CD Review of The Best Of by Radiohead
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Radiohead: The Best Of

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


he long-standing tradition, following typical business sense for the music industry, is to anthologize a band’s successful output upon said band’s break-up or departure for a new label. After all, just because a band isn’t producing new music for a particular label doesn’t mean the catalog can’t be re-purposed for new product (unless, of course, this action is prohibited by the terms of the band’s contract).

In the case of Radiohead, they left their long-time home at EMI to take the independent route after 2003’s underrated Hail to the Thief finished off their contract. With the buzz created by the band’s unorthodox marketing and delivery scheme for their first post-EMI album, last year’s In Rainbows, EMI had their expected plan of action ready to go – anthologize, anthologize, anthologize.

In many ways, The Best Of is proof positive that Radiohead did right by going their own way and leaving the slow-to-catch-up old school industry behind. For one, the album’s title is a nonsense construction. Really, what it means to say is ‘The Best of Radiohead’ – just because Van Halen had a similar title for their first anthology doesn’t make ending a phrase with a preposition any more sensible. Second: the artwork, while remaining consistent with the font and color choices of their most shocking album release, 2000’s Kid A, reeks of laziness.

The third point is on format: the choice to make both a single and a double CD edition available may, on the surface, seem like a generous option to give to consumers who may be on the fence as to how much Radiohead they deem appropriate for their collections, but in the end simply breeds more confusion: which is real Best of Radiohead? Oh, sorry… Radiohead: The Best Of. Got it, right.

But seriously, are the 17 songs contained on the single-disc edition really the cream of the crop? Would anyone truly argue that selections from the double disc like “Let Down,” “Knives Out” and “How to Disappear Completely” are inferior to selections from the single disc, such as “Idioteque,” “”Pyramid Song” and “The Bends”? EMI pulled this same stunt with David Bowie when he decided to go the independent route eight years back, and that they’re repeating this method with Radiohead only goes to show that Paul McCartney was right – those blokes at EMI have boring ideas about marketing their music.

Finally, after the first three tunes, the sequencing of this collection is all out of whack. It plays like a random selection, and as we all know, a CD is not necessary to replicate that experience. If one is going to purchase a physical product, it should, at the very least, be artfully sequenced. All of Radiohead’s original albums play like some thought went into the sequencing. On The Best Of, we get “Creep” sandwiched between two decidedly more sophisticated selections from OK Computer. We also get a serious dip in energy at the end of the disc, with “Pyramid Song,” “Street Spirit” and “Everything in its Right Place” lulling the listener to sleep. Meanwhile, “Idioteque” just sits in the middle like the anomaly that it is, with its synths and electronic blip beats, wondering why all those guitars on either side (“Fake Plastic Trees” and “2+2=5”) are looking at it so menacingly.

The music on this collection rates very high, as do Chris Salmon’s excellent liner notes. It would all rate much higher had it been presented more logically. As it stands, Radiohead does not yet have a definitive anthology, and it’s quite possible one may never exist. They are the Pink Floyd of their generation – progressive, intelligent, very focused in their album creations, and wildly successful in spite of typical pop music logic. Best to leave their catalog as they left it, and let the fans decide which collections merit the most sales. Now, about all those B-sides…

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