roll on Reading and Leeds.

Radiohead- Twisted Words- download