One of the Warrington tent gigs went out live on Radio 1, and this seemed to seal the band’s improved relationship with the station, the weirder they sounded and the less conventional promotion they did, the closer they got to mainstream success. Kid A came out on the Monday, and was by no means a record that immediately made sense, nor was it as complicated and obscure as some of the reviews claimed. Braced for the electronics and prepared for the distorted vocals, to me it is very much a Radiohead album in structure, doubtless if an unprepared listener came to it cold it would be much more complicated. Compared to most of the other mainstream “indie” music around at that point it was dark, dense and layered. But if the band had ever had a manifesto, this was a fulfilment of it.
Radiohead demonstrated some of their diverse influences with a DJ set on the late night Breezeblock show on Radio 1 and made a return visit to Steve Lamacq’s programme before Christmas.
In February the news comes through that Thom and partner have had a child, a boy called Noah. I realised who the pregnant lady at the Glasgow gig was. The penny drops about the picture labelled “mini me” that adorned Thom’s page on the Radiohead.com site about 6 months ago. It all falls into place, but I’m still a little shocked. I worry about what it means. So many songwriters fall into a trap of writing mawkish tributes to their offspring. As someone who is completely child-averse, I immediately think of the novelist’s adage about “the pram in the hall way.” The thought that lodges in my brain is “I hope he still cares about his other children.” I think I mean me and the rest of the freaks.
By the time the TV job ends, I have saved up quite a bit of money and I decide that I don’t want the life that I’d have to live if I struggled to stay working in production. An irreverent show about films was all well and good, but the company also made property shows and pun-inspired shows for Channel 4. “Reality” programmes and celeb-fronted pseudo documentaries are all the rage. I am welcome to submit ideas, but the culture of staying in the office until 11pm every night doesn’t appeal to me. I just don’t have that sort of ambition.
I do a bit of office temping and work on a couple of short film productions, but I don’t have an idea of my own to film. I realise that I don’t enjoy the concept of day to day work. I’m not ready to submit to the monotony of it yet. I pool all my savings and calculate that I can afford to go to travelling.
Sometime in the summer, Radiohead announce more tour dates. They’re going to be playing in Japan in September and October. My various Japanese friends have been asking me when I’m going to visit them. It seems obvious that it should be for this tour. They offer to show me around, help with hotel bookings and even put me up. I start to plan a big trip, even if deep down I know it won’t end up being a gap year or even a round the world jaunt…
Amnesiac is released on June 4. In the weeks prior to it coming out, some of the tracks leaked on to Napster, the new internet music phenomenon. I haven’t been using it, due to slow dial up internet connections. Desperate for a review to meet her magazine’s deadline, Atsuko emails me, I happen to be at my parents’ place at the time and have to deal with an even slower than usual connection. She wants me to try to write a pre-release review of the record and directs me to Napster. I’m not keen, it is clunky and slow. It involves me tying up my parents’ phone line for several hours late into the night. I manage to hear snatches of about three songs; there are more but it’s difficult to tell if they are genuinely from the album. One (Pull/Pulk) sounds so unlikely that I dismiss it as a hoax. Authenticity is not something easy to verify on this internet. Still, I have the live performances to go on and with a bit of imagination and some quotes from the band’s self-service Q&A webpage Spin With A Grin ( Thom: “I think the artwork is the best way of explaining it. The artwork to Kid A was all in the distance. The fires were all going on the other side of the hill. With Amnesiac, you’re actually in the forest while the fire’s happening.”) I blag it, use my muso-skills and piece together something vaguely coherent for her to translate:
If Kid A was staring at the fire from afar then Amnesiac is apparently standing in the middle of the blaze. On opening track Packt Like Sardines you can hear the flames crackling. Like Kid A, this fifth Radiohead LP will need to be listened to more than once to make coherent sense but unlike Kid A, some of the individual tracks have an immediate impact that tells you this is where Radiohead are at.
Pyramid Song – a single! – is possibly one of the most funereally beautiful tracks ever – all layers and floating sounds, reuniting Thom with cars, astral objects and angels (all the things he used to see). It connects the past and the future. Where Kid A seemed difficult to some, Amnesiac has more continuity – but only if you’re aware that the band have been immersed in influences as diverse as Alice Coltrane, Boards Of Canada and Big Band Jazz.
But as ever such theories are shattered by the danceable I Might Be Wrong and the distorted electronic soundscape of Pull/ Pulk, which sees a scared child-Thom trapped and falling through revolving doors. Amnesiac promises lots and delivers more than such a short review can possibly some up. Roll on the live dates.
Increasingly, the internet is the source of my Radiohead news. I’d stopped buying the NME regularly in favour of its free website. Less and less paper amass in the archive.
Follow Me Around, a web site maintained by a Canadian called Beryl and Max K’s Radiohead-Announce mailing list keep me up to date with news, with an email from one or other of them every few days.
The band’s official site remains notoriously oblique. I call in at the fast moving Message Board from time to time, but with dial up it’s tricky to stay long. I’m only interested when the band (who post in blue) pay a visit. I read the archives of their replies to posts.
In March, this news drops:
Radiohead will headline a live event on July 7 in South Park, Headington,
Oxford featuring special guests (to be announced) and Oxford bands.
Tickets are £27.50 and will go on sale at 9 am on Friday March 16 through
the following outlets:
Ticket Line: Radiohead ticket line 0870 730 7305
Box Office: The Zodiac, 190 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1UE
(There is a booking fee of £2.25 except for cash purchases at the Zodiac
where there will be no surcharge).
The first single from Amnesiac (released on June 4) will be Pyramid Song,
out on May 21st.
Some comments by Jonny from the NME: “Sorry to get all Smashie and Nicey, but we’re doing this concert for local charities, which is kind of why the council are up for it. We asked Beck and he’s agreed to do it. I think he’s going to do a solo acoustic set, which will be great, very exciting. I think Supergrass as well, because they’re fantastic and local. We’re going to try and get Lard [from Radio 1] to open the show.”
He also confirmed that Radiohead have no other UK dates planned this year…
Yasuko (another Japanese friend) is thinking ahead and buys me a ticket.
The rest of the year passes…