Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on her Magical Ukulele, among other reasons, because it transported me back to a time when Radiohead was what I wanted them to be.
I had a pretty intense relationship with The Bends and OK Computer, which came out the summer after my freshman year of college. What always drew me to Radiohead was the fragile, human voice struggling to be heard under this electro-symphonic crush.
Is there any vocal and lyric more naked than Creep? When I was 16, that rawness punched me in the gut. There are no barriers, no twee, no irony. You're so fucking special. I wish I was special.
But it's a little obvious. The Bends made me work harder to find that emotion. There would be the dense cacauphony of My Iron Lung before the plaintive yearning of a song like Black Star. And even then, Thom seemed quick to shrug the questions off to some cosmic forces conspiring against him. Blame it on the Black Star. Blame it on the Satellite that brings me home.
I should have seen what was coming, but it didn't really hit me until about the 500th time I listened to OK Computer. I think every song on that album has been my favorite at one time or another. On that afternoon, I was deeply into Let Down, and listening closely. The album was all about humanity lost in a digital age - that was obvious - so I knew I had to listen harder than ever before.
And there in the middle of the song was a line that told me something important: Don't get sentimental; it always ends up drivel.
How could I hear a line like that and not think back to Creep? To that moment Thom stood in the slow of that grunge, slow-fast-slow and told us he wanted a perfect body. He wanted a perfect soul. Now I could hear the struggle against that sentiment, right there in the song. He goes on to say that one day he is going to grow wings, but then dismisses it as just a chemical reaction, hysterical and useless.
It's a beautiful, complex song. It was also a real turning point away from something about Radiohead I'd always loved, from Creep and Fake Plastic Trees and High & Dry and Subterranean Homesick Alien. I kept waiting for Radiohead to turn back, just a bit, but the chaos and noise kept growing louder, the human voice growing fainter. It was still there, and that umpteenth listen when I found it could still be transcendent. But there was something self-conscious about burying it so far. I missed The Bends.
I no longer sit with the cool kids. The band went down a rabbit hole I was reluctant to follow, so I'm the old guy at the concert waiting for them to break out some of the old tunes. Oh well, it happens.
But it's nice to think someone as hip and interesting as Amanda Palmer might share my feelings. All but one of the tunes on her record are from OK Computer or before. And she plays Creep twice.
Or maybe the older tunes were just easier to arrange for ukulele.