Sunday, June 5, 2016

Song of the Day #314 - Radiohead - Identikit

Sweet faced ones with nothing left inside that we all can love

I can't find this on Youtube but there's a ton of good live versions. Radiohead's always had a sort of ura-catalog of b-sides and unreleased tracks and occasionally these will start to bleed into the collective legend of the band. "Nude" was a live show classic dating back to The Bends days, and when it popped up on In Rainbows, people were understandably hyped. More than the song itself, it lent the release another quality of "histoicness" or "definitiveness", making it slightly more than an album. And sure, "True Love Waits" may have stolen this thunder a bit on AMSP, but "Identikit" has been kicking around hardcore Radiohead-heads' wishlists for half a decade now. There's a thread on /mu/ that comes up pretty often, where you make a fake album for a band you like, and I remember all sorts of Radiohead ones with "Identikit" listed... people really wanted this song.

Okay but I'll go FULL HONESTY MODE and admit that I never once listened to a bootleg of this song. Maybe I would have heard it when I saw them in Toronto, but instead the stage collapsed, lol. I'm a sort of "release purist" in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to live bootlegs (I'm more comfortable with studio leaks and such), and I had faith that eventually I'd hear this song "properly". During that time, I built a strange fantasy of it in my head... it was uncertain whether or not it was a Thom Yorke solo, Atoms for Peace, or Radiohead song, which suggested some ambiguous place between electronica and rock. People would quote lyrics or refer to parts but it didn't add up... like, uh, guitar solos?? Is this for real? The name reminded me of "Idioteque", which is like a black hole of association: can anything sensibly be "like 'Idioteque'"? Hearing the first six tracks of AMSP didn't really help clear anything up.

Usually when I get hyped up like this, I'm at least a bit disappointed. If only because things, in actuality, can only be one thing, only what they are. The superposition of several, sometimes conflicting, ideas that forms my expectation can only exist in my brain. I usually get this most with books that have been hyped up a lot for me... they become this impossible meld of concepts and contexts and praise, the actuality of the plot long forgotten, and I'm always a bit let down when they end up being "just" about whatever they're actually about, no matter what that thing is. It's silly, yeah, but it's there.

But sometimes, miraculously, something can achieve this impossible plurality, exceeding my expectations in every direction: Infinite Jest, The Master and Margarita, and "Identikit". The opening drums have the preciseness and noisy underbelly of the band at their most electronic, but the accompanying bassline is some of their most classic classic-rock yet. This is the exact duality that I hoped for from a AMSP - the complexity of new Radiohead with the instrumentation of old Radiohead - and it forms the defining texture of the whole song. By the end we're treated to a GUITAR SOLO, an idea inconceivable in the TKOL era, with real guitar solo "abandonment" and "rawness", but with a haunting, noisy, simplicity... And the way that same jangling guitar is brought in as an accompanying "unit" of sound, to contrast the more "choral" and "electronic" elements which receive the forefront, thus mirroring the end where the guitar gets the spotlight and the previous focal points disintegrate into accompanying noises... It's beautiful, the way these two categories are melded together.

And then the vocals, oh man. The very beginning, when they're so indistinct, it's the very essence of this "impossible plurality" actually existing. What is he saying? I feel like I can hear the words "A moon shaped pool", hinting that maybe this is actually the hidden heart of the album (ala the famous "golden ratio 'Reckoner' Easter Egg)?? And then the first coherent lines: "sweet faced ones with nothing left inside that we all can love", oh MAN. Did you know an identikit is a police tool where they use different facial features to help witnesses create a composite image of the suspect?? Is this Thom Yorke singing about that fragile, tender feeling where you see strangers and they look happy and you want to love them, love their happiness, love that such a happiness can exist in the world? And that you're afraid of getting to close, to understanding the complexities and difficulties and sadnesses that inevitably plague their lives? Is this the "messing around" that he doesn't want to find out about? Is the result a constructed "ragdoll mankind" where we delicately observe the distant happiness of others?

All of this is wrapped around the core of "broken hearts make it rain", which can be parsed as both a statement of fact and a command. Is it perhaps suggesting that despite this need for distance, there is something nourishing and fertile about the heartbreak that follows, making it, in the end, worth it? At first, when it's so urgent and full of the humanity of Thom's voice, it hearkens back to the ending of HTTT's "Sit Down. Stand Up." where he repeats "raindrops". Then, it transcends into this wonderful choral part, suggesting a universality borne out of the individual's struggle for recognition. And the synth work at that part... such a simple, pure, sound and melody, almost "ancient" or "primeval", and suggesting something so fundamental but unknowable, ahh, it's so beautiful.

I don't know. I might be off-base about all of this. The point, though, is that it's a track of such creative fertility that it can facilitate this reading, or any number of other readings, and still be compelling. It's this sort of "everything/nothing" dynamic that allows me to have completely nonsense expectations and still have them exceeded. Great for me!

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