A lot’s been made of the “unauthorized” nature of these reissues of Radiohead’s first six albums—that Capitol released them without approval or input from Radiohead itself. The two-disc audio (reviewed here) and three-disc audio/video editions have been termed “money grubbing” and even “punitive,” as in, the label used them to punish the band for walking away when its contract expired. Whatever your take on the ethics involved, however, these new versions of Radiohead’s old records should be of considerable interest to serious fans.
Keep in mind, none are remastered (not that Radiohead’s music needs much work). And surely, one sweeping B-sides compilation would have been far more useful. But for now, this is the easiest way to round up tracks from hard-to-find EPs and singles. Sure, it’s clear why some—the limp “Yes I Am” or feedback-drenched “Coke Babies” from the Pablo Honey redux—were left off the original LPs, but even that expanded debut has intriguing moments, including four early demos, non-album A-side “Pop Is Dead” and a live-on-BBC rendition of rocking early number “Nothing Touches Me.”
The gem-to-dud ratio improves significantly as the band hits its artistic stride. Sophomore LP The Bends is tops among the reissues (ratings apply to “new” material only; we all know how good the originals are), bringing together the primo My Iron Lung EP (“The Trickster” could be the single best Radiohead B-side ever), a three-song acoustic interlude from the Fake Plastic Trees EP and other key cuts like “Killer Cars” and “Talk Show Host.” OK Computer’s bonus disc is a tad light on new discoveries, offering up two remixes, two live tracks and a BBC session to go with just eight full-fledged B-sides, though several of those—“Polyethylene (parts 1 & 2),” “A Reminder,” “Lull”—are well worth hearing.
Given that no singles were released from it, Kid A presents a significant problem for this sort of reissue, and the end result is fairly skippable: one BBC session and nine live tracks. Beloved Radiohead rarity “True Love Waits” caps the set, but it’s the same exact version from in-print live album I Might Be Wrong. Amnesiac’s bonus disc begins better, gathering tunes from the Pyramid Song and Knives Out EPs (the bouncy electro “Worrywort” and moody “Fog” stand out), but again, a dearth of rare material is an issue, as the set ends with seven live cuts. Not so for Hail to the Thief, which piles up 10 honest-to-goodness B-sides—a “first demo” of “There There” and Four Tet remix of “Scatterbain” (aptly titled “Skttrbrain”) are particularly revelatory—so that by the time the disc ends with three live tracks, they feel more like bonus goodies than space filler.
Could Radiohead’s reissues have been done better? Absolutely. Might Radiohead involvement have unearthed more interesting material? Likely. But Capitol, not Radiohead, owns the rights to these six albums, so for now, if you want reissued Radiohead, this is the only place to get it. And that’s worth something, right?