Radiohead tune out the buzz
Praise and famous fans fail
to affect the band's
own standards of excellence
By JANE STEVENSON -- Toronto Sun Wednesday, April 8, 1998
You'd be hard pressed to find a more critically lauded music
group right now than British pop rockers Radiohead.
The quintet, who play Maple Leaf Gardens on Sunday night for a
show that sold out in an hour and a half, were recently named
band of the year by both SPIN and Rolling Stone. They can
include Madonna, Marilyn Manson, Courtney Love and Michael
Stipe among their famous fans.
Most of the heat surrounding Radiohead stems from their most
recent album, OK Computer, a sprawling, melancholy collection
that has spawned four singles. It crossed over into the
mainstream in a big way when it was nominated for album of the
year at the Grammys.
"I think people got very excited about (Radiohead's 1995 album)
The Bends and were anticipating this one," lead
guitarist-keyboardist Jonny Greenwood is saying down the line
from L.A. recently.
"And because this one isn't worse than The Bends and they kind
of thought they were as good as each other, that explains the
excitement. It had raised hopes and it's not been a disaster."
Despite losing out to Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind in the best
album category, OK Computer still managed to pick up a
Grammy for best alternative performance. Radiohead's third
album has also sold four million copies worldwide (including
200,000 in Canada) and made every top 10 list of 1997 (mine
included). British music magazine Q went so far as to name it
"the best album ever recorded."
"They had the same poll a year earlier and Pet Sounds won. It
was No. 5 this year, so I mean it's all a bit irrelevant really," says
Greenwood about the Q poll. "For instance, Revolver, which
amazingly came in at No. 2, is -- in all sorts of ways -- far more
the better album. It's like it doesn't really mean as much to me as
some Pixies records I got when I was at college. People have just
gone berserk, haven't they?"
In fact, Greenwood sounds so tentative about Radiohead's
overwhelmingly great press over the past year that you start to
wonder if the accolades have made any impact at all.
"I don't think it's that good an album, really," he continues. "There
are good songs on it but there are songs that just sound like dead
ends, that sound like it's the last time we can do like that. I don't
think we've finished yet."
Greenwood is also unimpressed by the number of stars trying to
get into Radiohead's live shows.
"We're in Hollywood and we've just had the phone call -- 'Can
these people come to the show tonight?' A list of actors, basically.
It's a bit odd, and I don't think actors know anything more about
music that anyone else. It only happens here. Everything is so
unreal in this city anyway. It will be good to get north of the
As for the followup to OK Computer, Greenwood says the band
keeps changing their mind about the sound.
In the meantime, Radiohead, who are scheduled to play the
Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C., June 13-14, have
two projects coming up. First, there's the seven-song EP
Airbag-How Am I Driving?, which is due in stores Tuesday,
followed this summer by a documentary (working title: Meeting
People Is Easy) by British filmmaker Grant Gee. The band's initial
plan to make videos for each song on OK Computer "ran out of
time and money."
"He's filmed hundreds and hundreds of hours of stuff," says
Greenwood of Gee. "But it's good because, so far, there's no
commentary on it. There's no speaking really. There's not much
story behind it. You know the film 32 Short Films About Glenn
Gould? That was kind of a reference point."