Writing about Marx and Radiohead is more of what Radiohead would say listeners shouldn’t do: think too hard about their music. In Rainbows, especially, is hard to think about without feeling you’re thinking too hard.
Compare the obscurely pointed lyrics of Kid A, e.g. “We’ve got heads on sticks / You’ve got ventriloquists,” to the lyrics of In Rainbows, e.g. “I don’t want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover.” While In Rainbows has its paranoid moments, the “closed circuit cameras,” for example of “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” the lyrics tend toward everyday, human emotions and interactions. There are no narrations dreaming of alien abduction, no mobiles skwrking, no thieves being hailed, and few, if any, allusions to Pynchon or Orwell, and on and on.
This article/extended blog posts in The Word puts it best:
The result, after a further year of work, was probably the most beautiful and even joyful record that Radiohead have made. If The Bends was about them discovering their talent, and OK Computer was about deciding what to do with it – and if Kid A and Amnesiac were about testing the limits of what a rock audience would accept – then In Rainbows put everything that Radiohead and Godrich had learned into the service of the best of human emotions.
Writing about Radiohead and capitalism is easy compared to writing about Radiohead and emotions. I’ve long avoided in this blog using the first person. I’ve avoided for years writing about what is still my favorite song, “Life in a Glasshouse.” The song makes me sad. A reader of this blog once pointed out a clear misreading I’d made of a line from “Let Down”: “Don’t get sentimental / It always ends up drivel.” I’d written that this was evidence of Radiohead’s distrust of emotion. But, as the reader said, how can you listen to this song and not become emotional, and not become sentimental? Someone who’s let down, who’s taking off and landing, who’s feeling the emptiest of feelings, would say those words and become hysterical and useless. Wanting to distrust emotions is not the same as distrusting them.
Ed O’Brien said, “On In Rainbows I liked the fact that he was writing about universal human emotions again, which he hadn’t done for a while.” I liked it too.
2 replies on “Message 297: Thinking Too Hard”
Life in a Glasshouse is my favourite as well. While it is depressing in some way, it sometimes almost makes my cry for joy as well. I usually follow mostly the clarinet and the trumpet. They induce a sequences or mixtures of mourning, gloom, joy and hope without equal.
Surely Thom was always writing about universal human emotions, he just wasn’t using a universal human language. Your work on ‘Hail to the Thief’ sprang out of the dense lyrical world that it presents. ‘In Rainbows’ isn’t such a strange country. Some of the signposts make immediate sense. And that’s frightening, in a different way..