After an enforced hiatus from my musings on the state of British culture, you may or may not welcome my return to the keyboard. Either way, get used to it.
I am sure you are familiar with the famous illustration of probability which suggests that if you put enough monkeys in a room with enough typewriters, and leave them for long enough, one of them will eventually write the works of Shakespeare.
Ever wondered what that room would sound like? Well, look no further than Radiohead’s rehearsal room. I’m sure they had much more of the beautiful, tear-jerking pathos of Green Plastic Trees (1998) or Street Spirit (1995) in them, and they could have made a mint out of über-ballads as an accompaniment for awkward, bullied teenagers to contemplate suicide to, but no! Instead we have to have album after album of the irritating pops and clicks that is the sound of primates clutching at straws, serenaded by Thom Yorke’s doleful squawking.
Their latest album, King of Limbs (2011), made my heart send out a great disturbance in The Force, as if millions of fans suddenly cried out in disappointment, and were suddenly silenced by boredom. I have to say that since Kid A (2000), I have had a very uneven relationship with their music.
Even The Guardian agrees with me. Their review is as polite as it can be, but they take 500 words to say “Haven’t I already got this album?”.
It sounds like all the offcuts and leftovers swept up from the studio floor. I wonder if the band got an intern to knock it out, or maybe it’s a completely manufactured pastiche. Either way, you really don’t need to hear it, although you’ll probably buy it.
I bought the cheapest downloadable version at £6 for a meagre eight high quality MP3s and felt cheated after the first listen. There are several other package variations of the album including a £33 “newspaper” version including the usual random collection of tat that we have come to expect from any Radiohead album.
This is, of course, just another example of franchise art. When artists or musicians hit on a winning formula they repeat it over and over again in the knowledge that people with more disposable income than sense will endlessly subscribe to the diminishing return afforded by the fading glory of a once great talent, terrified by the thought of seeming off-message. Radiohead have been doling out this quirky, too-cool-for-school shite for ten years and no-body dares criticize.
Status Quo produced dozens of albums of more or less the same songs, but that’s okay, and why? Because they are not pretentious nob-heads. They’re just nob-heads.
And it’s the pretentiousness of it that really palls. The promo video Lotus Blossom has cool written all over it. “Choreographed by Wayne McGregor” (Royal Ballet & Random Dance theatre), Director of Photography Nick Wood, who has worked on music videos for Dizzee Rascal, Calvin Harris and Bloc Party, amongst others. Produced and Directed by Garth Jennings (Rambow (2007) & Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)). The credits are so self-assuredly smug it makes me want to vomit in VariCam slowmo, but despite McGregor’s choreography, all I could see in this music promo was Thom Yorke’s characteristic twitching. The towering frisson of its anticipated coolness is only exceeded by the crushing disappointment of actually watching it.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (28/2/11) Alex Poots, Director of the Manchester International Festival, does his best to make excuses for Radiohead but the stink of uneasy, liberal apologist snobbery was almost palpable.
And this is the real crux of the issue. The reason Radiohead have been making the same album for a decade is because no-one says no to them. Most bands have a long lead-in time of critical indifference, which either kills or cures them, but once successful, they can do no wrong. After the astonishing artistic achievement of OK Computer (1997), and its critical and commercial success, the hangers-on do not want to rock the boat and the critics are too anxious about maintaining their own position that they sit on the fence.
That is, apart from BBC Radio 3 DJ Andy Kershaw, who seems to be the only music pundit who has the balls to stand up for quality in music and have a go at the normally unimpeachable monuments of rock tedium that are Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Lou Reed. Please download the podcast while you can. It made me squeal with pleasure.
However, I have to ask myself, what kind of dimwit asks Liam Gallagher for a critical opinion? He is the artistic equivalent of chewing gum, with the intellectual insight of candy floss. His biggest criticism seems to be about the title, although that is the most interesting thing about the album.
Thank you for waiting.