I feel I have to start this album review with a little bit of back-story. Radiohead signed a six album record deal with EMI back in 1991. Fast forward to October 10, 2007, when the alt rock quintet shocked fans and the music industry by releasing their seventh album In Rainbows as a digital download, allowing fans to pay whatever price they desired, including free. Fast-forward again to June 3, 2008 when EMI is releasing Radiohead: The Best Of, a compilation of tracks that were recorded while Radiohead were under contract with them.
EMI’s banking on this “Best of” album with the current hype surrounding the “In Rainbows” tour. What does Thom Yorke think of all this? He told Time Magazine that, “We haven’t really had any hits so what exactly is the purpose? It’s a wasted opportunity. If we’d been behind it, and we wanted to do it, then it might have been good.” My sentiments exactly.
For me, each Radiohead album attains a sort of perfection. They are complete works of art that should be experienced from start to finish. Each album has it’s own tone and theme. There are highlights, but they shine as a complete work. Dissecting OK Computer is like fast forwarding to all the “beat down” scenes in a Martin Scorcese epic. It’s entertaining, but you’re missing all of the heart of the story.
With that being said, there are some nice transition choices on this album. “Fake Plastic Trees”, “Idioteque”, and “2+2=5”, complement each other nicely and “Creep” into “No Surprises” blend fabulously. I forgot how much I like “No Surprises” the lyrics are melancholy while at the same time they cut like a knife, “You look so tired-unhappy, bring down the government, they don’t, they don’t speak for us. I’ll take a quiet life, a handshake of carbon monoxide, with no alarms and no surprises”.
What’s surprising is that The Bends account for six of the sixteen tracks on the album, with “Planet Telex” even making an appearance on the bonus disc. Though something tells me that if Radiohead were behind the song choices, there would have been more of a balance between each of the seven albums. Actually, the track listing would have worked better for me in chronological order. On here, to hear “Karma Police” followed by “Creep” feels like the band is moving backwards.
Since Radiohead isn’t necessarily a band with “hits”, I think that the studio missed some essential tracks. “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is a beautiful and tragic song, and somehow it is forgotten on this compilation. Amnesiac is almost ignored with only “Pyramid Song” appearing on the actual album, and only 2 tracks represented on the Bonus disc.
Overall, Radiohead: The Best Of does what it’s supposed to do and that’s giving new fans a starting point. If anything, it will pave the way for a new generation to discover Radiohead’s entire catalogue rather than being a one-stop shopping point, because it is far from that. That being said, it’s a greatest hits disc… from one of the world’s greatest bands… how can you screw that up?