DON'T FEAR THE CREEPERS
RADIOHEAD / MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY
(Presentation of the article in the NME Originals issue about Radiohead from 2003)
IT DOESN’T take long for the floodgates to open. Two songs, in fact, after which Thom Yorke clenches the microphone and glares at the crowd: “There are people out there,” he sneers, “who would like to tear us to bits...”
Who could the singer be talking about? A nation ponders. The culprits remain unnamed. As they should – paranoia is so much more fun without the specifics.
Odd band, Radiohead. You go to America, clean up, get yourself an attitude and return with fattened bank balances and shoulders burdened by chips the size of a Midwest state. True, they are still the kind of people you could take home to your parents for tea, but now you get the sneaking suspicion that the band would claim that the fondant fancies were, like, staring at them.
Yet, as the American settlers almost said, there’s gold in them there ills. The Yank Invaders have proved gloomily over the past 18 months that there’s an entire generation of wannabe miserablists lurking around, waiting for a whipping from, say, Alice In Chains. And the fact that Radiohead are about as flippant as the average funeral director has obviously not damaged their career one jot.
So during ‘Creep’ Thom croons “I don’t belong here”;in ‘Prove Yourself’, the bleached one howls “I’m better off dead” and 600 people who aren’t f---ed up at all actually, beam a big communal grin and shout along.
More cheeriness lies within the half dozen new songs debuted here, if titles like ‘Bones’ and ‘Black Star’ are anything to go by. And, of course, anger is a particularly vibrant form of energy.
Just check the way ‘My Iron Lung’ (way-hey!) follows the Radiohead formula: a bit of feedback, a dash of angle, an armful of melodic angst and then... THE CRUNCHY BIT! Johnny Greenwood hunches ever more implausibly over his guitar going KRANG! KRANG! KRANG!, Thom gives the impression he’s having a mild seizure, half of hell breaks loose and it’s here that – paradoxically – Radiohead are at their most berserk, most angry and, yup, most joyful.
Curiously, much like Oasis, Radiohead also have a way with a tune that makes you scratch your head and think, “Where have I heard this bugger before?” That’s why the likes of ‘Ripchord’ and ‘Pop Is Dead’ (way-hey again!) are so effective: they cover all bases between the Pixies and Simon & Garfunkel and, for once, such familiarity breeds contentment.
See, Radiohead are a ‘proper’ rock band who just happen to err on the right side of the credibility line. As the insidious U2-isms of ‘Stop Whispering’ prove, they’ve heard the sound of The Big Music and, erm, they quite like it, really. That’s why ‘Fake Plastic Trees’, although acoustically-led, still builds up a gargantuan head of steam, all strident chords and stout emotions. That’s why America loves them. Oh, and that’s why Big Country are now a bunch of pensioners clinging onto their leather kecks – The Big Music has a habit of taking over and wrecking people’s lives.
Not that that’s on the slick Radiohead schedule just yet. Besides which, Thom proves to be more than capable of wrecking himself, thank you very much, as a final manic fit at the close of the set sees the singer land awkwardly onstage.
Half an hour later, the doctor has been called because Thom’s ankle has swelled up dramatically. Hmmm, another balloon for us to burst, perhaps?