Radiohead : Com Lag : 2+2=5
Create anticipation and heighten excitement? Shucks guys, we were looking forward to the new stuff already...
Of course this album finds them at a strange crossroads. [a]Radiohead[/a]’s deal with EMI is up – no more albums are needed to fulfil their contract. At this moment they could do anything; launch their own label, sign to any record label, release the EPs they’ve hinted at or do as [a]Radiohead[/a] has promised and put everything out through the Internet.
So this alluring Japanese-only release (although you can order it online) of B-sides and a live track could be their last ever full-length release on a major label. So even if the music was comprised of nothing more than a Grease medley played on Peruvian nose-flutes this would be an artefact of note.
The good news then is that there’s not a snot-tainted wind instrument in sight. In fact, conversely, this is a sterling set of tunes that, despite being composed almost entirely of b-sides from ‘Hail To The Thief’, characterises and sums up where [a]Radiohead[/a] are now in its mixture of blipping electronica and graceful acoustics.
A live version of ‘2+2=5’ is a blinding start. In 3:34 the only non b-side neatly encapsulates all that’s great about the [a]Radiohead[/a] live experience in a way that their ‘I Might Be Wrong’ live album never quite achieved. It’s an ample illustration of their position as one of THE great live bands of all time – their ability to surprise and deliver a mighty emotional punch while evoking an intimacy even in the biggest venues remains unsurpassed.
In this version, the line “It’s the devil’s way now/There is no way out” is so crushingly hopeless that even [a]50 Cent[/a] would find it best to shed a tear. Then the musical fireworks explode and Thom yells frenzied “Pay attention!”s and “Don’t question my authority” like he’s hauling up the suppressed memory of a demented schoolmaster – a theme last visited on the low key ‘Bishop’s Robes’ in 1996. It’s shiversome to say the least.
Compare this with the band of [a]Pixies[/a]-fixated underachievers who gauchely bellowed about Pop being dead in 1993 and had – it seemed – struck lucky with ‘Creep’.
Their only relevant contemporary in terms of size and influence and (former) ability to knock out great B-sides in the UK is [a]Oasis[/a].
However Com Lag reveals they have something more in common than this and the ability to flog tickets for seats that require the Hubble Telescope to see the stage. It contains two crafty references to The [a]Beatles[/a] that may be little more than jokes, but are subtly enlightening. ‘Paperbag Writer’ is obviously a nod to ‘Paperback Writer’ but its sinister fractured funk couldn’t have less in common with the jaunty rocker. Meanwhile ‘Wicked Child’ paraphrases [a]Beatles[/a]’ ‘Let It Be’ with its opening line “Mother Mary Come To Me”. Far from being a maudlin syrupy ballad though, it blossoms into a tainted, eerie missive that features a stubbornly-depressed harmonica wailing and sighing its last in an adjoining room.
While it’s preposterous of course to claim that [a]Radiohead[/a]’s music owes anything to The [a]Beatles[/a], it does illustrate how comfortable they’ve become with songwriting and recording. In the past, they’ve driven themselves barmy trying to escape the icy hand of cliché that they saw around every corner; now they’re confident enough to magpie from the rock canon.
More importantly, like [a]Beatles[/a], they remain driven by a sense of
restless experimentation balanced with commercial success. Never content with relaxing into an accepted way of doing things, this record, while being flawed – it is a b-sides compilation after all – confirms [a]Radiohead[/a] as the true inheritors of The [a]Beatles[/a] legacy rather than [a]Oasis[/a].
It’s probably appropriate now to break out the bubbly in celebration of a decade of great releases. Not since David Bowie has an artist had such a long and distinguished run of albums. And whatever way they choose to put their music, we’re just as excited as when the needle first hit some EP called ‘My Iron Lung’.
Bloody-minded as ever, this record finishes with ‘Where Blue Birds Fly’ a rattling fidgety piece of electronica that’s designed to create anticipation and heighten expectation – it’s been their intro music for their recent tour after all. And that’s it all over, appetite well and truly whetted. Create anticipation and heighten excitement? Shucks guys, we were looking forward to the new stuff already.