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Spirit of radio
But there are a host of songs tonight which seem to make every bit as much eerie sense in the earliest days of this emergent post-Manhattan zeitgeist
Colin Carberry, 27 Sep 2001
Three days after the US events it seems strangely appropriate to encounter Radiohead at the end of such a week of uncertainty. It can’t solely be put down to the dignified sadness that seeps through and stains their luminous back catalogue. Sure, when ‘Street Spirit’ – that genuine Urban Hymn – is dedicated to “all Americans trying to get back home”, its mournful incantation to “immerse yourself in love” has probably never sounded more ghostly and bereft.
But there are a host of songs tonight that are far more emotionally contrary – songs that are violent, angry, terrified and defiant – which seem to make every bit as much eerie sense in the earliest days of this emergent post-Manhattan zeitgeist.
For the last five years – while mining a vernacular simmering with intimations of disaster and political meltdown, supposedly incongruous in a culture grown affluent, complacent and compliant – it’s been claimed that Radiohead have been speaking in tongues. Maybe this week, though, we’ve all unfortunately become a little more fluent. During the time when the band have been accused of turning their backs and disappearing into abstraction, it seems they’ve actually been alive to the seismic plate-shifts of the society they inhabit in a way that should shame every one of their contemporaries.
So, when during ‘Idioteque’, Thom Yorke flails around the stage equal parts Mick Jagger and Albert Steptoe and wails, “Ice Age coming, Ice Age coming. We’re not scare-mongering,” it isn’t really necessary for him to add, “But this is really happening.” It’s all too believable.
What last autumn sounded hysterical, is now just chilling.
You have to wonder as well, if Yorke can quite believe what he’s singing.
Throughout the show he finds himself stumbling onto lyrics that, if they hadn’t been written months and years ago, could be mistaken for garish soundbytes scavenged from the evening news. How about ‘Paranoid Android’, “rain down on me/from a great height”. ‘Lucky’, “pull me out of the air crash/pull me out of the wreckage”. Or ‘The National Anthem’, “Everyone around here…everyone has the fear”.
It’s probably wrong to take it so literally, but it’s impossible to do anything but. There’s something imprinted in the very DNA of most of these songs, from the thunderous ‘Dollars And Cents’ to the catatonic-lullaby of ‘No Surprises’, that, tonight anyway, brings to mind bad things being inflicted on little people.
“The planet is a gun-ship in a sea of fear,” he sings, by way of an encore during ‘The Bends’. That might be true. And now we know who’s writing the shanties.