Review Summary: Radiohead thriving on the tremendous challenge they set themselves.
The post ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ live shows were, no doubt, a monstrous technical headache. The scale of electronic impedimenta – sound machines, synthesizers, pedals, loops, delays and numerous other contraptions that would require the employment of an octopus to make simultaneous operation a feasibility – would be daunting enough in the studio. Live, it usually doesn’t bare thinking about; never mind committing the performance to record. Then again, it always has been characteristic of Radiohead to do the unexpected, especially if it poses a challenge, and especially
if it provides further proof of their brilliance as musicians. ‘Bring it on’, they cry, determined to gain purchase where others wouldn’t have begun to think about treading. Naturally, being Radiohead, they do.
As an opening statement, ‘The National Anthem’ makes two things quite clear – first, that the sound has indeed been given a good tweaking in places (absent is the finale of a horn section collapsing in on itself, although we do have some enthusiastic gibberish from Thom to compensate), but that on the whole, the song still has the same regimentally chaotic character. Secondly, that said tweaking is by no standards a cop-out – played live, the song has all of the tempestuous, thrilling energy of the album cut, and the performance shows Radiohead are no less fanatical about technical excellence. It sets a high standard of musicianship and of staying true to the personalities of the originals, a standard maintained from beginning to end. It’s an impressive feat, even without accounting for the complications of practicality already overcome.
Mixed in with these impressive displays of technological prowess are greater departures from the norm, more radical and intriguing than mere alterations. Such experiments are, on the whole, successful – the acoustic, pianoforte driven remake of ‘Like Spinning Plates’ especially so; a triumphantly elegant and fragile re-imagining that strips aware the paraphernalia of dense electronica, leaving a transparent exoskeleton of acoustic sentiments. The melody uncovered beneath is, quite frankly, beautiful. The astonishing totality of change and the exposure of a precious beating heart beneath a grimy layer of processed sound leaves this reviewer in awe and stubbornly arguing it’s superiority to the original. Besides this high water mark of ‘I Might Be Wrong’, the next surprise is the extended closing of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, where the lyrics are fed through the electronic mangle, blender and centrifuge all at once, warped and twisted into the voice of Kid A and repeated ad infinitum. It sounds barmy on paper, but as bizarre as experiencing the metamorphosis of Thom’s voice is, it is in fact a suitably trippy highlight. Elsewhere, the reduction of chilly ambience to allow for emphasis on a crowd-rocking rhythm with ‘Idioteque’ is a risky manoeuvre; everything relies on having a tight set. While the beat isn’t a bulls-eye, the compelling vigour and passion with which it is delivered more than compensates.
As the delightful acoustics of ‘True Love Waits’ draws the album to a refreshingly simplistic and personal close, we are left with the definite the sense of having listened to a record that really is ‘Radiohead’. I say that not because of the songs that constitute it, but because of the tremendous difficulties that transferring those songs to the stage posed. One would expect such practicalities to confine the music, but they have not only overcome these obstacles, but have, in places, reached far beyond them to create very special moments. This most commendable feat – the bands trademark of not just making music, but making music extraordinary – means that ‘I Might Be Wrong’ is more than worthy of inclusion in Radiohead’s discography.