VINE VOICEon 4 January 2008
In all likelihood, this is a release Radiohead don't want you to buy, so if you're that kind of fan, don't bother. Furthermore, if you already own all the albums, then don't bother. There is nothing extra or new here aside from some snazzy new artwork and a fancy box, so if that's what you're looking for, wander off now.
Assuming Radiohead have another decade in them, this box set documents what may well eventually be known as their EMI Phase, six studio albums and one live mini-album (calling it the 'seven album box set' may be a bit misleading to those expecting In Rainbows to be included). The only way to sensibly review this is to go over it album by album - is actually worth buying this box set rather than getting the albums individually if you're a new fan? (spoiler alert: yes, yes it is).
In the context of a world-eating superband like Radiohead, the less said about 1993's lukewarm Pablo Honey the better. The views of most fans have been blurred in context of Radiohead's hatred of their own mega-hit Creep and the towering success of their follow-up albums. It's not all bad; in fact, most bands would be proud of a debut including songs as good as 'Stop Whispering.'
The Bends is where everything changed. The first of the band's holy triad, whilst 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)' never really made sense in context, The Bends is much more an album of stunning songs than it is a great album like OK Computer. But many of the songs beat out anything on Computer, even the lesser known '(nice dream)' or 'Black Star,' whilst straightforward compared to 'Paranoid Android' have an esoteric charm or in the latter's case, even a hook.
OK Computer is, in this writer's opinion, the band's high-water mark. A conceptual album that was years ahead of its time then and still sounds like it, from the opening bells strings and guitar you know that something otherworldly is happening, a feeling that remains in Radiohead's music up to the present day. As with The Bends, coming back to this album ten years on you start to realise the beauty of the lesser known songs like the creepy 'Climbing Up The Walls' or almost Tarantino-esque 'Electioneering'.
The three-years-in-the-making Kid A changed everything for Radiohead yet again, and for all its hype, lack of videos and number one status, it's an album that was never quite as good as the hype made you believe; especially compared to its two predecessors it doesn't quite measure up. This is not to say it isn't brilliant, as some of the band's finest songs are here - the squalling 'National Anthem,' the warm place that is 'Everything In Its Right Place' and the skittery agoraphobia of 'Idioteque'.
Amnesiac is Kid A's slightly more rubbish brother to the extent of even having 'Morning Bell' rehashed. Unlike The Bends or OK Computer, it's an album where the best songs really are the ones you remember, the lush 'Pyramid Song,' the swirling 'Dollars And Cents.'
I Might Be Wrong is a quasi-best-of in a live situation, taking some of the better songs from the prior two studio albums and making them into frosty epics. Many of the versions are interesting, if not better than their originals; a horn-less 'National Anthem,' a spasmodic 'Idioteque,' but it's 'Like Spinning Plates' - recorded backwards in the studio - all but solo Thom Yorke that really stands out. There's even a new song, 'True Love Waits,' which has yet to appear on any of the albums; a plucked acoustic number, it could so easily have appeared on the My Iron Lung EP thirteen years ago.
Last but almost least is Hail To The Thief. Probably the most underrated albums in Radiohead's catalogue, it's far too long and finds the band mostly treading water in search of yet another 'new direction' to follow. Cut down, it could possibly equal Kid A with the lovely 'Sail To The Moon' or the divine 'There, There', an equal to anything on OK Computer.
Taken as a whole, if you're new to Radiohead, this box set is an ideal purchase, covering the band's entire astonishing career up to this point. If you didn't know better, these could well be albums by five or six different bands, and it is that which makes this box set so essential to your collection (assuming you don't have them all already).