Review: Radiohead’s “Best Of”

Jun 5, 2008 4:32pm

This week EMI released a “best of” collection, compiling key tracks from Radiohead’s career.  But wait!  What’s happening here?  Repeatedly the band has taken a stand against such collections.  In an interview with “The Word,” cited on the British Music Magazine NME’s website, the band denounces the collection. Last year when Radiohead parted with their longtime label and didn’t renew their contract, it seemed to ruffle some feathers.  Frankly, artists complaining about “Greatest Hits” collections usually need to relax.  Yes, they are usually contract-completers, but they also serve as good starter kits for casual fans.  This collection, however, does give the band a right to throw a stink.  It is the stereotypical worst-case scenario.  It repackages Radiohead’s classics in an unflattering way with a track-list that looks like it was thrown together by someone pointing blindly at a list.  The way I’ve always seen it, there should be an unwritten rule with such collections that the track list should be in chronological order.  Over the years, the band’s sound has changed drastically.  There’s a massive difference between the soft, stirring Brit-rock ballad “Fake Plastic Trees” and the skittering techno of “Idioteque,” yet here they are side by side.  Same thing goes with the band’s breakthrough single “Creep” and the stark and unsettling “No Surprises.”  It would be nice to hear these songs in a more natural order.  As an album, “Pablo Honey” was a guitar-shredding masterpiece. Its follow-up, “The Bends” expanded the same formula into something deeper and slightly more alien. On “OK Computer,” the band’s masterpiece, they gave us a flawless look at an anti-utopia, filled with the woes of a paranoid, consumption-happy, alienated society.  As far as innovation goes, “OK Computer” is definitely this generation’s equivalent to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”  Then Radiohead got even stranger, bringing in electronic elements and murkier guitar-chords with the striking duo of “Kid A” and “Amnesiac,” only to bring the best elements of their early and later sounds together on the more rocking “Hail To The Thief.”  It makes the most sense to put these vastly different tracks in some sort of correct order, but EMI obviously didn’t care about that.  For people really looking for something special, the record company has also decided to issue a two disc edition of the album.  What’s on the bonus disc?  You’d expect maybe B-sides, rarities or remixes to entice longtime fans to pick up the collection.  No such luck.  The bonus disc merely has 13 more tracks which fans know.  “Talk Show Host” is the only real rare find here, but it was on the “Romeo and Juliet” soundtrack which perhaps a lot of fans of a certain age already have. We also are given the live version of “True Love Waits” from their “I Might Be Wrong” live album. Why not put “Gagging Order” on instead or Four Tet’s inspired remix of “Scatterbrain?” This compilation was really put together weakly,seemingly as an angry act of defiance.  The DVD companion compilation does better by giving a chronological list of music videos, but some are missing.  The collection completely ignores “Kid A!”  To top things off, the video quality is remarkably poor. It seems like no one put any money into restoring anything.  Radiohead’s legacy should get the treatment it deserves.  This is an absolute shame!  Fans and perspective fans would be better suited starting with “OK Computer” and working their way around.  If you have all the albums and you are hell-bent on having a best-of, you could easily burn yourself a better collection than this.  I know EMI is bitter about being left.  I know they didn’t like it when Radiohead went that free-agent route with “In Rainbows” and had success, but this is no way to act.  Radiohead have easily given us some of the finest, most groundbreaking rock records of the last 15 years.  They don’t deserve this level of disrespect.  In this compilation, EMI has shown no real respect for the music. This is nothing more than a shameful cash-in.  The songs are classics.  They are better served in their original context.  It’s a shame this had to happen to such an astounding band.

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