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Oh Radiohead, what are you thinking?

There is a palpable feeling of ‘event’ each time a new Radiohead album is released. This is because they’re the diametric opposite of a ‘singles band’ – sure, they have some great standout tracks, but they are, arguably, better than any other contemporary artist at crafting an album which is a cohesive listen from start to finish. So it makes for strange and depressing news that they are giving up making albums, instead relying on singles and EPs.

Imagine Andrei Trakovsky, director of epic, metaphysically challenging art films telling us he’d prefer to make 3-minute YouTube clips from now on. Or Douglas Hofstader, that master of enormously lengthy, bewilderingly complex and integrated books, deciding that, effective immediately, he’ll write only page-long essays. This is just what Radiohead are doing. Sure, these more diminutive efforts might still have flashes of inspiration, but we love these artists precisely because they’re able to weave together myriad musical, intellectual, and visual themes and  into an interconnected, beautiful (if sometimes a little arcane) whole.

Ok Computer

Ok Computer

Those visual themes are another point. Radiohead’s artwork, created by Thom Yorke along with longtime contributor Stanley Donwood, has never been less than stellar. It’s hard to think of another band which has a set of artwork which fits the themes of their albums so completely. Look, for instance, at the technology-horror scrawlings of OK Computer, or the nightmare map of innocuous-sounding words on the cover of Hail to the Thief

This is all incidental, though. What about the music? This is where the decision to rely on single tracks forthwith really bites. Witness, for example, the thematic consistency of Kid A. From start to finish, everything is – as the song goes – in its right place. Not a song feels incongruous or unecessary; they all give off an icy, paranoid feel which gives an altogether unsettling feel to the album which is more than the sum of its parts. On the most recent Radiohead outing, In Rainbows, the emphasis on rhythm and texture is omnipresent but never belaboured. Other quirks reveal themselves on repeated listens, such as the jarring sequencing of the sweetly angelic ‘No Surprises’ after atonal screechfest ‘Climbing Up the Walls’ on OK Computer, or the strange fact that Amnesiac‘s track 4, ‘You and Whose Army?’ never quite sounds right unless you listen to the electrowank throwaway track ‘Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors’ which precedes it.

Hail to the Thief

Hail to the Thief

This is the stuff of lesser band’s dreams, and it’s all played out for you on each and every Radiohead album (well, except the crap first one, of course!). Wouldn’t it be a terrible tragedy if we didn’t get any more of these thoughtfully-crafted, unified slabs of musical ambrosia?

Who am I, you might say, to hassle rock gods such as Radiohead about their decision, especially since they say that making another full-length album would ‘kill them’? Of course, I’m nobody. I’m certain they’ll continue to produce magnificent and vital music. But think of it this way: beautiful art is all very well, but it’s even better if it’s all together in a gallery.

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