I’m going to have to update my CV, specifically where it lists my hobbies.
I’ve realised lately that a hobby of mine seems to be discovering an old song, or album, years or sometimes decades after it was released, or sometimes years after I actually first bought the album, and then becoming rather obsessed with it. Obsession lasts to the point where it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain: I catch the song, or a song from the album playing in my head while I’m at work, for example, and feel sick to death of it, and yet as soon as I get the opportunity, I’m listening to the album one more time.
At the moment, that album is Hail To The Thief, by Radiohead.
Now of course, it’s cool to discover albums by revered musicians, decades after they were released, and I’ve done a bit of that, although not as much as some people do. I admit that my music collection is dominated mostly by music from the 1980s and onwards.
There’s a great tradition of bands who honor musical heroes by covering their songs, and when I was in my twenties and seeing live bands multiple times a week, I was inspired by a number of local bands to discover some legendary musicians. Thanks to My Friend The Chocolate Cake and their beautiful covers of songs by John Cale and instrumental pieces by The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, I’m familiar with the work of those artists. Kim Salmon’s cover of Suzanne, (a compulsory inclusion in any of his solo sets at that time), and the Black Eyed Susans’ cover of Memories similarly compelled me to seek out the music that Leonard Cohen was releasing in the 60s and 70s. Elvis Costello’s lovely cover of Days, included in the soundtrack to the 1991 Wim Wenders film, Until The End Of The World, inspired me to pick up an album by The Kinks.
It’s kind of the opposite of cool, though, to get into an album about 3, 4, 5 or 10 years after it was released. After all, cool, as we know, means, fashionable, hip – that you lead the pack in your thoughts, tastes, ideas and influences.
Getting into an album about 5 years after its released suggests the opposite. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that you waited until you were convinced by everyone around you that the album was good before you dared to form an opinion yourself, and even then you waited another 4.5 years before taking that final, decisive step and buying/downloading/illegally burning it.
When it comes to Radiohead I admit quite freely that I missed the boat. I bought a second-hand copy of OK Computer in about 2000, approx 3 years after it was released and was a commerical and critical success worldwide. It was not their first album, either, but according to Wikipedia,
OK Computer is often acclaimed as one of the landmark records of the 1990s and one of the best albums of all time.[3
I guess that seemed a good enough recommendation to take a punt on.
Seriously, the only excuse I can think of for why they escaped my attention until 3 years after the release of an album that was a landmark of the 1990s, is that maybe the album was too commerically successful to get airplay on the independent radio station I listened to. But I could be totally making that up. Anyway, I liked OK Computer a lot, but not enough, apparently, to rush out and purchase any more Radiohead albums straight away.
Some time later – let’s say about 5 years after its release – I picked up a copy of Kid A, thus keeping with the pattern of being very un-coolly behind the 8 ball when it came to Radiohead albums. I now have Pablo Honey, Hail To The Thief, and In Rainbows as well, although I have no idea when I got them. Most of these albums were picked up at second hand stores, (except In Rainbows which exists only on iTunes) so it seems I’ve never actually felt compelled to run out specifically to purchase a Radiohead album.
From this I think we can safely summarise the relationship between myself and and Radiohead thus: we have a very casual relationship, where I just pick up their albums if/when I see them going second hand for $5 at the local charity store, and they choose to take no notice of me at all. I’m ok with that, really I am.
So Hail To The Thief has been in my CD collection for I-don’t-know how long – maybe 6 months, maybe 6 years. Maybe more. (it was released in 2003). What we can deduce, however, is that I have barely, if ever, listened to it. Until now.
What has changed now? I hear you ask. Good question, dear reader. Well, in a related incident, about 4 years ago one of my brothers gave me a book about Radiohead, called Radiohead – Hysterical and Useless, by Martin Clarke.
As is obviously my usual pattern, I put the book in my shelves, where it sat with approximately 2000* other books I am slowly working my way through at the average rate of about 1 book per month. (At that rate I estimate that in just 150 more years I will have read them all.)
Recently I had a sudden hankering to read that book, and located it amongst the piles. (of books). I read about the formation of the band, and the release of their early albums, which the author takes the time to describe track by track.
Of course, reading descriptions of each track on Pablo Honey made me want to listen to the songs being examined. I searched unsuccessfully for the album around the house – I couldn’t find the CD (perhaps it has disappeared amongst all the books) and it seemed that I had neglected to copy it onto a computer or device, so that attempt to synch my music listening with my reading was a failure, but in the course of that search I discovered an album I’d completely forgotten about – Hail To The Thief! What do you know? Accepting that Pablo Honey wasn’t going to suddenly emerge, listening to a Radiohead album I wasn’t familiar with seemed like the next best option, so I popped it on to accompany my reading about the band. (After all, I’d get up to the release of Hail To The Thief sooner or later.) The next thing I knew, I was addicted.
Hail To The Thief – album cover. Pic: Wikipedia
So now my problem is trying to stop listening to that album. I’ve finished the book (in fact I’ve read a whole other book since then) but I can’t stop listening to the album. I catch myself out at home and work, with a track from the album playing in my head and when I do, I feel tired of hearing it, but as soon as I have my iphone nearby I go straight to it for another listen.
And all I’ve told you about within this rapidly escalating word count is the facts as they occurred. I haven’t even delved into what it is about the music, and the lyrics, on these albums that I find becomes quite compelling after a few listens. It’s the combination of melancholy, sometimes quite heart-breaking melodies, with scratchy, industrial sounding noise, beats, and lyrics that seem to be a mixture of nonsense and dark hints at bleak, futuristic worlds – suggestive of an apocalypse, or nuclear war, or a world taken over by computers.
What’s not to like?
As I round this off, I’ve noted a weird connection. This obsession has happened before with songs that I’ve had to listen to over and over again, and specific songs that I recall this happening on are This Mess We’re In, by PJ Harvey, and….How To Disappear Completely, by Radiohead.
In case you missed the connection, Thom Yorke (lead singer, and song writer for Radiohead) duets on This Mess We’re In with PJ Harvey.
In short – please help! I seem to have a propensity to become addicted to Thom Yorke’s songs.
* regarding the number of books in our house, I was going to estimate 800 but when I asked my partner, who buys a lot of our books, and seems to always know where they all are, he thought about it for a while and said “probably about 4000.” I think that could not be right. So I went with 2000. We live in a small house!
(Update): The working title of this post was Don’t Stop till You Get Enough, which seemed to vaguely suit the topic. Of course, in my rush to finish this and publish it, I hit “publish” before recalling that I meant to search for some lyrics from a Radiohead song that somehow related, however loosely, to the premise of this post. So now, although the juxtaposition of a Michael Jackson song in the title of a post about Radiohead seems like a terrible travesty, I’m just going to leave it. Please direct any complaints to It Keeps Me Wondering Laboratories, in your capital city.