Radiohead’s The King of Limbs: What Happens When ‘Serious Listening’ Is Your Brand

22 Feb

Something about me: I’m a Radiohead fan. I owned The Bends in 1995 when it was first released. I bought OK Computer on it’s first day of release in 1997. Yeah, I’m that guy douchebag. And, the thing is, I’m not alone. So, as the hype machine ramps up for the newly released The King of Limbs, Nitsuh Abebe has a great article on the band in New York Magazine:

They’re the one band who can self-release music like this and have people lined up to put down money for it, and that gives them a whole lot of freedom. So can we just take a moment to marvel at how totally unlikely this is? Radiohead have a large, broad, devoted fan base, on a scale most proper pop stars struggle to muster. They have this while making a kind of music that, when it’s coming from anyone else, tends to get dismissed as marginal, obscure, and pretentious, or even a pointless, hookless, self-important snooze. They’re the one act normal rock fans trust to introduce them to sounds and ideas from further afield — from electronic music, experimental music, contemporary classical, wherever. No other band makes so many fans turn quite so studiously patient and open-minded. It’s as if the world has agreed that this is the one flagship group everyone will turn to for that experience — the band people will enjoy taking seriously, approaching slowly, and pondering as art rather than entertainment. The whole concept of “serious listening” has somehow become this one act’s brand. How improbable is that?

The funny part is that they basically trained the world into this, by spending their career moving in the opposite direction from most of their peers. Most bands like this start off as something marginal, then grow into popularity. Radiohead kicked off by proving they were a good big rock band — then started pulling their many fans, some of them kicking and screaming, off into new places. They taught people how to enjoy that. They made music good enough to satisfy their left-field music-geek peers and their everyday fans at the same time. Their main emotional register — which sits somewhere between abject world-weariness and a kind of itching, wriggling-in-your-skin discomfort — has turned out to be more relatable, to more people, than anyone would have guessed. And their election as the arty rock group of consensus means we get to watch something really rare and amazing: A band that can do whatever it wants, and do it really well, and have it matter on a big scale. Maybe it’s a little arbitrary that this band is Radiohead, who are far from the only musicians doing things that are high-minded or sonically inventive — but it’s a very cool thing to have one act like this be “big.”

Read the full article here.

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