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All These Things Into Position
on a band that changed music, before they changed music
Title: Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Album: The Bends
Read enough rankings of Radiohead albums1 and you’ll learn two things:
None of that is particularly surprising, I suppose. Kid A and OK Computer charted a new path for rock music while Pablo Honey is very much a first album, made famous by a single that Radiohead hates. (Still a great song, though.) And The King of Limbs just flat sucks.4
1995’s The Bends usually falls somewhere between those extremes, which is probably fair, even though I’d have it locked solidly into the #2 spot behind the unimpeachable OK Computer. (I’m not a Kid A person. Don’t get me started.) From the crunchiness of “Bones,” “Just,” and “My Iron Lung,” to iconic slow-burns “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” The Bends is great rock song after great rock song and I am very much here for it.
And even if the band’s rock-band-but-from-the-future incarnation on OK Computer was the best iteration of Radiohead, I think the “simply a really good rock band” version that we saw on The Bends actually wrote the band’s best song. Here’s my argument:
“Street Spirt (Fade Out)” starts off with an eerie riff that has become instantly recognizable to multiple generations of music snobs, and the sound of Thom Yorke singing “and fade out again,” dragging that last syllable out to within an inch of its life, is burned into my brain, just like the horrifying opening to the third verse: “cracked eggs, dead birds / scream as they fight for life / I can feel death / can see its beady eyes.” But there’s more. More fading out, more wordless vocalization that hits with greater emotive power than 90% of scripted rock lyrics. Then, in a masterful outro, the strings swell up and, after all that horror about dead birds and the beady eyes of death, Yorke’s distinctive warble pleads with you, begs you to “immerse your soul in love.” There’s one last iteration of that opening riff and it’s done. You wait as long as it takes for the goosebumps to fade.
I mean, goddamn, right?
The way Radiohead paved the way into the future of music is why so many people worship them and celebrate what they’ve done. But this, this dark and twisted song that weaves in a shimmering sliver of hope, is every bit as impressive to me. Someone was going to find the future of music and Radiohead, who got there right on time, played that part well. But, before all that, there were a lot of really good rock bands and only one of them managed to write “Street Spirit.” That’s worth something to me.
I give “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” five out of five stars.
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Well, they hate these records compared to other Radiohead records. Everything is relative.
The biggest surprise? In Rainbows gets way more top-of-list love than I’d expect.
Are there King of Limbs truthers out there who are going to get mad about that statement? If you’re out there, please message me, I have so many questions.