Starting out as a fairly standard indie by numbers group with their debut album Pablo Honey in 1993, Radiohead then surprisingly went on to become one of the most lauded and revered British groups on the planet with 1995’s The Bends and 1997’s OK Computer. Then surprisingly – shockingly for many, even – they decided to largely abandoned their guitars for 2000’s Kid A. Nowadays, free of a record label contract, Radiohead’s album releases are a lot more sporadic, and tend to be put out as and when they feel like it. So other than the knowledge that the band are currently working on a new record, there’s no way of knowing when it will be released. While we wait though, here’s a look at Radioheads current album output, with all 8 albums ranked in order of greatness.
8. Pablo Honey
An obvious album to compare Pablo Honey to would be Blur’s LP Leisure. Both are debut albums, both show early signs of promise, and both have a pretty great first half (including Radiohead’s first major hit, Creep) followed by an extraordinarily ropey second half. After Ripchord, the record falls far short of the opening half of the album, with the exception of closing track Blow Out. Overall, it’s still a pretty decent record, but didn’t come even close to the plateau of brilliance that the band would reach on subsequent albums.
7. Hail to the Thief
At the time of release, Hail to the Thief was most likely an important album for many Radiohead fans. After the the largely electronic and often outlandish experimental music on Kid A and Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief saw Radiohead once again embracing guitars. Only this time there was a mixture of electronic instruments as well as guitars on the album. Suddenly, after being reminded of what made everyone love them in the first place, whilst easing people into the notion of their electronic notions at the same time, Kid A and Amnesiac finally made a lot more sense. For ‘Thief though, sadly the album doesn’t hold up all that well. Somehow it doesn’t flow, or feels lacking in some way. Even the band themselves felt it was in need of “pruning” with 14 tracks being too many. Still, it does feature some of their finest songs, particularly There There and 2+2=5.
Released a mere 8 months after Kid A, Amnesiac (or Kid B, if you will) followed a similar trajectory as its counterpart, being recorded largely during the same sessions as it. It doesn’t quite achieve the heights of Kid A, but it is a fine album nonetheless. Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors, I Might Be Wrong et al all shine as highlights, with final track Life In a Glasshouse being arguably the most haunting and certainly the strangest Radiohead album closer. It’s also possibly their best of their concluding album tracks. Then there’s the albums finest work, the justifiably adored lead single from the record which prompts the everlasting question to this day: What the fuck is the time signature of Pyramid Song.
5. In Rainbows
The release of Hail to the Thief brought Radiohead to the end of their recording contract with EMI, prompting them to take a break from recording. A tour in 2006 saw the band debuting some new material around Europe and the USA. It wasn’t until over a year later though, that the material saw a self-release in the form of In Rainbows. Oddly, the “Pay what you want ” release policy seemed to garner more attention or even overshadow the actual album itself. Still, In Rainbows saw Radiohead’s 2 years of recording producing an album far more focused than its predecessor. It also managed to be the bands most accessible album since The Bends.
4. The King of Limbs
For the follow up to In Rainbows, Radiohead decided to get weird again. And I mean really weird. In a way, the electronic experimentation on the album succeeds in ways where Hail to the Thief didn’t. At a brief 8 songs and running time of under 40 minutes, the album still remained even more satisfying than In Rainbows.
3. The Bends
After Pablo Honey, Radiohead took the surprising step of making a quantum leap forward in terms of artistic merit with The Bends. Feeling pressure to match up to the success of Pablo Honey, Radiohead ended up turning out one of the quintessential guitar albums of the 90’s. From the acoustic melancholy of Fake Plastic Trees, to the abrasive guitar noise of My Iron Lung, the band put out an LP that seemed impossible to better. Yet they still managed to do just that, two years later
2. OK Computer
There isn’t a lot to be said about OK Computer that hasn’t been said already, suffice to say though, things got even eerier and darker than they had already been on The Bends. The album became all the better for it though. Taking influences from Can, Miles Davis, DJ Shadow as well as Queen and The Beatles for the Paranoid Android (which is still one of the most immensely fucked up singles to ever get aired on BBC Radio 1,) Radiohead remained ever skyward on their musical journey, which paid off on OK Computer in spades. They got their highest charting single from Paranoid Android, had a record that was their most adored album so far by critics and fans alike, broadening their fanbase to such an extent that they wound up giving one of the most defining sets of all time at 1997’s Glastonbury festival.
1. Kid A
How do you follow one of the most critically and commercially successful guitar albums of the 1990’s? Well, if you’re Radiohead, you do it by turning around 3 years later and all but throwing those guitars out the window. Kid A came as a huge shock to their fans when it was unleashed upon the world in October of 2000. At aged 13, I remember thinking, “I know this is good, but…I’m just not into it. Hopefully one day I’ll understand, since it is Radiohead, but I’ll have to pop it on my shelf, for now.” Little did I know, that’s what many people were thinking at the time. The aforementioned Hail to the Thief mercifully brought Kid A into a new light though, and miraculously, it now shines even brighter than the magnificent one-two punch of The Bends and OK Computer. Time magazine justifiably called it “The weirdest album ever to sell a million copies,” but given some time to settle, ferment and gestate in peoples minds, it now stands as one of the most beloved albums of the century thus far. Thank God Kid A exists. And thank God for Radiohead still being one of the most daring bands in the world.
EMI’s The Best of Radiohead Compilation: