Radiohead

Airbag

If you caught my “Call Me Maybe” post, you already know that this is a shame-free music blog. Think of it as a safe place, like those signs they put on libraries and schools that are somehow comforting and unsettling at the same time.

Today’s embarrassing honest admission comes in two parts, the first of which came about when I was listening to the wedding band from last weekend prep for the reception. As the keyboard player was going over the set list and the requisite synth settings, the unmistakable sounds of “Dirty Work” floated through the room, prompting one of the other groomsmen to say, “This is my favorite Steely Dan song.” I quickly shot him what I assume was the same look that Copernicus got when he went around telling people that the Earth wasn’t actually the center of the universe, because I had NO IDEA “Dirty Work” was a Steely Dan song. My stink-eye quickly gave way to a facepalm-worthy moment of clarity — OF COURSE it’s a Steely Dan song. It has the Dan written all over it. Those harmonies. That crisp, clean production. Those jazzy changes. I don’t claim to be a Steely Dan aficionado or anything (Aja is pretty much as far as I’ve gotten), but this still felt like a piece of information I should have obtained at some point. A hole. An absence. A nothing where something should have been.

I got the same feeling the other day, when I came across Radiohead’s “Pearly” on Tumblr.

For as much as I love OK Computer (a considerable amount — it recently made its way onto a 3-album desert island list I had to make), I feel like I should have known about this song and the Airbag/How Am I Driving EP it calls home. Unlike the Dan, I count Radiohead among my absolute favorite bands, and seeing them earlier this year was such an incredible experience I didn’t even feel up to analyzing it on these here pages. Nevertheless, listening to “Pearly” has forced me to acknowledge that there are major gaps in my familiarity with their catalog, which in turn says a great deal about how I appreciate music.

I’m a grazer. I tend to skim the surface of lots of different bands, and there are few situations in which I can claim to know every single song a group has recorded. There are benefits and detriments to this approach, but I can’t help it. It’s how I’m wired. Besides, these “I should have known that” moments might be my favorite side-effect of grazing. Being surprised and finding unexpected connections is fun and invigorating and maybe even a little magical. There’s way too much cool stuff out there to know all of it, and for me, finding out offers just as much pleasure as knowing, if not more.

In a funny coincidence, I had a second occasion to think about “Pearly” this weekend, while a few of us were walking back to the Marriott Waterfront after our visit to Baltimore’s National Aquarium. (Where I [ahem] may have bought this shirt. Don’t judge me. This is a safe place, remember?) Just across an inlet from the aquarium stands a big-ass Hard Rock Cafe, and I was tempted to go in and order a vanilla milkshake, just so I could experience firsthand the cutting disdain with which Thom Yorke sings about them in the song. As soon as the waiter placed it on my table, I could have scowled disapprovingly at its lack of color and its blandness and at everything it represents about our homogenized, first-world culture. Getting to drink the milkshake would have been nice too. Next time.

Listen below to hear Yorke’s disdain for all things pearly white, and click here to grab the Airbag/How Am I Driving EP if you share the same hole in your Radiohead fandom.

Radiohead — “Pearly” [Spotify/iTunes]

8 Comments

Filed under #nowplaying

8 responses to “Radiohead

  1. This is one of your best-written posts. You are in no way an airbag! BTW, get The Royal Scam – now. And keep working your way backwards… Also check this out (if you haven’t already): http://www.thedarcys.ca. Cheers.

    • Haha thank you so much!

      Oh my gosh this version of “Aja” is fantastic. Gained almost instantaneous admission to my “That’s my jam!” playlist on Spotify. I’m fairly certain this is going to monopolize my afternoon.

      I’m excited to dive into The Royal Scam — thanks for the bread crumb!

      • My pleasure. Hoping to see The Darcys next month – they’re promising a multi-media experience! P.S. My Pearly story is I got the deluxe edition of OK Computer but never bothered to load the second disc onto my iPod. Then, months later, I did and I was like “Holy crap! Some really great stuff here!”

      • That sounds a bit like my experience with the supplementary material that came out in the wake of In Rainbows. I couldn’t believe (and still can’t) that some of those had been cut from the album. Really good stuff. Really makes me wonder how they decide on what to include and what to release as a b-side.

  2. Doug

    Pearly came up on my computer a couple weeks ago and I kept thinking that the melody and harmonies sounded like they were HTTT-era or later, but that the rest of the music was written for Pablo Honey/The Bends and then shelved. For that reason it really felt like the only Radiohead track that spans their entire career (in a really strange way–I’ve always felt like this song felt a little disjointed but it wasn’t until now that I could articulate why).

    • “…the melody and harmonies sounded like they were HTTT-era or later…”

      That’s funny you say that — I had a similar reaction to the vocal melody (it somehow felt newer than when it was recorded).

      “…it really felt like the only Radiohead track that spans their entire career…”

      This feels like heresy as I type it, but couldn’t this be a great song to send someone who has never heard Radiohead before? There are a few dozen songs I probably pick first, but this one typifies them in a really interesting way.

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