Ranked: Radiohead | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Ranked: Radiohead

Jun 14, 2013
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Welcome to Ranked, our recurring series in which one of our writers takes an artist's catalogue and ranks all of their official studio albums from most essential to least essential. The order is decided by the individual writer, rather than our editors. If you disagree with our ranking then please let us know in the comments section. This time Dan Lucas ranks Radiohead. And then at the end several of our other writers provide their own ranking of Radiohead's albums.

1

Radiohead

In Rainbows

2007

Radiohead may have a (totally ill-deserved) reputation in some quarters as a cold and clinical band, but the organic warmth that caresses the listener on In Rainbows makes it their best album. The spiky electronica that has come to characterize much of the second half of their career is used sparingly here on tracks such as "15 Step," and highlight "Reckoner" is all crashing percussion with a light guitar, but the album oozes warmth. Forget the famed marketing strategy that accompanied it, this is Radiohead's most human album since The Bends. In lesser hands such emotive lyrics as "I am a moth, just wants to share your light" or "This is one for the good days, and I have it all here in red, blue, green" might sound hackneyed and cliché; however the band has come a long way from "Creep." It's partly because frontman Thom Yorke does the resigned sound so well and partly because the soundscapes sculpted by Jonny Greenwood and the vastly underrated Ed O'Brien are so spectacular that these lines now come with an air of artistic and intellectual authority that immerse the listener fully.

2

Radiohead

Kid A

2000

Arguably the biggest misconception over Kid A is that it is an electronica album. In reality the sequencer-and-samples-led "Idioteque" is the only real moment of electronic weirdness; across the rest of the album the laptops are used to treat more traditional instruments. There's no denying though that after the sweeping nature of OK Computer, listening to Kid A was a difficult experience and an Achtung Baby-esque change of direction. At the turn of the millennium this was a record about paranoia and the unknown ("Ice age coming, ice age coming!") that brought electronica, free jazz, and Krautrock to the alternative rock crowd. That Kid A managed to incorporate moments of raw heartbreak on "How to Disappear Completely" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack" without ever feeling disjointed is an achievement in itself.

3

Radiohead

OK Computer

1997

That OK Computer is only third on this list is less a suggestion of lower quality (it's still a 10/10 album) but rather an indictment of the stunningly high consistency Radiohead have maintained throughout their career. As Britain celebrated a new, fresher, younger government, Yorke et al created a mind-blowing masterpiece about alienation and fear in society; the fear of technology on "Airbag," young love on "Exit Music (For a Film)," fate in "Karma Police," politicos in "Electioneering," and the horrifying socialites that inhabit the great alt rock opera "Paranoid Android." The album's high point though is Yorke sounding crushed like a bug on the ground on the cruelly underrated "Let Down": O'Brien's guitar motif gorgeous in its simplicity and the multi-tracked vocal at the song's climax making this utterly perfect.

4

Radiohead

The Bends

1995

The Bends was Radiohead's emergence as a serious band after the hit and miss, largely generic sub-grunge of Pablo Honey; a huge sonic landscape in the mold of Springsteen or The Joshua Tree­-era U2. The songs are soaring epics as in the cases of the title track and "Black Star" or gut-wrenching mournful ballads: "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Bullet Proof" enough to reduce even the most hardened hipster to tears. The Bends is also a neat landing light toward the masterpiece of OK Computer; "Planet Telex" with its piano in a wind tunnel sound is an early appearance for the trademark Godrich "swoosh" that would characterize later albums, while the later common themes of fear and paranoia are explored on the stark "Street Spirit (Fade Out)."

5

Radiohead

The King of Limbs

2010

Radiohead hallmarks such as Yorke's haunting falsetto-surprisingly powerful for a man who has been using it for nearly 20 of his 42 years-as well as Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien's delicate effects mean that The King of Limbs is instantly recognizable as a Radiohead record and yet this somehow sounds like nothing they have done before. Producer Nigel Godrich's trademark "swoosh" sound that became so synonymous with the band after OK Computer and returned with a vengeance on 2007's In Rainbows is almost muted here by a backdrop of loops and beats propelled by Phil Selway's almost machine-like drum patterns and Colin Greenwood's driving bass, heavier and more prominent on this record than any previously. "Bloom" is twitchy and paranoid, "Feral" nasty and electronic. It sounds like Kid A if it was produced by Burial, Amnesiac goes dub step; arguably this owes more to Yorke's solo effort The Eraser than any full-band release apart from perhaps some obscure Amnesiac-era B-sides.

6

Radiohead

Amnesiac

2001

Kid A's slightly weird kid sister, Amnesiac is very recognizable as an offshoots record. This isn't to say it's a bad one, as it contains some of the best restrained experimentation in any rock band's oeuvre in the forms of "Pyramid Song," "Packt Like Sardines In a Crushd Tin Box," "I Might Be Wrong," and the brilliant Humphrey Lyttleton-featuring Tom Waits-y New Orleans funeral march jazz of "Life In a Glasshouse." There are missteps though, and the likes of "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" and "Like Spinning Plates" might have been better consigned to the editing room floor. As an album it's decent, but works best as a neat "here's some other stuff we did" collection.

7

Radiohead

Pablo Honey

1993

No, Pablo Honey is not Radiohead's worst album. It's by no means a great, or even a very good album, very much a product of its time and its music scene rather than shaping it as the band did on later albums. At its grungiest the album misfires, with "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "How Do You?" sounding woefully laddish; it's possible that there's a regrettable influence from The Stone Roses at the album's lowest points. There are some gorgeous melodies and underrated gems on here though, which give glimpses of the band that would release The Bends just two years later. Go back and listen to "Blow Out," "I Can't," "Lurgee," and "Thinking About You" and see that this album is something of a lazy punch line when it comes to jokes about dodgy first albums.

8

Radiohead

Hail to the Theif

2004

As with all of Radiohead's less acclaimed albums, there are plenty of decent-even great-songs on Hail to the Thief. "There There" was an instant classic with its booming drums, searing guitar breakdown, and emotional lyrics, "Myxomatosis" has a great coked-up grooviness, and "Where I End and You Begin" is arguably the quintessential Radiohead sound. Too much of the record is filler though, sounding a bit tossed off with a "that'll do" feel-see "I Will" and "Pyramid Song"-lite "Sail to the Moon." Elsewhere we see the rare effects of the band making bad decisions, such as the cheesy laser noises at the end of "Sit Down, Stand Up," the overbearing sparseness of "The Gloaming," and the sound of a 40-year-old white man from Oxford rapping on "A Wolf at the Door."

Radiohead's Albums Ranked by Other Under the Radar Writers

Mark Redfern (Senior Editor/-publisher):

1. OK Computer 2. Kid A 3. The Bends 4. In Rainbows 5. Amnesiac 6. Hail to the Thief 7. Pablo Honey 8. The King of Limbs

Paul Bullock:

1. OK Computer 2. Kid A 3. The Bends 4. In Rainbows 5. Amnesiac 6. Pablo Honey 7. Hail to the Thief 8. The King of Limbs

Billy Hamilton:

1. Kid A 2. The Bends 3. OK Computer 4. Amnesiac 5. In Rainbows 6. Hail to the Thief 7. The King of Limbs 8. Pablo Honey

Ryan E.C. Hamm:

1. Kid A 2. OK Computer 3. In Rainbows 4. Amnesiac 5. Hail to the Thief 6. The Bends 7. King of Limbs 8. Pablo Honey

Stephen Humphries:

1. In Rainbows 2. OK Computer 3. Kid A 4. The Bends 5. Hail to the Thief 6. The King of Limbs 7. Amnesiac 8. Pablo Honey

Alee Karim:

1. Amnesiac 2. Kid A 3. OK Computer 4. Hail to the Thief 5. The Bends 6. In Rainbows 7. Pablo Honey 8. The King of Limbs

Kenny S. McGuane:

1. In Rainbows 2. Hail to the Thief 3. OK Computer 4. The Bends 5. The King of Limbs 6. Kid A 7. Amnesiac 8. Pablo Honey

Jim Scott:

1. OK Computer 2. Kid A 3. In Rainbows 4. The Bends 5. Amnesiac 6. Hail to the Thief 7. Pablo Honey 8. The King of Limbs

Laura Studarus:

1. Kid A 2. OK Computer 3. The Bends 4. In Rainbows 5. Pablo Honey 6. Amnesiac 7. Hail to the Thief 8. The King of Limbs

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Oscar
June 14th 2013
12:10pm

Disagree: #8 is # 5 and # 5 is # 6
so it should really be:
#1 In rainbows: Their most accessible album to date.
#2 Kid A: their most expirimental album, or their ‘alter ego sound’
#3 OK Computer: Their masterpiece, and most complete album from beginning to end.
#4 The Bends: Their most emotional and subversive album until:
#5 Hail To The Thief: Their most straightforward album, With and without the need to be accepted. it will stand the test of time with its subject matter for future absurdities to come.
#6 The King Of Limbs: The return of their ‘alter ego’ sound. as heavy as amnesiac but as accesible as ‘the eraser’
#7 Amnesiac: Their sound from a submerged submarine; ” ‘a neat “here’s some other stuff we did” collection’ “
#8 Pablo Honey: Their “Here we are, we’re contagious” Moment in time.

great comments on an otherwise great band

Dan
June 14th 2013
6:50pm

Not really a wrong answer. Here’s my list: 1. In Rainbows 2. OK Computer 3. Kid A 4. The Bends 5. King of Limbs 6. Hail to the Thief 7. Amnesiac 8. Pablo Honey

James
June 14th 2013
11:05pm

1. OK Computer 2. Kid A 3. In Rainbows 4. The Bends 5. Amnesiac 6. Hail to the Thief 7. King of Limbs 8. Pablo Honey

***I have never heard an album so absorbed within the moral bruises of man’s ultramodern, self-proclamation of happiness. ‘OK Computer’ is a supreme achievement of both sound and purpose.

John Everhart
June 15th 2013
4:32pm

Nice to see The King of Limbs ranked so high.

MO
June 15th 2013
7:26pm

OK Computer, Kid A, In Rainbows, HTTT, Amnesiac, The Bends, KOL, Pablo

Did we forget how good Hail to the Thief was and still is? Not sure why it continuously gets shoved down the list. I’m not hating on KOL like most people because it’s much more ambitious than Pablo (which was a good starter album) and a sign of things to come. OK Computer is supreme to just about everything in the modern era. Kid A was another game changer and a major step. In Rainbows is gorgeous – a combo of bits and pieces from the catalog wrapped into a cohesive album. Amnesiac is probably the most underrated album. How anyone thinks of it as Kid A leftovers is beyond me. Wore out The Bends back in the day. It is the father of OK and still a very solid album.

While all 8 range from phenomenal to great, we often forget the countless B-Sides that this ridiculously prolific band has produced over the years. Just stating that maybe a B-Side top 10 is in order for the future.

Sid
June 16th 2013
9:42am

Just swap 2 and 4 and it’s correct:
1. In Rainbows
2. The Bends
3. Ok Computer
4. Kid A
5. King of Limbs
6. Amnesiac (Though Dollars and Cents is one my favorite songs ever)
7. Pablo Honey (Not 8 since it’s their first and Hail to theThief should’ve been much better, otherwise too close to call)
8. Hail to the Thief

BMX
June 20th 2013
4:33am

Just my opinion:

1. OK Computer
2. The Bends
3. Kid A
4. Amnesiac
5. In Rainbows
6. Pablo Honey
7. The King Of Limbs
8. Hail To The Thief

OK Computer is the best record of all time if you ask me. Nice to see “Let Down” getting some love here, it’s probably my favourite song of all time. And I read somewhere it’s Nigel Godrich’s favourite from OKC.

Con
June 21st 2013
1:24pm

There is no way, no how, that “In Rainbows” deserves the #1 spot on this list.  The true test:  if you could only keep ONE Radiohead album for the rest of your life, which one would it be?  As great as “In Rainbows” is (and I do like it a lot), “OK Computer” and “Kid A”  are both miles ahead of it, by any means of consideration, and I would have a tough time choosing a true #1 between those two.  Also, “Hail to the Thief” should be ranked a BIT higher, certainly ahead of “KoL” in any case.

Dan
July 4th 2013
5:44am

@Con; obviously it’s a subjective list, but hand on heart I can honestly say that if I could keep one Radiohead record for life and listen to it time after time, it’d be In Rainbows.