Last Halloween, Judge William Lee put on that voice-changing Optimus Prime mask and went around saying, "Hi, I'm Radiohead."
This band is special—so very special.
The skyrocketing popularity of alternative rock band Radiohead brings the "alternative" label into question. Their critically acclaimed experimental sound, blending melancholic lyrics and electronic verve, has become the soundtrack of 21st century rock rebellion angst. The quintet from the U.K. dumped their record label, EMI, in 2003 after completing their contractual obligation with the release of their sixth album, Hail to the Thief. The band's seventh album In Rainbows made its debut in October 2007 as a pay-what-you-want download. Sales of the physical album charted at No. 1 in both the U.K. and U.S. upon its release two months later.
Apparently timed to capitalize on Radiohead's international In Rainbows concert tour, EMI has released a set of "Best Of" products to milk the popularity of their former cash cow. Fans can choose from the single or double CD retrospectives, the four-piece vinyl set, and the digital download options. But perhaps the most interesting item to come from EMI's dip from the well is this compilation of music videos.
Facts of the Case
There are twenty-one videos on Radiohead: The Best Of DVD—nine of them appearing for the first time on DVD—directed by a wide assortment of talented filmmakers. The tracks are arranged chronologically according to their respective albums:
1. "Creep" (directed by Brett Turnbull)
There are no tracks from the post-EMI seventh album, nor any representing the fourth album, Kid A, for which no conventional music videos were produced. Still, what is included is a sampling of some wonderfully imaginative music videos. Filled with inventive and haunting visuals that are as mysterious and evocative as the music, these videos come in forms ranging from concert videos to impressionistic animations to fanciful abstractions and stranger realms beyond.
The most conventional of the videos are from Radiohead's early hits. The staged performance videos "Creep" and "My Iron Lung," both directed by Brett Turnbull, do a good job of recreating the live energy of the band before an audience. The lighting is meant to be darker in these scenes and there is a noticeable level of grain throughout both videos. The stage lighting is used to good effect. Particularly in "Creep," a hint of grunge is evident in these early songs and this carries over into the feel of the video. Another early song, "Pop is Dead," has never appeared on CD but its video is included on this DVD.
Something seems to click around the time of "High and Dry," as we can see in comparing the U.K. and U.S. versions of the video. The band finds directors with a more unconventional, though thoroughly cinematic, filmmaking style who riff on genre conventions. Gradually, the musicians are featured less and less as the videos develop a casual narrative sensibility that doesn't directly relate to the lyrics of each song yet feels like the perfect complementary visual. Paul Cunningham toys with the gangster movie for his version of "High and Dry." Jamie Thraves (The Low Down) uses "Just" to play out a mysterious drama on the city sidewalk. The two videos by Jonathan Glazer (Birth) show simple ideas with great execution and mesmerizing beauty. For me, the highlight of this compilation (and simply one of the greatest music videos ever) is the jawdroppingly amazing, single-take "Knives Out" by Michel Gondry (The Science of Sleep). Other pleasures to be discovered are the hypnotic computer animation of "Push Pulk / Spinning Plates," the tension of the unexpected stunt of "No Surprises," and the surreal stop-motion feel of "There There."
The music videos are capped off with a live performance of "2+2=5" recorded at the Belfort Festival in 2003. Again, it's the standard concert footage angles with the appropriate energy. This track also has the least satisfying image quality of all the tracks on this disc. Since this is an actual live performance, the lighting lacks the polish of the two performances I mentioned earlier. Shadows appear as muddy, purple blotches on lead vocalist Thom Yorke's face.
Given the quick cuts and dreamy visual style that is typical of music videos, I tend to be lenient when judging their picture quality. Still, I was a little disappointed by the average quality of the visuals on this DVD. Grain is visible to varying degrees in a few of the tracks and more so during dark scenes where the black levels lack depth. The overall picture is slightly soft throughout and never reaches a level of crisp detail that you would expect on a DVD. The disc is presented in full frame that matches the aspect ratio of the majority of the videos collected here. There are a few videos presented in non-anamorphic letterboxed format to preserve their intended widescreen aspect ratios. Fortunately, the clean and strong stereo mix is a joy to hear. Yorke's falsetto vocals sound clearer than I expected. The band sounds as good on this DVD as on their CDs but with the addition of some great videos. There are no extra features on the disc.
Even though all of these music videos can be found on YouTube, fans will still see Radiohead: The Best Of DVD as a welcome purchase to complete their collection of the band's EMI years. The picture quality is not great but it is still a few degrees better than most downloaded and streaming copies. This is also a more complete set of music videos than the previously released collection 7 Television Commercials. For new fans it is a good way to get acquainted with the band's body of work as you can hear the evolution of Radiohead's music over the course of ten years on one disc. For those who don't care for their music, these videos are not going to help you get them, but you will still be treated to some amazing music videos.
EMI's behavior speaks for itself. This DVD should have come out years ago but here it is finally in what amounts to a bare-bones assembly of their back catalogue material. Their loss of this sensational rock group, just as they were getting bigger than ever, is just punishment for EMI. Radiohead fans may feel a little guilty handing their money to the record label one more time for a product that could have been better treated, but the works contained are themselves not guilty.
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