In Which I Quibble About A Greatest Hits Album

The idea of a comprehensive Radiohead compilation album is about as silly as the idea of a good Pink Floyd sampler, or a good Neu! best-of (R.I.P., Klaus Dinger). They’re probably more committed to albums as cohesive releases meant to be enjoyed in their entirety than any other band currently working. That’s why they declined until very recently to put any of their work on iTunes, and why one could only download a ZIP file containing all of In Rainbows, not the songs in it individually.
That’s why it’s no surprise (heh) that Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood are so frustrated with the decision by their ex-label, EMI, to compile and release a greatest hits album without the band’s knowledge or input. I, for one, am more frustrated with the album’s contents. There are actually two compilations: a single-disc, 16-track one, and a double-disc one which includes the single-disc and adds 13 more tracks. There’s much to dispute in both. Here’s the track listing on the single-disc compilation:

01 Just
02 Paranoid Android
03 Karma Police
04 Creep
05 No Surprises
06 High and Dry
07 My Iron Lung
08 There There (The Boney King of Nowhere.)
09 Lucky
10 Fake Plastic Trees
11 Idioteque
12 2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.)
13 The Bends
14 Pyramid Song
15 Street Spirit (Fade Out)
16 Everything in Its Right Place

1-4 are obvious classics; no problems there. “No Surprises” and “High and Dry” are very popular, but they’re too much like muzak-Radiohead for me. They’re all light and melodic, and have none of the bite or unpredictable elements that I like about the band. “My Iron Lung” is brilliant and underrated, but “There There” and “Lucky” are as close to mediocre as Radiohead gets. They’re barely memorable, especially compared to the songs surrounding them; I’d much rather have “A Wolf at the Door” and “Stand Up. Sit Down.” instead of “There There”, and “Airbag” or “Let Down” instead of “Lucky”. 10-12 are fine, and the choice of “Idioteque” is downright inspired. “The Bends”? Really? “Planet Telex” is a far more memorable Bends cut. “Pyramid Song” is good for Amnesiac, which isn’t saying a whole lot; “Knives Out” would be a better choice, though. The last two are fine. In the end, ten worthy to six unworthy isn’t a very good ratio for a best-of.
The second disc is alternately too good for a supplemental and not good enough for any compilation:

01 Airbag
02 I Might Be Wrong
03 Go to Sleep (Little Man Being Erased.)
04 Let Down
05 Planet Telex
06 Exit Music (For a Film)
07 The National Anthem
08 Knives Out
09 Talk Show Host
10 You
11 Anyone Can Play Guitar
12 How to Disappear Completely
13 True Love Waits

There is no way that “Airbag”, “Let Down”, “Planet Telex”, “Exit Music (For a Film)”, “The National Anthem”, “Knives Out”, “Anyone Can Play Guitar” and “How to Disappear Completely” don’t belong on the first disc of a Radiohead best-of. “Airbag” and “Let Down” are beyond incredible, with the latter having a serious claim to being the greatest Radiohead song ever. Add those nine to the good ten on the first disc, and you’d have an ideal compilation. Instead, they get shoved onto the second half. “You” seems about appropriate for a second disc, but “Go to Sleep” just isn’t noteworthy. I understand the impulse behind giving “Talk Show Host”, a b-side, and “True Love Waits”, which is only available as a live cut, wide releases, they’re not really best-of material; they’re definitely musts for a rarities collection (please?), but they seem out of place here.
Of course, the band isn’t to blame for this; it’s the label’s fault for trying to profit off of the band’s tour now that they’ve bolted for TBD Records. But still, it’ll be an odd blemish on the band’s freakishly spotless discography.

One thought on “In Which I Quibble About A Greatest Hits Album

  1. No love for Subterranean Homesick Alien? Or Electioneering? The Tourist? Anyone?
    And hell, if we’re going to only be including like one track from Hail to the Thief, it should either be Go to Sleep or Punchup at a Wedding.
    Just get rid of everything from Pablo Honey and you should have enough room to do that.

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