Radiohead at American Airlines Arena February 24

When Radiohead takes the stage at the American Airlines Arena this Monday, kicking off its first U.S. tour in four years, the British band will do so as contemporary rock 'n' roll elders undertaking yet another victory lap. But unlike so many arena-friendly rock practitioners (R.E.M., U2) or postpunk crossovers (Sonic Youth, the Pixies) that paved the way for Radiohead's weird yet accessible pop-rock blend, this particular trip around the track belongs to a group that's not only rock 'n' roll's latest great rock band. Quite possibly, Radiohead might be its last.

Britpop vs. grunge. When Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood, and Phil Selway — now collectively recognized as Radiohead, one of the biggest bands of the past 20 years — introduced themselves to the world with 1992's "Creep," rock was already old hat. A half-century of guitars, bass, and drums had yielded so many variants, subgenres, and microscenes that it had become difficult to believe they were all the distant reverberations of Chuck Berry's dirty-nasty blues. Plus, rock had seemingly hit its peak in the pop/mod/psychedelic '60s, flaring up near the end of the decade before slowly burning out during the post-Altamont '70s.

From the late '60s onward (and thanks to the likes of Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5, the Velvet Underground, and the burgeoning punk and avant scenes), rock discourse was dominated by rebellion and rage. Punk begat hardcore, which begat emo, which begat indie. And by the late '80s, the dominant paradigm had been tagged grunge.

Could Radiohead really be the last great rock 'n' roll megaband?
Sebastian Edge
Could Radiohead really be the last great rock 'n' roll megaband?

Location Info

Map

American Airlines Arena

601 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132

Category: Music Venues

Region: Central Dade

Details

Radiohead: 7:30 p.m. Monday, February 27, at the American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-960-8500; aaarena.com. Tickets cost $45 to $69 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.

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Epitomized by the slacker aesthetic and punk-metal-pop fusion of bands such as Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and, most notably, Nirvana, grunge supposedly redeemed rock's dalliances with frivolous fads like hair metal and reasserted the genre's prominence on Michael Jackson-dominated airwaves. However, not everyone was appreciative of flannel, dank basements, and long hair.

While Seattle's Sub Pop-centric underground buzzed mightily, redefining rock 'n' roll and giving way to college rock (later dubbed indie), another rock revival was taking place across the pond in direct response to grunge's unkempt caterwaul. Taking their cue from the Kinks, the Beatles, and other British Invasion bands of the '60s, groups such as Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and Supergrass championed a new wave of tidy anti-grunge that would come to be known as Britpop. The genre discarded the raucous distortion of its American peers and instead opted for classic pop composition and a distinctly British approach to lyrical subject matter, presentation, and fashion. While North America had unleashed rock's latest barroom brawl, Great Britain was inviting the genre to take a seat at high tea. "If punk was about getting rid of hippies," Blur frontman Damon Albarn chirped at the time, "then I'm getting rid of grunge."

Nirvana lite. Britpop's dandyisms and sunny, jangling guitars left little room for Radiohead's moody melancholia circa Pablo Honey, the band's debut full-length album released in 1993.

That record reveled in its outright (though watered-down) take on grunge. But Radiohead was not only playing a genre out of vogue in its homeland. The band wasn't even doing it with the same ferociousness as its counterparts in America. Some critics went as far as to call the group "Nirvana lite." Simply put, the British were not impressed.

But grunge was never about the Brits anyway. And back in the States, another single from Pablo, "Creep," had become a bona fide hit, receiving heavy airplay on radio and MTV and eventually leading to Radiohead's earliest North American tours. Yet despite that success, the band was already shifting toward a less abrasive, more accessible sound, which emerged fully formed on its sophomore record, 1995's The Bends.

With its densely layered, shoegazing guitars and consistently sentimental singles such as "Fake Plastic Trees," Radiohead's second album captivated an audience in the band's motherland. However, not until 1997's OK Computer did the group finally graduate from simply trying to hold people's attention to releasing era-defining rock statements.

From neo-grunge to art rock. In 1997, Rolling Stone critic Mark Kemp declared OK Computer "a stunning art rock tour de force," making specific reference to Radiohead's increasingly complex compositional prowess — its winding song structures, atmospheric guitars, and use of synthesizers; and the unapologetically maudlin musings of Yorke, the group's existentially flamboyant frontman.

The album was compared (both favorably and critically) to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, an expansive concept album by a rock band at the height of its ability. "Others may end up selling more," Nick Kent wrote in Mojo after the album's release, "but in 20 years time, I'm betting OK Computer will be seen as the key record of 1997, the one to take rock forward instead of artfully revamping images and song structures from an earlier era."

As it turned out, OK Computer not only was one of the '90s most important rock albums, but also it completely defied the underground-mainstream dichotomy. Yes, Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement had attempted to transcend that divide, and Green Day had succeeded. But only Radiohead released a rock album that honored the natural evolution of its sound while simultaneously challenging and winning the wild acclaim of fans and critics alike.

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5 comments
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Lewson
Lewson

GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT ! I'm sorry but as already said In Rainbows was released in 2007, not 2005, and "Hail to the Thief", "In Rainbows" and mostly "The King of Limbs" are NOT "accessible"... The King Of Limbs is even less accessible than Kid A..

Listen to Radiohead before writing something on them.

Alex Romar
Alex Romar

Get your facts right before you write about anything. In Rainbows was released in 2007 not 2005.

I-Joke
I-Joke

What about Coldplay?

AlexR
AlexR

*MONDAY, FEB 27*

 
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