On the way over to Europe I picked up a copy of Rolling Stone which honoured the perennial Bobfather and had a range of celebrities, from Bono to Chris Martin, selecting their favorite Dylan songs ever. I wonder if, in twenty years time, contemporary artists would be asked to do the same thing for Radiohead, a band who have undeniably had one of the most significant impacts on popular music in the last two decades. Certainly Martin, along with Matthew Bellamy and countless others would be lining up to give their two cents on a group fundamental to their existence. Something I remember quite vividly is seeing an extensive fan poll a few years ago in some publication or other (this is during the long wait before ‘In Rainbows’ came out) regarding The Best Radiohead Songs Of All Time and ‘Idioteque’ came out on top.
That floored me, it really did. It’s the kind of surprise you get when you like something that you thought nobody else even knew about. It’s how vampire buffs must feel now that there’s True Blood. Of course, with ‘Kid A’ topping both end of the year and decade rankings on both sides of the pond (and even down here) it shouldn’t be so shocking that other people had heard and been moved by track eight, too. It’s just… strange. For something enjoyed so privately – I don’t think I’ve ever listened to this without headphones – and personally, the knowledge that this song is not your own unique stake in a band that the multitudes adore can be very confronting. But it’s also a wonderful testament to the unifying nature of music. Hundreds of thousands of people battled through ‘Kid A’ the first few times, back when it was strange and unnerving and not the thing I bought intuitively at Heathrow Airport on this bloody phone when my iPod was stolen on the way over, found this track and found solace.
I’m at a loss to describe what attracts me back to this song more; the beat or the chords. Both are repeated throughout the tune, and when combined, they make for what I think is possibly the saddest piece of dance music in the world. Really, you can just imagine the kind of folk getting their boogie on at the local idioteque. Of course it’s more intelligent than that, but at a base level, what with the propulsion of crushed snares and distorted bass, you’re more likely to vibe to this than you are ‘Lotus Flower’, even if Thom Yorke isn’t . In fact, I’m sure he’s not, because as far as I know, ‘Idioteque’ was never released as a single, ergo no video. It’s what industry bros like to call ‘a deep cut’. Which seems fair, because it cuts deep.
Some people think Yorke’s lyrics are genius, others think they’re banal, and this will not be the song to change your mind. A combination of entreaties and throwaway phrases sung in the key of despair (‘Women and children first’, ‘Take the money run’, ‘Everything all of the time’) ‘Idioteque’, if nothing else, demonstrates that great emotional resonance can come from the most unlikely of places. As with album opener ‘Everything In It’s Right Place‘, the real magic is in the little sounds. Whether that’s the little alien bleeps and bloops which drop in beneath the beat, the sound of chainmail being hit by sticks or even the warn metallic edge to the third chord in the sequence that could be an orb floating in space, my biggest regret is that I am currently hearing this through the shitty Apple headphones I am saddled with after my original ones were thieved.
These are golden chords. There are only four in total but I’ve never been able to figure out precisely what they are. Cleverly, they extend over to five bars for each turnaround, a phenomenon which would never ever work in most forms of Westernised music. The story goes that the band were really inspired by Aphex Twin and Autechre when making this record and its even more socially awkward twin, ‘Amnesiac’, but I think they may have surpassed them with this particular progression. It often seems to me that there are hundreds of notes making up each chord here, slowly unwrapping with each loop. You can hear them even in the verse when Thom sings a capella. They are everywhere. They are of this world and not of this world. This is probably why, among other things, many other people like ‘Idioteque’ as much as I do. If Radiohead had their own Little Monsters a la Gaga, this could well be their unofficial anthem.
Sent from J’s iPhone on a train between Heidelburg and Baden-Baden.
Radiohead – ‘Idioteque’