TURN ON, TUNE IN, ROCK OUT
Radiohead at the Richmond, Brighton
(Presentation of the article in the NME Originals issue about Radiohead from 2003)
WE COULDN’T have waited much longer really, could we? What with Suede so colossal, and the likes of The Auteurs and Kinky Machine still rubbing their eyes and blinking in the spotlight, SOMEBODY had to come along and remind us what greatness looks like.
So thank God it’s Radiohead. In the depths of the Richmond (sold out, and cluttered with gawky, grinning boys and swaying, dreamy-eyed girls) they manage to take pop music – forget "indie", please – and coat it in a glitterdust not seen since Suede at Central London Poly and T. Rex, oh, anywhere. You can tell they’re going to be dazzling from the moment Thom, even more scrawny and whey-faced than usual, bawls "I wish something would happen!" during ‘You’, and mop-haired lead guitarist Johnny answers with these skyrocket glam chord progressions that sidle up to you and then scream in your ear.
It’s their vulnerability that makes Radiohead so compelling. Thom may belt his guitar and glare stone-faced at us from deep behind his fringe, but look a little closer and cracks open up a mile wide and the whole thing suddenly crumbles into sand. ‘Creep’ is the obvious example. The song Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker could never give up playing Twister long enough to write, it sets the controls on slow burn and then bursts into flames the moment he screams "I wish I was special – You’re so special!" like the furious little brother of Ian Brown circa ‘I Wanna Be Adored’.
‘Lurgee’, too, is more medicine for the soul – a chilling, chiming thing that could give ‘Back To The Old House’ a bear hug if it saw it in the street. It marks the moment at which the girls at the front fall in love with Thom and the entire Richmond gulps audibly in recognition.
There are lesser moments, sure, when you gather your senses and realise that third guitarist Ed has got his shirt wide open and is busying himself with the Bernard-from-Suede guide to Rock Posture, and that anybody with three guitars must by law have something in common with The Family Cat, but that’s about it.
Besides, next single, ‘Pop Is Dead’, with its crashing death rattle snare and "It’s no great loss" refrain lets you know that Radiohead are fully aware of how ridiculous the notion of being in a pop group really is; that young males should have something better to do than stare glassy-eyed at motorway junctions through transit van windows and eat overpriced meals in lat night service stations.
The whole thing finally implodes with the appropriately named ‘Blow Out’, which applies the basic principles of foot-on-monitor theory (find riff and attack savagely), finds all the newly lovestruck girls dancing wildly and Thom grinning beatifically – until, that is, his final "See you again!" when the soundman applies a ridiculous stadium-rock reverb which leaves his words hanging in the air.
It’s so un-Radiohead it’s unbelievable, and, when Thom pulls a spastic face and skulks off as a result, he becomes the most misunderstood and put-upon peroxide singer in a rock’n’roll group ever.
For this week, at least.