Review Summary: A fantastic early offering from a band making the transition from relatively simple Grungy Pop/Rock to complex Rock. Features one or two of Radiohead's best B-sides.
I always derive a curious level of entertainment from B-sides and lesser-known songs by well-known artists. Radiohead is certainly no exception, especially considering the popular perception that they have better B-sides than most other popular bands do A-sides. Another fascination of mine is the transition artists make from album to album, be it Sonic Youth's refinement of their sound throughout the 80s to peak with Daydream Nation, Yes' tumultuous lineup and constant shift in direction, or even just the simple evolution in sound of major Rock bands. Radiohead love to take dramatic turns in the sound of the music they create, and what better document than an EP released between an overlooked first album and a magnificent, breakthrough sophomore release?
The My Iron Lung
EP also offers some very different-sounding Radiohead than we're accustomed to on any of their records, past and present, such as the incredibly Sonic Youth-ian "Permanent Daylight". This interesting little track makes use of open tunings and snappy time changes to give it an interesting sound. Phil Selway even manages to pull of a rather Steve Shelley-an sound, minus the numerous, rapid tom fills. Unlike Sonic Youth, however, Radiohead are unable to develop the nifty riffs into anything longer than two and a half minutes, and settle for a massive slow-down to end it. "Lozenge of Love" is another very short track, and I would actually call it most akin to something Yes might've done in the early 70s (particularly referencing Steve Howe's instrumental "Clap"). Entirely centered on a sole acoustic guitar and thoroughly quiet, it's a very pleasant, relaxing track. Thom's voice (doubled by a clean electric guitar) is utterly listenable and polite, and he uses his falsetto to great affect.
Radiohead seem to enjoy teasing us with hints of their future sound mixed in amongst reminiscings of past material. The title track, which would show up on the next album, in its own way hints at their later, sprawling multi-part tracks. Tracks like "The Trickster", however, seem to hint at sounds several albums away, and very nearly becomes the "2+2=5" of Bends-era Radiohead. Jonny's clever guitar riffs meet his younger brother's bass musings to great affect, producing a great drive for the track and energizing it, pushing it forward, and Selway's syncopated snaring add yet more momentum. The track as a whole is exceptional, well-organized writing for early Radiohead, alternating between rolling guitar lines and stop-start sections.
On the other end, "Lewis (Mistreated)" harkens back to the sound of Pablo Honey, and I don't say that in a complimentary way. It would've fit fine anywhere on that album, and as such, shows no real progression in sound. This is my least favorite track on the EP, and I find it a bit dull, even with it's back-and-forth dynamic and neat bursts of chromaticism. It just seems a little overstated for something so simple and uninteresting. "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong" looks to OK Computer-styled synth wash and echoed guitars, mixed with vocal delivery heavily saturated with Pablo Honey, so it seems chronologically weird in retrospect, and doesn't necessarily fit with any particular album. A Rock Organ even makes itself apparent in the mix, once again weirding its place relative to other Radiohead records. It's down-tempo, it works the ear, and it's not bad, but nothing to necessarily write home about.
On their next record, Thom would sing his affection for Jeff Buckley with the single "Fake Plastic Trees", which he reportedly ran home and recorded the vocal track for in two takes after witnessing a live performance by the legend. He would basically write an open letter of fandom with "You Never Wash Up After Yourself", a song of startling similarity to Buckley's biggest hit, "Hallelujah". Similar to the track before it, it focuses on a single guitar and Thom's voice, though through finger-picked arpeggios in C with a major Am flavor. Again, we are made to know that Thom Yorke really likes Jeff Buckley.
On a final note, we have the big name tracks to open and close the record - "My Iron Lung" and the acoustic version of the single that started it all, "Creep". "My Iron Lung" is the single around which the rest of the EP exists, and it certainly is the primary highlight. It's a finely-crafted tune with guitar and bass lines that playfully dance around and stick in your head, as well as thrashing sections of loud guitars and yelled vocals, ending in a nearly reassuring bridge, followed by a hail of chaos. "Creep", as a solo acoustic number, alternately gains new life and loses much of its old charm, becoming ever-more repetitious without assistance from the other instruments to give it depth. Thom's vocal delivery is more affecting and personal in this rendition, even witty at points, particularly the first replacement of "***ing" with "very".
Overall, the My Iron Lung
EP offers a concise, interesting testament to the earlier sounds of a great band, with more than a few clues as to where they would later take their music. Final Score: 3.75/5