'Creep' is one of those records that just won't leave you alone. Could it be the Oxford band’s first big hit? DAVE JENNINGS thinks so.
(Presentation of the article in the NME Originals issue about Radiohead from 2003)
Name some truly world-crass creeps, Radiohead.
“Well, me, really,” confesses singer Thom Yorke, with a smile.
Guitarist Ed O’Brien: “I’d say Vaclav Havel! I’d imagine he must be a bit of a creep, thinking to himself, ‘God, why can’t I sort this out?...”
Bassist Colin Greenwood: “Stephen Fry... Ghandi... Van Gogh! He didn’t like his ear!”
“You see,” says Thom, “in our book, ‘Creep’ is not a term of abuse. It means people who hate themselves, but get something creative out of it.”
This explains the thinking behind “Creep” - the extraordinary new single from Radiohead. It’s a slow-burning epic, full of violently conflicting emotions. “I wish I was special / You’re so f***ing special / But I’m a creep,” sings Thom. It seems to be based on a dangerous mixture of egomania and self-loathing.
“Yes,” says Thom. “A lot of the songs I write are like that. I wonder why...”
There’s a brief pause while his colleagues collapse around him in hysterical laughter.
“A lot of our songs - the good ones anyway - come from crisis points in my life. Songwriting, for me, is therapy. most creativity comes out of some kind of crisis, and the coolest rock’n’roll bands are people who can deal with that and admit to their problems. “But,” he adds, “this is a business where you can’t be seen to be having problems all the time - so from that point of view I suppose it is a strange thing to say. It’s like announcing to the world, ‘Hello! We hate ourselves! please buy our record!”
“It’s definitely a weird thing to start off with - but i think that’s healthy. I mean, ‘Prove Yourself’ (their previous single, released in May) was strange as well. We played one gig a while ago and we had 200 people singing long to the bit that goes ‘I’m better off dead!’ i thought, ‘Hang on...’”
Phil Selway, the drummer: “At the next gig, we’re going to divide the audience into sections to sing it.”
Jon Greenwood, the guitarist: “Yeah! Come on! Louder! I can’t hear you at the back - ‘I’M...BETTER...OFF...DEAD!’”
Radiohead remind me of the cliché about their being two sides to every story. They have a nice knack of putting new twists on over familiar tales. take, for instance, the second track on the new EP. It’s a lost-love song - but as Thom points out...
“’Lurgee’ is quite positive! It’s saying, ‘this person’s gone, and I’m a lot better off for it, thank you very much!’ I think love songs should be about your genuine feelings. And your genuine feelings just after a relationship are generally ones of complete conflict. It’s not just, ‘Oh, God, I really miss that person.’ It’s also going to be, ‘BITCH!’”
The band had a different set of mixed feelings when Parlophone started waving contracts and cheques at them - so much so that the remaining two songs on the “Creep” EP deal with what Thom calls “ The corporate mentality”. One of them, “Inside My Head”, is, he confesses after a little prodding, specifically about “when we signed to EMI - about leaving a job, and doing probably one of the strangest things you ever could do. I mean, i still find it strange to walk down the street in the middle of the day and think, ‘Hey, i don’t have to do anything until the evening!”
“It’s also, “ he adds, wistfully, “about getting in a car and ramming the shop where I used to work. i just wanted to do that so badly.”
We’re discussing “Creep” in a peculiarly appropriate setting. the seats we’re sitting in may soon be occupied by government ministers. Radiohead are supporting The Frank and Walters at the Brighton Centre a few weeks before a scheduled residency by the leading death metal group, The Conservative Party - which is why there’s such a heavy police presence around the place. there’s a shop just around the corner selling gin’n’tonic flavoured Brighton rock - and, oddly for genteel brighton, a couple of telephone boxes right next to the building are festooned with prostitutes’ business cards. nothing to do with next month’s distinguished visitors, I’m quite sure. Just a creepy coincidence.
Our own conference turns its attention to the subject of creeps in rock. Thom reckons they're innumerable. “there’s always self-destruction in music. it’s matter of how you deal with it - whether you do it creatively, or just for the sake of it, like Jim Morrison. Why, in his position, should he be that irresponsible?
“I mean, there’s all these sad bastards who’ll grow their hair long and take copious amounts of drugs because it’s what someone else does - and probably that someone can handle it, and they can’t. But I think a lot of great music comes from people having a really big ego and also a really big negative ego - really hating themselves. A lot of people are in bands for the weirdest reasons. Which is fair enough, it’s up to them - but I don’t see why I should have to listen to it!
“Even at our level,” thom continues,” we meet lots of people with real ego problems, and you just think, ‘Why? You’re still in a position where no one really gives a f***. And even if you get to Axl Rose stardom levels, people might like your music and have to listen to it. they might think that you’re some kind of gesture, and maybe they think you’re good looking or whatever. but they still think you’re a sad F***!”
The first Radiohead album has already been recorded. thom describes it as, “ Very diverse. A learning experience.” it’ll be preceded by another EP, the lead track of which will probably be “Anyone Can Play Guitar” - a superb, surging song based around radiohead’s healthy contempt for all the self-worshipping false messiahs of rock.
Sadly, we'll probably have to wait until the New Year to hear it. As thom says, “we don’t want to be competing with the Cliff Richard Christmas single - even though we’re spending his money! Thanks, Cliff!”
'Creep' is out now on Parlophone