When writing anything, whether it be music, essays, or desk graffiti, it's imperative to have a plan of what it is you will write about, and what it is you're trying to say. If you mess with the structure, surely your work will come out choppy and incomprehensible. Which is why The Beatles got popular, essays are turned into a fine science, and desk graffiti is always incomprehensible. But of course, while sticking the formula will get you an acceptable grade, it's the work that delves into the unknown and takes risks that gets the highest praise. Everyone knows Abbey Road blows A Hard Day's Night out of the water. This brings us to Radiohead. Radiohead's early days were formulaic and predictable. Not surprisingly, they got insanely popular with their fun little pop tunes. Then they started messing around electronics. As a result, Kid A
- two largely uninhabitable albums at first, but ever so comfortable when the rocks are chipped away- were born. Radiohead officially became an entirely new band to most people. Then the debates started over which was better, OK Computer
Radiohead, or techno Radiohead, and the Earth was on the brink of the apocalypse. Nazis were running around on dinosaurs and utter chaos nearly destroyed the planet, until in 2003, when Radiohead unleashed their next concoction, Hail to the Thief
. Hail to the Thief
was a combination of Radiohead's talents, as songs in both techno and rock were scattered about the album. Now the world waits with wringing hands for their next album to see what they could possibly do next. In the meantime, Radiohead released ComLag
, a ten song Japanese release to sooth thy restless hearts.
At first, ComLag
seems like a damn waste of money. For one, 4 songs off of Hail To The Thief
show up either live or remixed, two instrumental technos pop up, and only one or two songs use a guitar at all. For 22 bucks, I could buy myself the holy trinity of Radiohead albums and still have enough for an Egg and Cheese Mcgriddle from the dollar menu. But to the diehard, anything by Radiohead that's not been heard a zillion times is godly. And in that aspect, ComLag
does not disappoint. The B-Sides on ComLag
are mostly standard (as in great) Radiohead pieces, and actually quite varied. Instead of focusing on the compromising area between pretty and techno like Hail To The Thief
holds it's own hard in both areas. Radiohead deals with effervescent techno just as well as it does with acoustic folk on ComLag
. Thom Yorke's signature choir-boy-with-down-syndrome tenor floats over everything with either a chokehold or a delicate grasp, like a boy would handle a butterfly. All the while, his lyrics punish to either match the musical feel perfectly or be so different from what you'd expect, the irony hits just as hard. On Gagging Order
, Yorke sighs "Move along, there's nothing left to see. Just a body, nothing left to see," over Jonny Greenwood doing his best Nick Drake imitation with a light-hearted acoustic guitar. Yorke's paranoia has become as much as a curse to the band as it has a gift, resulting in thousands of parodies, even by the likes of Andy Dick. When he croons lines like "Blow into this paper bag. Go home and stop grinning at everyone", fans feel the psychotic paranoia, but the casual music listener hears a man with the will to kill himself. But that's the contrast Radiohead works so very will. Gagging Order
's peppy Woodstock ambience gets destroyed when the ferocious beat box of Where Bluebirds Fly
. Yorke's twisting and turning of emotions make any Radiohead work far better than it would have been with any other band, and on ComLag
, the idea is no different.
The foundation of ComLag
is what makes it so intriguing. Make no mistake, unlike Amnesiac
IS a B-Sides album. But then again, oftentimes B-Sides are just as good as or better than the A-Sides, and bands that do that effectively are the immortal ones of yesterday. Radiohead obviously takes their B-Sides very seriously, using outlandish concepts and still top-notch musicianship to make the unused songs have more of an adventurous feel. Songs such as Paperbag Writer
takes African percussion and classic-film violins and throws them together to not be chaotic, but instead very creepy, like the movie Cape Fear. Colin Greenwood's bass lines pulsate throughout the song and the collection, many times giving the current song an eerie feel. Jonny Greenwood's electric expertise is shown off throughout the album as well, but not so much as to interrupt the song. On I Am Citizen Insane
, electronic ambience executes an excellent lost-in-space feel, all while the beat pushes the feel of something crawling down your spine. Sounds like an exaggeration, but the virtuosity is not to be denied. ComLag
also gives band members opportunities to show off when in the standard rock set. Phil Selway pulling off the 7/8 masterpiece 2+2=5
live is impressive, as is the quality of the live performance. The echoing effect Hail To The Thief
used on the line "You can scream and you can shout, it is too late now" is mimicked excellently for a live show. ComLag
even gives backup guitarist Ed O' Brien the opportunity to show off at least vocally, as he harmonizes excellently on the otherwise dull live version of I Will
. These little intricacies are what make ComLag
almost worth its hefty price.
suffers from a trap many B-Side compilations fall into. Too much fluff, and not enough substance. The album has two remixes on it, Sktterbrain
, and the unfortunately named Remyxomatosis
. I've never been a huge fan of remixes, as most of them seem to completely miss the original intention of the song. Remyxomatosis
strips the noise of Hail To The Thief
's "Myxomatosis" away and just leaves the melody with the beat. The result is a weird track entirely, leaving the listener unsure of whether he wants to dance or sit down and cry. While Kid A
's "Idioteque" hit the balance on the head perfectly, Remyxomatosis
runs like a fat kid to cake: fast, ugly, and falls down a lot while trying to reach the good stuff. Yikes. Some B-Sides don't progress at all, and the listener is left bored with the repetitiveness. The album contains three techno pieces in a row, Paperbag Writer
, I Am A Wicked Child
, and I Am Citizen Insane
. The effect of listening to this aural soundscape is tiring. While the bread in this electronic 3-piece sandwich is pretty good, the peanut butter is lacking, like Skippy. I Am A Wicked Child
has a promising vocal hook, and some nice lyrics ("Mother Mary, come to me, for I am a wicked child), but progresses nowhere, and three minutes of precious life are stuck listening to the same thing again and again. The live version of I Will
does nothing at all for the listener either, dragging on pointlessly as it did on Hail To The Thief
. These inconsistencies plague the album and prevent it from being a classic rarity.
does have its flaws, it's not a bad set of B-Sides. Some of it is actually fantastic. The late, but ever-so-short track Fog (Again)
blends some masterful piano chords with a magnificent mournful Thom Yorke melody to create a Radiohead standard. Yorke hits hard playing the part of the father watching the world go by, as he observes "There's a little child running around this house, but he will never leave" and "Some things will never wash away", all the while asking "Did you go bad?" Harry Chapin has some company. All in all, ComLag
isn't a bad B-Sides. Is it worth the $15-$20 most stores ask for it? No. It's ten songs of fairly good material, with some excellent parts here in there, but a bit of filler dragging down the already thin 10 song set. It's worth a legal download if you can find it (ITunes has no Radiohead). It's got fine musicianship, as usual, and for Radiohead listeners impatiently awaiting the release of 2007's album with "Arpeggi" and "Videotape" on it, ComLag
will surely keep you at bay for a little while.
Either that, or you will explode.
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