On Radiohead, lyrics & meaning

I read this article today: Radiohead: ‘We didn’t want to explain ‘The King Of Limbs”. In essence the band said they didn’t want to explain or talk about their new album because they didn’t feel like it. I’m not sure why this artistic elitism (or perhaps laziness?) annoyed me as much as it did, but it put me in the mood to make a Disappeared policy statement…. (Warning: soap-box moment ahead) ….

If you’re an artist, musician or creative person of some sort, you don’t have an obligation to explain or justify your work, although you may find yourself called upon to do so. If you’re Phillip Glass or Stockhausen or Jackson Pollock, creating abstract art or soundscapes, you’re going to be coming at this differently from say Radiohead or Robert Capa. You do, however, have a common sense duty to your audience/fans/viewers/listeners. After all, they’re paying your wages.

Can I stand by this myself? Yes, I can. When we recorded three songs recently, I uploaded them to our website with a set of notes and explanations, explaining how the songs came about and what they mean. You can read them right here: http://www.thedisappeared.info/?page_id=16.

I’m always slightly suspicious of bands who say “we leave it to our listeners to put their own interpretations on our lyrics”. It usually means the lyrics don’t have any meaning and they’re just in the song to fill that space in the middle-to-upper register. Maybe that’s a bit harsh – there’s a place for nonsense lyrics like Procul Harem’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” or The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” as much as there is for Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” or Tricky’s “Council Estate”.

To be frank, it’s often the songs in the middle that I have a problem with. It’s Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”, Pendulum’s “Propane Nightmares” or New Order’s “Blue Monday” Sometimes I think, “great tune; if only they’d made a bit more effort with the words.”

Then I thought, “Ah fuck it, it’s Radiohead. They’re so big they can do what they please nowadays.” Hey, they could even release an album for free if they wanted to, but who’d believe that?

PS Please don’t think I’m criticising any of these people personally. I’m not. I’m sure they’re all lovely to their mothers and help old ladies across the road. We’re talking about their music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *