by Guillaume Destot


This month, once again, a couple of strikingly different albums, to keep your eardrums supple. Reef and Radiohead’s only common point is perhaps that their names both start with an "R", and that's not very relevant, for that matter. Reef's Getaway is straightforward rock and roll, one could say, in the traditional sense. "Set the record straight" is obviously the record's hit, and sounds like a good Supergrass number, with pop voice harmonies and a very upbeat, not very original but very efficient guitar riff. Track 2, "Superhero" uses a guitar lick that will perhaps remind you of Extreme's Nuno Bettencourt, and the 3-chord chorus does the job with honours. Reef are trying to find their place between raw rock and sophisticated pop, and are not always very successful, except perhaps for their singer, whose powerful, earnest growls are the very essence of rock. He can even make you shiver when he reaches those high notes in a pure rock scream, and make you wonder whether Janis Joplin did not have a hidden son before she choked to death on her own vomit (hardly an Ophelia kind of farewell to earth, is it?)

You may be puzzled when, reaching track 5, you find yourselves listening to what can only be called a middle-of-the-road pop tune, with violin and softer singing: are Reef trying to find some room in the very crowded hall of rock-ballad fame? They may not manage to elbow their way to that good and holy place, but this song is a welcome break from the uninterrupted stream of distorted guitar slaps one receives in one's face from the beginning of the album. It is however a very short relief, and with "Hold on", the singer goes very near the point where a normal human throat should be exploding. In the midst of all those positive, healthy rock vibrations, track 7, "Saturday" comes as an anomaly, with its Nirvana feeling and lyrics evoking desires of seclusion ("Saturday all alone/ I pray for no one's call”). The chorus of this song turns to flat heavy metal, and it is probably one of the main reproaches you can make to Reef, they have bucketloads of energy, a great singer, big amps, fast guitar licks, but they do not seem to know which of the many highways to hell that appear on the rock map they should hit.

They will go from Rita Mitsouko/Green Day stuff like track 3, "Getaway", to almost rapped heavy rock with Rage Against the Machine influences ("Pretenders"). This lack of direction even shows within some numbers, as with "Won't you listen", a song packed with good ideas, but sorely lacking in unity. So, you will perhaps say, what the hell are we supposed to do? Buy the thing or not? Well, I must say in spite of these shortcomings, I like Reef, because they seem to believe in what they do, and they seem to enjoy it. They don't pretend that they're bored with the whole business, as so many other rock stars tend to do. They look and sound like schoolboys who've just discovered a hoard of girly magazines in some hidden, dusty drawer. So the point of the record, after all, is to make a whopping lot of noise and drive your neighbours, if not crazy, at least somewhat infuriated.

I am not a Radiohead fan, but one can't dismiss Kid A as just another neurasthenic spurt of Kafkaesque innervisions. I must say that I had never heard some of the sounds that are used in this album. Perhaps if you're an electronica lover, this will be quite familiar to you, but Nigel Godrich, the producer of Kid A, surely has something up his sleeve that'll leave you gaping. There is of course a traceable seventies experimental synth music influence here, but one of the real innovations, as far as I know, is the way voices are twisted, processed through weird echoes/sampling devices that seem to work at random and produce seemingly uncontrollable cataracts of sound.

Track 1, "Everything in its right place" is emblematic of the record, and has an ironic title for a song where nothing actually seems to be in its right place. Tom Yorke, by the way, apparently decided that his voice's place would be anywhere it pleased him, and it is hardly audible at some points. Although Radiohead had no qualms about profaning the human voice with evil sound effects, Yorke's voice comes through almost normally on most of the record and more than ever has its eerie qualities. It appears on the backtrack when you least expect it, and makes you think it's his last breath he's whispering in your ear.

Track 2, "Kid A", is not a song in the proper sense, like most of the record, and starts with the noise of a landing space ship, or something like that, accompanied by a music box, which -- had it a soul -- would probably be starting to wonder what the hell these guys are up to with their dreamlike, nightmarish music. It is perhaps all too easy to compare Radiohead with the Beatles, but you may find that the swelling and chaotic wave of horns at the end of track 3, "The National Anthem", is reminiscent of the orchestra finale on "A Day in the Life", although it may also evoke a herd of angry charging elephants (depending on your preference: Rolling Stone magazine, or the National Geographic. Or both. Or none. Forget it.)

Track 4 is perhaps nearer to what we mean by "pop music", and the orchestra part is simply awesome: just listen to this with headphones (I forgot to mention headphones: you'll miss half the fun -- so to speak -- without them). Thing is, the genius of this song can hardly be attributed to Radiohead, who wrote here a pleasant ditty, but did probably very little for the St John's orchestra that accompanies them, and that is directed by John Lubbock and scored by Jonny Greenwood: hats off to both of them.

Industrial noise music and lo-fi meet on this record and provide at times a harsh and contrasting background to Yorke's ever poetic lamenting voice. Everything is disturbing and conveys the feeling that in Radiohead's universe, man is weak and in the process of being slowly but surely devoured by the machines he built. There is also a parting impression, a sort of musical equivalent to the end of the movie Blade Runner, when the last Replicant gives up the gost on the roof of a deserted building, by a rainy night. Track 10, which is called, by the way, "Motion Picture Soundtrack" would be a good choice for a farewell song, a farewell to life, that is. The only relief comes with the harp loop, a kind of fresh, glinting rain that brings one of the rare touches of light to this very sombre record. Am I being over-gothic? Am I playing Radiohead's game a little too much? I may, but you will no doubt agree that it is a very strange, very mesmerizing, and very beautiful, if mournful, game.


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