March Of The Modulations
Live: Glasgow Garage
(Presentation of the article in the NME Originals issue about Radiohead from 2003)
Let's get straight to it. Radiohead are fundamentally a very good group. They have a guitarist with space alien good-looks and the natural swagger of the already-missed Bernard Butler: a rhythm section so solid you could safely build a mansion on them and an ugly-beautiful singer whose laments about the perils of the bathroom mirror are regularly sublime.
Every single song they play tonight (including a handful of stunning new ones - Bones, Killer Cars, Do It To Yourself) is so marvellously radio compatible that the group will undoubtedly spend its next three years traipsing around all EMI's most lucrative target zones selling them (the band, it is discovered later, fly off to Mexico and Thailand after their UK tour). Even supposedly uncommercial new single My Iron Lung is a divinely beautiful thing, stealing as it does The Beatles' Dear Prudence and taping a bomb to it halfway through.
"And there's nothing to say and nothing to do..."
But essentially Radiohead fail to provide the things that great groups should: undying devotion, a disconnection from reality, the vaguest suggestion of dark intrigue. On going backstage after the gig, we discover the band, just having played to 600 people going quietly wild, sitting in a fan-free room in the process of putting the kettle on. Honestly.
Indeed, Thom - whose schoolboy sulks are the nearest they ever get to mystery - spends most of his time on stage either mumbling song titles or worse, indulging himself in Tufnell-esque put-downs. After three songs an over-zealous fan clambers on stage and grabs him. Once he's removed Thom drawls, "The word dickhead springs to mind." Ho hum.
Yet when he steps out of character and lets the songs stand on their own, Radiohead become the stuff of wonder. Acoustic encore Fake Plastic Trees is a spine-tingling delight, all cheap romance'n'regrets, but Stop Whispering, when it finally comes, is so beautiful, jazzed-up and effortless, that all criticisms seem to melt away into the dry ice. It's stunning.
Here is a song-writer so naturally gifted that he can croon his way into melodies most guitar bands can never dream about dreaming about. The way the song drifts off into space, floating on nothing else but Thom's half-spoken vocal, makes you forget all the down points and remember that Radiohead have probably the greatest songwriter in Britain in their ranks.
"F--- you," he whispers at the end of it. Well, he would, wouldn't he.