Thursday, August 13, 2009

Radiohead's latest 'Twist'

Radiohead knows a thing or two about ditching accepted formulas. After all, this is a band that once wrote a song called "2+2=5." Today, the British band released a new song, believed to be titled "These Are My Twisted Words" (above) onto a P2P site. It may herald a bold move to eschew the album format altogether in favor of periodic single releases.

While there's been no official confirmation that the track is, indeed, Radiohead, the song bears the group's counterfeit-proof hallmarks: Phil Selway's precision jitters on the drum kit, Ed O'Brien's downspiraling guitar figures, alternate-dimension guitar by Jonny Greenwood, low-rumble basslines by Colin Greenwood, and Thom Yorke's furrow-browed falsetto.

I assume that the band leaked the track intentionally -- much as Marillion released their last album to piracy sites first -- in a canny bid to create a flurry of publicity. The release date tag on the MP3 seems to indicate that the song was due for an official release date of Aug. 17 and the metadata includes a cryptic ersatz poem:

"i just wanted to reassure readers
that following representations
seeking confirmation
that before your very eyes
behind the wall of ice
that the box is not under threat
however they are set to remove other boxes
in fact i have the list in front of me
i went to a briefing on their plans
and challenged them
to tell me exactly what the cost would be
they spoke in broad terms"

(Some have interpreted this as an anti-music label message.)

Just last week, Thom Yorke told The Believer, “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can't possibly dive into that again. It'll kill us.”

But at Neil Finn's concert in London on Monday, featuring an all-star band that included Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway, Finn told the audience that Radiohead had been rehearsing songs from its new album just days before his gig. (I'm interviewing Neil here in LA on Monday for FILTER magazine, so I'll see if I can find out any more details.)

Bottom line: It's likely that Radiohead will release the "Wall of Ice" EP on Monday and will showcase the new material at its UK festival appearances this month.

Does this mean that Radiohead will only release one-off singles and EPs -- possibly just as downloads -- rather than full-length albums? It would be a bold step, indeed, if they eschew the album format, something Thom has talked about for quite a few years.

I commend the idea of abandoning the tyranny of the album format in favor of just releasing singles. Unfortunately, few artists nowadays are able to create entire filler-free albums that work as a cohesive listening experience. Ironically, though, Radiohead are one band boasts an instinctive grasp of how to create great LPs.

If Radiohead only releases individual songs from here on -- to wit, last week's release of "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" -- it will be a return to the music model of the '40s, '50s, and early '60s when singles were the primary format. Only later, when record companies released hit singles onto 78 inch vinyl, did bands start to think about creating albums as entities in their own right.

I could envision a scenario in which Radiohead releases new songs/EPs online in a FLAC format and, later, compiles them onto a physical CD/vinyl for a traditional retail release. Again, a return to that early record-business model. I'll miss Radiohead's albums. But if this means more regular Radiohead releases each year, I'll be quite happy.

UPDATE: So, all that fuss for nothing. Well, not quite nothing. The band's Monday release of "These Twisted Words" as a free download (ta, lads!) is the second Radiohead song to be released in two weeks, so I can't complain.

Questions remain: Who leaked the track in the first place? Was it York? The Guardian did some good shoe-leather work to try crack the case.

In the meantime, Neil Finn tells me that they're in the "early stages" of making a new album.

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