As we once asked regarding Michael Stipe, Is Radiohead’s Thom Yorke an irritating dickhead, or what?
Any time I check out Radiohead, there are things I enjoy about their music, but it all centers around this guy.
He was front and center in the beginning, with that song “Creep”, which I believe he’s long dismissed. To his credit, he’s the boy in the bubble for their biggest hit and this cool video. He’s obviously involved in the band’s music – it’s not like he’s just an annoying singer for hire. So I do see a few merits to this guy’s participation in rock ‘n roll.
But what’s all this emotion about? What’s with his vocal style? Does every syllable he utters really need to be sung as if he’s holding his newborn while he – the father – is taking his last breath? How much more into it must he be? Did I miss the announcement that he was engaged in an Into It contest with Stipe and Bono?
As a fan of some singers who were known to get into it (eg, Joe Strummer), I understand how the singer’s getting into it can help the audience get into it. But what’s Yorke getting anyone into? Even Rufus Wainwright might find Yorke to be over the top.
Before you tell me about The Bends and before you think this is really about his cock-eye or the unnecessary “h” his first name, save it! I’ll even give the guy for sitting down behind a mini-drum kit and bashing away while singing, all the while looking like Martin Short in Clifford. I simply want an explanation. Please explain Thom Yorke.
I look forward to your assistance.
As a fan of Radiohead, I have to say Yorke is still an enigma to me…although In Rainbows was a nice jog to the memory that Radiohead is an actual band rather then just Thom Yorke, a collection of drum machines, and samples.
And I’ll also say that there is no middle ground with him or his band. He is a hate it or love it.
What I don’t understand the need for other lead singers to try to imitate him and his “style.” (Chris Martin is the worse offender).
But, if you look at his Brit-pop contemporaries, you see at least a couple of similar traits that seem to be common threads in today’s Brit-pop…although he may take them a bit more to the extreme.
1. Heavy use of the falsetto. other brit offenders: Damon Alburn, the guy from Travis, David Brewls of School of Language and formerly of Field Music, and (shake fist in the air) Chris Martin.
2. the hunch back syndrome at the piano: again Damon (who is even a hunch back while standing at a microphone) and (spit on the ground) Chris Martin.
Giving proper due to Stevie and Ray, I think it is safe to say Yorke is the originator of the Bob and Weave going around these days. (although David Gray’s been doin’ it for quite a while as well.) that is probably what most annoys folk when watching him.
having heard a few interviews, I will say that I think Yorke is genuinely an introvert, and that what looks like being really into the music, may more be trying to stay focused on keeping the song together and shutting out the ridiculous amount of fans who think he’s a god.
he also seems pretty down to earth in the interviews I’ve seen. No ridiculous diatribe or huge ego. he sounds like he’s having a regular conversation with whoever is in front of him.
He guest DJ’d on All Songs Considered a while back, and although his song picks will only annoy most likely, he is pretty gracious with Bob Boilen who is a bit obnoxious in the interview.
(although there is a pretty magic moment when Bob only has a vinyl copy of one the artists Yorke wanted to play and Yorke is trying to figure out which song he wants to play)
Nice start, Mac. Thanks for taking the lead in this work. I’ll definitely check out the NPR piece. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen or read an interview with the guy. That can be helpful in separating the introverts from the annoying dickheads:)
I think he comes off as pretty normal in print interviews as well. I was just reading one the other day and he seemed pretty unguarded and not like you might expect from seeing him.
As far as his stage presence goes, it works for me in that I honestly can’t think of any other way somebody could front a band like Radiohead. His movements and tics are like an embodiment of their sound, and I’m having trouble envisioning a more traditional frontman plugged into his role. It just wouldn’t work.
Vocally, I think he’s different than Stipe or Bono in what he’s shooting for. On their last few albums, his delivery seems to be more about his vocals being another instrument. There are some exceptions where he’s way out front, but on plenty of songs he’s doing with his voice whatever Greenwood is doing off to the side with some computerized kitchen cabinet, and even some of the songs where he’s really belting it out, it seems like he’s more about adding to the “height” of the song than those big, showcase, listen-to-what-I’m-saying Bono moments.
I guess it goes back to stage presence, but when I hear Bono hit those notes, I see him right in the middle of the stage, arms out all crucifixiony, but when I hear Yorke hit those same notes on a Radiohead record, it’s just as easy to imagine him slumped over a keyboard on a dark stage. One of them is built for maximum arena impact, the other for listening to at home with the lights down. Similar approaches with different goals in mind.
I agree with alexmagic regarding Yorke’s vocals-as-instrument modus operandi. I think it’s a welcome evolution, because he’s not that great of a lyricist, when you get down to it.
His vocal style circa OK Computer is probably one of the most widely imitated to come down the pike in that last 15-or-so years, and that’s probably why he seems so omnipresent, even when he isn’t.
For a long time, I couldn’t listen to this band anymore. I felt they were really spinning their wheels around the time of Amnesiac and got tired of their relentless humorlessness. However, after finally get my head around In Rainbows (didn’t like it first; grew to appreciate it more) I’ve found ways to enjoy the surprisingly simple pleasures of this band. On the other hand, it seems regarding the band as good, talented eggs — rather than saviors of rock, or evil wussmongers out to destory it — is an oft-overlooked position to take.
And I don’t really see any connection between Stipe and Yorke, other than that they’re friends, and they wear their liberal do-gooder views on their sleeves. So I guess I should say I don’t hear any sonic connection. So they’re not pro-wrestling-style rock stars, but who is these days?
The similarities I hear in Stipe and Yorke revolve around that babe in arms/father’s last breaths scenario I painted. Just sing, sing a song, once in a while, I say.
That said, I’m enjoying your explanations and learning from them. You guys are smart and good writers!
I don’t agree that Radiohead is a love it or hate it only band, Mac. I like a fair amount of what I’ve heard of it without either loving or hating it. I have to admit that they’re really pretty halfway decent sometimes.
York has allegedly admitted in various interviews to basically copping the vocal style of Mark Mulchahey, the one-time vocalist/songwriter of the 80’s janglepop band Miracle Legion. If you listen to Miracle Legion and solo Mulchahey records (I have quite a few) there are alarming similarities. It’s really rather striking. Radiohead even had Mulchahey open for them years ago. Mulchahey is sort of a benevolent eccentric crank and he apparently spent his time with Radiohead asking them for more pot.
UGH! Too much information, Tvox:) I couldn’t stand Miracle Legion, or at least Mulchahey. I’m pretty sure we opened for them at JC Dobbs around 1987. He burned up our entire soundcheck time (all 10 minutes of it that we would have gotten at Dobbs back then) and then some while he set up his “puppet show.” Townsman Chickenfrank will probably recall the puppet show incident. Maybe Andyr and Sethro, too.
The whole thing wouldn’t have been so bad if that guy didn’t spend their entire set singing like…Thom Yorke!
Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.
Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.
I think, Mr. Mod, that you are very picky about what kinds of pretentiousness you allow into your approval column. I think you have a problem with artsy dramatic performers who don’t traffic in an ironic stance (you like early Roxy) or who possess a certain emotional detatchment (you like Eno, Televison). Sure personal run-ins with the pretentiousness of certain performers can affect one’s opinions about them (don’t get me started on Steve Kilbey). I think that more naked emotional artsy delivery styles (York, Mulchahey, sometimes Stipe and Bono, Rufus Wainright, Morrissey) make you uncomfortable, in the playground meaning of “that’s so gay.” It’s almost like an affront to the macho wing of rock. All of these artists do Power and Glory, but in a way that bugs the hell out of you.
I kid because I love.
Christ, those effin puppets. I remember!
I think it’s funny Radiohead got their first big break with Creep, since they completely stole it from The Hollies “The Air That I Breathe’.
Is Radiohead’s Thom Yorke an irritating dickhead, or what?
Mmmmm. Michael Stipe is definitely a dickhead’s dickhead. Thom Yorke is more of an atypical angst-filled tortured musician. But I can say where the irritating dickheads in this equation lay – all the Radiohead fans that think they are the be-all to recorded music, that every other band on the planet aren’t in the same league, it’s extremely annoying to try and have discussions with them. Radiohead’s a fine band, but they’re not changing the face of music.
I wish Radiohead could live outside of the hype of “world’s greatest band” or whatever myth the PR machine is building around them. Rock is too calcified for anyone to revolutionize and Radiohead’s mix of Pink FLoyd, Queen and Miracle Legion is the basic recipe for middle-aged audio comfort food. I’m always shocked that anyone under forty would care about them.
I think it a pretty voice, under all the theatrics. Last year’s IN RAINBOWS was the sort of excellent summation of their powers that probably spells the end of their development.
I hear you, Tvox. I accept your characterization of my limitations as a rock music fan. The inwardly directed pretentiousness that I see in the artisty you point out that bring out the Rock Bully in me does bug me. You’ve surely heard me go on about artists whose music is the equivalent of Little Boy Blue, stroking a stray curl from his forehead while a drop of rain drips down his bedroom window. GET OUTSIDE ONCE IN A WHILE! LET ME IN ON YOUR JOKE! BE WITH THE REST OF US! I want to shout.
I’d like to firstly, and without spite or bile, gently pop another “you have to love them or hate them” bubble. I think they’re ok. I like several songs. I agree with Mr. Mod, and your “infant son/last breath” made me laugh out loud. It’s true that the realm of female singers, with hysteria on-tap doesn’t usually have a whole band pitching it, and so doesn’t get noticed at RTH often. But, Mod, to be fair, the third leg of the Emote-On-Sleeve Trifecta is Sting, no? I always wished for the cable special of Sartre’s “No Exit” performed by Stipe, Bono, and Sting. I like my into it to have more embarrassment right off. Joe Cocker, more Grand Funk, if you’re holding your infant son and gasping your last, don’t hold back! Go ahead and piss yourself! Roll your eyes back! Knock over a table or something. But I always prefer my emotions golden retriever style: sloppy, enthused, abject. In song? Keep most of it under control until you’re well and truly *losing* control.
Also, Mr. Mod, I took a CD of theirs out of the library this last year – I had never payed any attention to them at all. I liked it, and realized I was kind of assuming intensity from his voice, until I finally asked myself what the song was about. Hmm. Well, they’re ok, I guess.
Sidebar: Tvox reminds me of a question I’ve often pondered. Is there a single soul out there who has met Steve Kilbey and DOESN’T consider him quite possibly the biggest asshole in the history of the world?
Did either of you have serious drugs you were willing to share with an antipodean semi-legend? I think Kilbey might have been nicer if that were the case.
I’ve known a lot of junkies in my day, and none of them were any prizes, but his well-known smack habit doesn’t account for all of it. This is assholitry that goes down to the bone.
Has Michael Stipe become the Jay Leno of rock?