This time ten years ago (10th October), one of the world’s biggest and most innovative groups released what would later become a landmark release within the fabric of popular music. Radiohead’s fifth studio album, In Rainbows, still stands as one of the most important releases within not just the band’s extensive discography, but within music as an entity. From its groundbreaking pay-what-you-want release, to the fusion of somewhere between Ok Computer and Kid A, In Rainbows changed the way music consumers interacted with the product of an artist, in doing so producing a masterpiece of an album, one that continues to be hailed as one of the greatest ever. But as we all know too well, In Rainbows is just a fragment of what Radiohead have become, and in celebration of arguably the group’s best moment, we’ll be counting down the group’s albums, from worst to best.
Pablo Honey (1993)
Something of a shoe-in for the worst Radiohead project so far, Pablo Honey did nothing to win over the diehard fanbase it now posesses, with a lukewarm off-rock project that fluttered and flopped, before quickly being burried under the success of lead single Creep. Undoubtedly the band’s most famous song, Creep was the one memorable moment within Radiohead’s debut project, a project whose grungy sound was quickly abandoned in exchange for the band’s legendary 1995 release The Bends.
The King of Limbs (2011)
The King of Limbs showed Radiohead once again throw out the rule book, and do something completely out of the norm- a trend we continue to see in 2017 and beyond. Lo-fi glitchy electronica crossed with disorientated vocal snippets, ultra-minimalist percussion with scatty instrumentation, The King of Limbs was undoubtedly a difficult listen. Taking something from the electronica-innovating days of Kid A, The King of Limbs went almost all out electro, with Selway’s accompaniment sidelined in favour of drum patterns, and the Greenwoods’ roles in the album often bit-part to a sequencer or sampler. However, The King of Limbs continues to have something of a influence on the current patchwork of music, with its abrasive sounds popping up on projects from Yeezus to Four Tet’s latest project New Energy.
It’s no secret of the relationship between Amnesiac and Kid A, two polarising projects released within a year of each other. And while Kid A continues to be hailed as one of pop music’s most innovative and boundary-pushing releases, Amnesiac simply doesn’t. An album of second-guesses, follow-ups and off-cuts, spawned from ideas and concepts executed on Kid A, Amnesiac already had an uphill task to follow it up, and as the years pass by. the shadow of Kid A has continued to engulf Amnesiac, despite the beauty and excellence of Pyramid Song and You And Whose Army.
Hail to the Thief (2003)
As can be interpreted from the album’s artwork, Hail to the Thief had a lot to say, and acted as a platform for Thom and co. to get a lot of things of their chest, from the state of things across the pond, to the war on terror, to right-wing politics. And besides one of the most explosive openings to an album in Radiohead’s discography, Hail to The Thief was a project that was impossible to ignore. While not necessarily the most recognised and lauded over Radiohead LPs, the content, themes and messages continue to age well as the band. The likes of Myxomatosis and There, There in particular, continue to have unbudging moments within Radiohead’s live sets, and as was the case at Glastonbury, fans and critics alike are still remembering the impact they had back in 2003, as well as in 2017.
The Bends (1995)
The Bends continued themes from on Pablo Honey, and warped it with choruses and hooks of epic proportions, the propulsion of cash from Parlophone was prominent, with high-budget music videos and a more glossy studio-spawned production, the innovation and unpredictability we’d come to find on later Radiohead releases, were still kept very much restrained. However, The Bends still catapulted the band to astronomical success with the skitter of hits from Fake Plastic Trees to High and Dry to Street Spirit. Thom’s songwriting shone out alongside Greenwood’s lead guitars, and shook us all out of the forgettable Pablo Honey, The Bends was, and still is, an album of bangers.
A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
Radiohead’s most recent project, 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, blew fans and critics away with its return to form following the hit-and-miss 2011 project The King of Limbs. Returning to past efforts from the days of In Rainbows and Kid A, A Moon Shaped Pool took ideas from Radiohead’s prime, and draped cinematic soundscapes, and delicate strings over raw lyricism and eclectic production. Among the album were some of Radiohead’s best moments from across their careers, including the poignant stripped back Present Tense, as well as the film-score-esque lead single Burn The Witch.
Kid A (2000)
Often referred to as one of the most important albums of all time, Kid A continues to earn accolades and recognition from fans and critics the world over. Its groundbreaking genre-shaping sound was like nothing ever heard before, and continues to set benchmarks for innovation and progression. With its glitchy often harsh soundscapes crossed with synthetic production, Kid A drew inspiration from the non-linear stylings of jazz, krautrock and infamously Aphex Twin. Melody and symphony within the album took something of a backseat, allowing Radiohead to experiment more with not just percussion, but with outsider instrumentation, giving birth to some of Radiohead’s most jaw-dropping moments in music.
OK Computer (1997)
OK Computer is arguably the project that sky-rocketed Radiohead to the top of the musical food chain, a place they’ve stayed ever since. Escaping from the accessible sounds found on The Bends, as well as the British rock landscape in general, OK Computer was a huge swipe at life in the 21st-Century, targeting consumerism, depression, isolation and political ignorance, thematics no better epitomised on Fitter Happier. Always regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, OK Computer hit the foggy sweet spot between commercial and critical acclaim, charting in at number two, and achieving widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike.
Perhaps what’s most important about OK Computer is how in the 20 years since its release, it’s earned even more recognition and acclaim, built an ever-growing legacy of inspiration, and continues to be lauded over as one of the most important pieces of music ever. Following its release back in 1997, Radiohead were the biggest and most influential band in the world, twenty years later, that’s very much the same case.
In Rainbows (2007)
Ten years ago to the day (October 10th), Radiohead released their most important project to date- 2007’s In Rainbows. Taking a step back from the in-your-face lyrical and conceptual protests found on Hail to The Thief, In Rainbows was a catalogue of compositions built throughout the band’s decorated careers. In Rainbows’ sound was no better epitomised by opener 15 Step, capturing an eloquent combination of rock music meeting electronica, with glitchy beats, rhythmic production, glittering guitar and solidifying Yorke vocals wrapping up proceedings into an absolute masterpiece of an album.
From the string-powered lullaby of Nude, to the progressive eruption of Jigsaw Falling Into Place, to the hypnotic labour of Videotape, In Rainbows is the best example of the band achieving ultimate perfection. Radiohead’s most complete album, one mastered using the group’s own career as a learning curve, spawning inspiration from every one of their past albums, from The Bends’ songwriting, to OK Computers’ layering and composition, to Kid A’s innovation. All of Radiohead’s previous attempts at capturing perfection, had finally been well and truly achieved, 13 years into their careers.