There’s an argument to be made that Radiohead have perhaps the most impressive album catalogue of any band in recent memory, boasting conceptual experimental masterpieces as well as innovative alt-rock classics. They’ve prided themselves on consistently changing styles and sounds over the years, but which ventures have worked best for them? Here’s our ranking of Radiohead’s nine studio albums from worst to best:
9: The King Of Limbs (Released 2011)
Radiohead’s compressed, short-running eight studio album The King Of Limbs is hardly a disaster; it actually serves quite a prominent purpose in the band’s career and is home to some of their best ever songs. Songs like Codex and of course Lotus Flower hold the ethereal beauty we come to expect from 21st century Radiohead cuts, but where this album falls short in comparison to the others is how scattered it sounds. The disproportioned instrumental patterns on Bloom and Little By Little make the whole listening experience a touch overwhelming, but it’s by no means a catastrophic failure. Being given the worst album feels harsh, but seeing as it’s Radiohead the standards will naturally be high. Let’s call it the ‘least best’.
8: Pablo Honey (Released 1993)
Ah yes, the fabled debut album. Pablo Honey has become somewhat infamous within the Radiohead fandom as a meme album given just how structured and, dare I say it, normal it sounds. It possesses plenty of post-grunge angst and actually lays a few subtle foundations for what the band would later go onto aim for. It of course has Creep on it, an essential 90s anthem in it’s own right, but it is tracks like You and Blow Out that make this album what it truly is. Pablo Honey is guitar-heavy rock music with sinister twists of early onset millennial emotion and while it was far from the band’s most cherished and risky release, it served as a strong opening platform for what Radiohead would eventually become.
7: Amnesiac (Released 2001)
Initially penned in to be part of a double album alongside Kid A, the album now recognised on its own as Amnesiac is an intriguing listen and topic for debate among fans. It is so apparent that the album was recorded in the same time period of Kid A given its lo-fi electronic influences and minimalist songwriting, but it lacks in the way of the era-defining quality that its predecessor had. Pyramid Song and You And Whose Army? are of course immensely passionate cuts and when mixed in with the likes of Packt Like Sardines In A Crushed Tin Box and Like Spinning Plates it makes for an interesting listen. The highlight comes in the form of album closer Life In A Glasshouse, a bluesy jazz number with these crashing drums and whimsical horn sections dominating the track to offer up one of the more unique flavours of the band’s career.
6: A Moon Shaped Pool (Released 2016)
Radiohead’s ninth and most recent album came in 2016, in the form of A Moon Shaped Pool. It is a captivating listen which sounds as oblique as it does cinematic, opting for orchestral arrangements and built-up crescendos rather than guitars. The trifecta run at the start of the album is one of the best Radiohead have ever done, firing in with the eerie Burn The Witch before transcending your mindset into a shimmering world with Daydreaming and Decks Dark. A lot of the songs on here (Desert Island Disk and True Love Waits, for instance) were already written and ready for release years before this, but Radiohead picked the perfect moment to unleash them and put them on an album which still spiritually engrosses you to this day. It was the ideal release for a band this far into their careers.
5: Hail To The Thief (Released 2003)
Perhaps the most ‘rock’ release Radiohead have done other than Pablo Honey? 2003’s Hail To The Thief came at a pivotal time for the band, it was time for them to decide which direction they next wanted to go in after the vivid soundscaping of Kid A and Amnesiac. This album was heavily political, almost aggressive in the way it was performed, with Thom Yorke’s disdain for capitalism and greed coming to prominence in the lyrical content. The singles all tell their own individual tales but work incredibly when indulged as a whole entity. That raucous riff on 2+2=5 is obviously a standout moment for the album, with plenty of other examples coming to mind (Sit Down, Stand Up and There, There) from a project created by a band at the top of their game still.
4: The Bends (Released 1995)
Yep, the one with the funny album cover. The Bends saw Radiohead turn a major corner in their progression; long gone were the grunge sounds of post-modern distress and in came a far more polished and focused sound. To many, it is the quintessential alt-rock release of the 1990s and it isn’t a struggle to see why that is the case; it has the arena-fever riffs on songs like Just and the title track, while also containing acoustic gut-wrenchers that would tackle huge concepts like Fake Plastic Trees and Street Spirit (Fade Out). Honestly, despite sounding somewhat dated on the odd occasion, I still believe this album was lightyears ahead of its time in terms of lyrics and the idea of a frontman like Thom Yorke challenging these perceptions of male emotion as well as his disappointment at consumer culture.
3: In Rainbows (Released 2007)
The most unfortunate ranking of all time? Probably. Realistically speaking, an album as good as In Rainbows would top just about any other band from this era’s list; it just so happens to be up against two certain powerhouse projects that you’ve probably heard of. Enough about those albums, though, let’s talk about why In Rainbows is so remarkable. It is the ultimate balance strike from Radiohead, they managed to find the best elements of each era of sound and craft them together into ten songs, each one as gorgeous and enjoyable as the last. Bodysnatchers is the most wild and raw they’ve sounded since Pablo Honey but done in a more impactful way, 15 Step uses the electronica of Amnesiac but gives it more direction; and then you’ve got the heatbreak anthems of All I Need, Nude and Videotape, all of which never cease to shake you to the core. Albums like In Rainbows provide weight to the argument that Radiohead are THE band of the 00s.
2: Kid A (Released 2000)
The leftfield turn to end all leftfield turns. Radiohead were exhausted and on the verge of breakdown before creating Kid A, but as is often the case, pain became the catalyst of beauty. This utterly bizarre electronic album has notable guitars on just three songs, a rarity for an out-and-out band, but Radiohead made their own rule book and in the process, wrote one of the most integral releases of all time. The glitchy dynamics of synth leads and minimalist songwriting on Everything In Its Right Place and the title track set the tone, Idioteque is a bleak take on rave culture but with damaging climate change lyrical context, and How To Disappear Completely is an immersive alternate reality track designed to unlock the mind and introduce it to previously undiscovered thoughts. That this album is turning twenty years old next year and is still ahead of the modern curve is pure testament to the risk of releasing it at this time. Kid A was Radiohead’s way of welcoming us all into the new millennium, and it was as terrifying as Thom Yorke predicted.
1: OK Computer (Released 1997)
Oh wow, how original of me right? I must be the only person in the history of humankind to have OK Computer as Radiohead’s best album right? Anyway, enough with the unprecedented news, I suppose I may as well let you know why I have it 1st seeing as it’s such a unique choice. I can safely say, in my 22 years of life on this earth, I have never FELT music like I did the first time I heard this album. It’s that undying cliché that the music can just take over your mind, spirit and soul; well it actually happened to me. Listening to OK Computer for the first time put me in a trance, a wide-eyed teenager discovering his new favourite band; and it wasn’t the cool pick of Arctic Monkeys like everyone else. I’ll gush about this album in a full review at some stage so for now I will just tell you this: it is the greatest collection of songs I personally have ever heard. The kaleidoscopic dystopia weaves in and out of each song here, whether it be the six minute masterclass of anxiety and banishment on Paranoid Android, or the enter with caution nature on Exit Music (For A Film). I won’t use this term lightly when discussing music, but OK Computer might just be the closest thing to musical perfection I’ve witnessed.