How buying the new Radiohead album briefly changed my music listening experience.
I hate list questions. You know: ‘name your top five films, top ten books’ or whatever. But if you pointed a gun to my head and forced to name a favourite band, I’d have to say Radiohead. (You might then decide to pull the trigger. Your call).
This band have a distinct advantage when it comes to experimenting. Radiohead have built a mighty stature and global prominence over around 25 years. I was just getting into music with real appetite when The Bends arrived to knock me for six. The anticipation around OK Computer was intense, the artwork as well as the music entirely engrossing, and somehow completely authoritative.
These were uniquely smart, weird, nerdy guys who knew what the score was. They seemed not to indulgently bathe in adulation like Oasis or Blur, which made me love them even more.
Today, those few bands with such a back catalogue and such a devoted following are more powerful than others. They have earned the ability to dictate terms of how they want their music consumed. And fans will largely obey.
This time around, with the release of A Moon Shaped Pool they made me tap the ‘Buy’ button on iTunes for the first time in several years. As mentioned in the previous post I have been a paid-up devotee of Spotify for what seems like ever.
[Read the Composed blog: Old Media – Time To Say Goodbye]
Although they had permitted the first two ‘singles’ on the platform, Radiohead did not allow the full album onto Spotify, at least not right away. Alongside the vacant album listing, we had a line of text hopefully saying Spotify were working to get it as soon as possible.
I gave it a week before buckling. Yes, I wanted the full album badly enough to part with £9.99. Well done, Radiohead. You won.
Buying Music Changes How You Listen
Buying it gave me a keener sense of wanting extra value and extra detail – much more than I would usually seek even from an anticipated release on Spotify.
Like the breakfast buffet of a hotel, I paid for it dammit so I was going to squeeze every last penny of value out of it. I wanted to get to know each individual track like I’d got to know every track on The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A – yes, I liked and still like Kid A. There’s nothing that difficult about it.
Off I went off into the internet in search of reviews, lyrics and interpretations. I scoured the Wiki page and learned that frontman Thom Yorke had split from his partner of 25ish years the previous summer. (If I’d been an uber Radiohead fan, I would have known that. Sorry, Thom). That had to impact on the music and lyrics.
A Moon Shaped Pool lives in my iPhone’s sparsely populated Music app in digital format. I had nothing physical, nothing touchable. But nonetheless, simply because I had bought it and owned it, (and because it was my beloved Radiohead) everything about the music listening experience was less casual.
After the first couple of spins you could tell there was exceptional and distinctive work throughout, unlike some of their more recent albums. This was something to slowly chew on, gradually unpick. I remembered failing to really connect with the last album, 2011’s The King Of Limbs for several months.
Sometimes you have to give an album multiple spins without really connecting, then leave it a month or three before returning. When you do return, somehow it can hit the spot. Perhaps due to not trying too hard but having memory of the songs, perhaps due to a specific mood, but that was exactly what happened with their last album King Of Limbs, during an hour’s car journey in a glum mood.
While I still don’t think they’ve produced anything as searingly gutpunchingly beautiful since Reckoner of the In Rainbows album, I live in hope that my Moon Shaped Hole palate will develop in time.
Does this experience of buying music mark a general change in listening experience? Probably not. No other bands are Radiohead, few others enjoy their market power, and not many come close in my affections.