About The Pennds

The Pennds is: Jared Rosenberg, Steve Waye, Andrew Bielen & Charlie Isaacs.

Mission Statement: The Pennds explores Radiohead from an academic perspective. We go beyond notions of active listening in favor of involved perception, in order to better understand the band's work. We do not assign superlatives; in fact we challenge those that exist. Using the framework of discourse, we aim not to pin down the essence of Radiohead, but rather to set free that concept, to give it pliable spirit.

Special Thanks to Al Filreis for making this (and so much more) possible.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Radiohead and the Future

There is much discussion and debate about what the next Radiohead album will be like. Will it be another In Rainbows, or will it be a Kid A? To shed light on the issue I think it is helpful to look at the Beatles, following their progression, and decline, and using this as a lens for studying the future of Radiohead.

Beyond all doubt, Beatles and the Radiohead will go down as two of the greatest rock bands of all time. They both were able to change the music of their day dramatically and with seeming ease, creating legacies that other groups have had a difficult time measuring up to. Therefore, through studying the development and progression of the Beatles, especially a later work, one can more clearly outline the direction Radiohead is likely to take as they continue to make more music.

Both of these bands first albums were a medley of pop songs. These songs made them popular, made them famous, but rather being content with this fame, these groups took the influence they were given to take rock and roll into an entirely new direction. They then began to progress and mature, creating album after album that were often as startlingly different as they were groundbreaking as their innovation became less encumbered. Both groups also released what can be called “Mid-Life Crisis” albums, the White Album and Hail to the Thief, in the middle of their careers, that were less succinct and clear than their other albums, but still contained a remarkable set of songs.

The Beatles then went on to continue to experiment and refine their music until their eventual breakup. With each album after their respected interregnum the band continued to progress and mature. However, with each following album the Beatles became less and less focused on the creation of the album, relying more on individual efforts, which at times makes their albums feel choppy, and not as coherent as others. There was also a move by the members of the band to do more independent work. The reasons behind this change are complicated, and are likely a combination of attempts at being able to keep innovating and personal reasons, as the band was dominated by two major personalities, Lennon and McCartney.

It is this path that Radiohead seems to be following. Since Hail to the Thief, its members are attempting to do more solo work, take Eraser and the soundtrack to There Will be Blood. The band had come close to breaking up at points earlier because of the dominating personality of York, creating great strain on the personal relations of the members. Thus it seems that Radiohead as a band is waning. They will likely release several more albums, and they are likely to be great albums, but as this progression shows, it seems that their vitality has been spent. They have also refined their sound and their image. They also have figured out who and what they are, and are comfortable making an album such as In Rainbows, which is my favorite album, but lacks the innovation or edginess of the bands earlier work. This is a trend that I think will continue with each next album having a more personal sound. This is not to say that Radiohead is over and that they can no longer create, but merely that they no longer have the energy to create another OK Computer or Kid A, in the same fashion that the Beatles no longer had the energy to make another Rubber Soul or Sgt. Peppers.

To a certain extent, I hope that I am wrong. I would love to see Radiohead revitalize itself, and its members, and create new groundbreaking albums. However, with the release of Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows it just does not seem likely. Their legacy has largely been set, and future albums will not, largely because they can not, have the energy and innovation of their earlier work.


  1. I'm intrigued by the Beatles/Radiohead comparisons and Jared and I wrote a few questions dealing with that subject for the syllabus. However, I'm unclear on what you mean by termed the White Album a "mid-life crisis album." It was released in 1968, just 2 years before their breakup. Discounting Yellow Submarine, the Beatles only released two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be before the group was dissolved, many of the tracks for those albums being recorded and conceived in those same sessions. In the same way that we view In Rainbows as Radiohead's more or less "back to basics" album, relying much less on studio artifice than much of their OK Computer and esp. Kid A/Amnesiac work, Abbey Road and Let It Be took similar approaches. After the esoteric White Album, Let It Be and Abbey Road, esp. the continously playing second side, is some of their tightest work as an ensemble.

    While a lot of their solo work would seem to portend a rift over musical direction, the band in interviews seem to be quite content playing with each other. While I see your point about a possible creative stagnation after such a long history of experimentation, I don't really see a breakup on the horizon, and would much more readily apply the "mid-life crisis" tag to Hail to the Thief than to the White album, which in my mind marked the zenith of both their creativity and their combustibility, and revealed tensions that would rapidly cause the band's break up.

  2. I am of the mind that the only Radiohead album(s) deserving of a mid-life crisis tag are Kid A/Amnesiac. But I believe, to a certain extent, that that was sort of the point there. As for what they have left, I have a feeling they will be making music together (in one form or another) for a long long time. For nearly 20 years it has been the same guys in more or less the same roles in an ebb and flow of creativity. And while I don't think that Radiohead's future will play out like that *other* seminal British rock band that we haven't really talked about... you know, the one with the skinny guy who struts around and that really burnt out guitarist, existing more or less as a tour band, releasing albums that only sell a few hundred thousand but selling out stadium shows well into their 60's... I do believe that Radiohead has a lot left in the tank.