Sound — 9
Even if you're someone who despises greatest hits albums because they focus too much attention on radio-friendly singles, it's hard to find holes in the material listed on the new 2-disk package Radiohead: The Best Of. The English quintet rarely misses a beat, going from quirky (Creep) to epic (Paranoid Android) and trying out everything in between. On the first CD you'll hear a good mix of hits (for lack of a better word) from the band's early work on Pablo Honey up to Hail To The Thief, while the 2nd disk focuses on tracks that might not be quite as familiar as, well, Creep. While some fans might argue that key tracks might have been ignored on disk 2, the collection is still well-rounded and amazingly eclectic. It should be mentioned that this album was not necessarily given the go-ahead by the band itself, with the label EMI acting as the brains behind this album. Given Radiohead's choice to go digital and independent, it feels a little strange to completely get behind this album -- but when it comes down to it, the songs should be the focal point. And if you're looking for a broad look at what Radiohead has delivered since 1993, The Best Of will be a worthwhile purchase. One word of note, however: no songs from In Rainbows are featured on the new compilation. Technically speaking, Radiohead is certainly not a Top 40 radio darling, but it's creativity hasn't gone unnoticed -- just check out their record sales and sold-out tour dates. The singles may not fit into any box, that's the appealing factor about any Radiohead song, single or B-side. The 17 tracks on the 1st disk will be familiar to most fans, with My Iron Lung, High And Dry, The Bends, and Karma Police all making the cut. There is such a wide variety of sounds to each track that it's hard to believe at times that one band is responsible for them all. You'll get everything from mellow and depressing to songs with a techno flair, and it never gets dull. In some ways the 2nd disk is a more fascinating listen because they haven't been given the same kind of airplay. The low, bellowing guitar intro of the first track Airbag draws you in, while Talk Show Host has a simplistic quality that puts much of the focus on Thom Yorke's airy vocals. It's fantastic to see that at least one live version made it onto the 13-track disk, with the acoustic True Love Waits (recorded in Oslo in 2001) closing out the album. It's not the most high-energy track in terms of live shows, but there is an appealing raw quality about it. All in all, the 1st disk does seem to have a bit more of a punch behind it, but it may just be a case of simply giving the lesser-known tracks a bit more time to sink in.
Lyrics — 10
For as experimental as Radiohead has been musically, the lyrics are consistently creative and thought-provoking as well. Because we're covering quite a bit of time in Radiohead's career, it's not a surprise that the song themes vary greatly. Regardless of the topic, the band goes out of it's way to keep the lyrical construction fresh. Examples could be cited from pretty much every track, and Karma Police is just one song that features line after line of imagery and clever phrasing. Yorke sings, Karma police, arrest this girl; Her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill; And we have crashed her party. You certainly are not getting this kind of content in your Top 40 singles, and that's probably one of the biggest reasons why so many people have embraced Radiohead's music.
Overall Impression — 9
There are those who believe Radiohead can do no wrong, and that is certainly debatable. But when you go through the 30 tracks on Radiohead: The Best Of, it's easy to see why the band has been put upon a pedestal. They not only take risks, they also never forget that simple melody is also a key ingredient in a good song. For those who just like rocking out to Creep in the game Rock Band, the CD might be a little too out there. But if you're someone who enjoys solid musicianship and doesn't mind hearing a band go through 10 different styles throughout the course of an album, Radiohead: The Best Of is highly recommended.