4. Hail to the Thief
The best way that I can describe this album: An album where the political undertones choke out the overtones to a considerably interesting effect.
My God, how underrated this album is!
Hail is an album that has the political chaos of the turn of the millennium coursing through its veins and making its blood boil. 9/11, the Iraq War, right-wing politics, the election of George W. Bush (which led anti-Bush protesters to coin the phrase that this album culls its name from)–Radiohead saw all of this and knew full well what type of Orwellian society the world was about to step into. Hell, they even named the first song off Hail “2 + 2 = 5” just to get it out of the way. No names are dropped and nothing that specific is discussed in the lyrics, but you know what they’re getting at.
Guitars and computer-controlled instruments seem to achieve some form of harmony on Hail, and it has a great influence on the variety of sounds and styles that the album experiments with. It’s also incredible how these different sounds all feed back into the same general feel of paranoia, anxiety, and tension that runs through the album. At its climax, “2 + 2 = 5” is one of the hardest rock songs the band has ever written, but it coalesces alongside beautiful tearjerkers such as “Scatterbrain” and “I Will”. The album’s legacy has been undermined by its hasty recording process, but I find it impressive that they managed to make an album this good in only five months.
3. The King of Limbs
The best way that I can describe this album: What happens when you take a whole bag of unlabeled drugs before going on a hike and all of the fear washes away in the end.
Easily the most underrated Radiohead album, if not one of the most underrated albums of the past few decades. Some people saw the album’s remarkably short runtime and the fact that it only had eight songs and immediately swept it under the rug, but I’m glad I stuck around and unearthed the gold mine that this album has.
Radiohead has shown that they’re not a band bound by genres, and TKOL was a huge middle finger to the people who still thought so. The sound on this album is so unclassifiable and takes traces from so many vastly different genres that it’s worthy of respect how hastily people cram this album into the “experimental” genre on their iTunes. God forbid they classify it as “electronic”; that might be an even broader field.
Some of the most gorgeous songs Radiohead has ever made coexist on TKOL, such as the funeralesque ballad “Codex” and the intimately stripped-down “Give Up the Ghost”, and the album’s more jittery moments like “Bloom” and “Feral” work well into the mix. Uneasy at some points and depressed in others, the album ultimately gives the listener a pathway to happiness with “Separator”, one of the most arresting and stunning songs in the band’s whole discography, and easily their best album closer.
2. OK Computer
The best way that I can describe this album: An album for weirdos lost in the world…and Y2K fanatics.
Even though it’s not my favorite Radiohead album, I can’t deny the impact that OK Computer had on me. This was the album for me. The album that changed everything for me. If this album had never been put out or had been trashed by some record execs, I don’t think I’d be here writing this right now. Matter of fact, the effect that this album has had on music as a whole is its own marvel. Its prophetic, panic-stricken view of a consumerist yet isolated 21st century world from the eve of the 1990s not only holds up today but was complemented by some of the finest rock songs I’ve ever heard that perfectly manage to pack that essence into a spacey sonic form that broke new ground for both the band and the genre it was working with. “Exit Music” and “Climbing Up the Walls” are some of the greatest songs ever made. “Paranoid Android” blew my mind the first, fifth, and fiftieth time I listened to it, and it still blows my mind some three years later.