It all started back in 1992. Radiohead with frontman Thom Yorke had a searing single floating up the charts, a song like nothing else on the radio and the line that every teenage boy thought was cool, “I don’t care if it hurts, I wanna have control.”
Now almost fifteen years later they’re still living that mantra. The maverick rock band from Oxfordshire has been changing the way we think about music for a long time now. Each album is completely unique, always fresh and the band unwilling to become what so many bands of their class have become, a caricature of the original. Radiohead is, if anything, stubborn.
So why is their new release, ‘In Rainbows’ so special? The title of the album certainly isn’t special and the music, while consistently fantastic is just what we expect from this legendary band. Why does Radiohead still surprise us? By releasing the album themselves, sans record label, packaging, cardboard cutouts and flashy artwork, by avoiding iTunes and peddling their own music they’ve succeed in making their music important.
What does it say that they avoid the way everything is done? What does it say that you can only buy the album? That they refuse to be disposable? They refuse to be an Apple commercial and now they’re refusing to let a record label define them, time them and make them into something they may or may not be. As we begin to move forward as a generation it’s important to consider Radiohead as a forward thinking institution, not just a band.
Why? Well, because they ask questions. How much is music really worth? How do you survive in a business steadily declining? No packaging, that’s green, right? And the whole, “we don’t care about what anybody else is doing”, that’s a good quality.
I don’t know, maybe I am getting older and my idea of cool is probably fading into mothball stinking old man jeans and flannel shirts from 1992 when Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Radiohead were heavy in the rotation and hanging out in parking lots, back yards and gas stations was all the rage. But there’s something to Radiohead. They’ve maintained their edge. They’re sort of an anomaly. No schmalz. No Bono grandstanding. No legendary member standing out. No infighting on tour or in the rock mags. Just a group of guys that get off on evolving.
So, how much have people paid for music? And what do people think about it? I paid nothing. I try to never pay for anything. It just feels good to say to someone, I got that for free. That being said, I will pay to see them live. Many others followed my example. Someone paid $1,000, others $6.66. They’ve become an economic experiment, the labels worst nightmare. But we always knew the bands would have the last laugh on the machine.
Jonny Greenwood said of “In Rainbows”:
“Partly just to get it out quickly, so everyone would hear it at the same time, and partly because it was an experiment that felt worth trying, really. It’s fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth, and that’s just an interesting question to ask people.”
Well, there you have it. Radiohead. Changed, but the same. Enjoy and go buy it. Or don’t. They don’t care.