Radiohead have always had a knack for packaging their product in unusual ways. With The Moon Shaped Pool destined for a deluxe edition, we take the opportunity to roundup 10 of the most interesting objects from Radiohead’s groundbreaking catalogue.
Words: Martin Aston
Radiohead are now old hands at the practised art of sudden album releases. The Moon Shaped Pool was preceded by the disappearance of the band’s presence on social media before the video to ‘Burn The Witch’ and, three days later, for ‘Daydreaming’ on the same day that the album was confirmed, and then made available two days later via download.
This was news enough, especially as it’s their first studio album in five years, so perhaps overshadowing the fact that the deluxe edition of the album – which won’t ship until September (the physical vinyl and CD versions aren’t themselves available until June) – contains, according to an official statement, “a ¾ second of Radiohead ½ inch master tape, from an actual recording session going back to the band’s 2000 album Kid A. The tape degrades over time and becomes unplayable. We thought rather than it ending up as landfill, we would cut it up… a new life for some obsolete technology.”
This little titbit for fans won’t change anyone’s mind over the musical validity of – the sublime – The Moon Shaped Pool, just as any different formatting or packaging effects the music. But it’s fun to collect the various ways that bands such as Radiohead present their product, and there are vinyl goodies galore dotted through their catalogue. Here are ten of the most collectable, in chronological order.
Radiohead Pablo Honey
(Parlophone, 1993 & 2015) / Buy
Coloured vinyl editions
It was 1992, and the Oxford band On A Friday – soon renamed Radiohead – were less preoccupied with the art of packaging than, as bassist Colin Greenwood called it, “this trajectory toward other people’s music that we’ve fallen in love with… we try to emulate these people and we always fall short.” So while their 1993 debut Pablo Honey soaked up Pixies, Nirvana and U2, on their breakthrough hit ‘Creep’, Scott Walker, their record label EMI decided to release a white and pink marbled edition. 2015 reissues in separate blue, cream and red marbled editions pay tribute to the original.
Radiohead Climbing Up The Walls (Remixes)
(Parlophone, 1997) / Buy
Promo limited edition 12″
Radiohead’s second album The Bends was their first to truly maximise their potential. It’s also the least collectable of all their records, with no fancy-schmancy versions available, but 1997’s OK Computer came in a double-vinyl edition – the best way to hear its expansive grooves as Radiohead eschewed the limitations of Brit-pop for the influence of trip-hop, jungle and electronica. A picture disc edition of lead single ‘Paranoid Android; on lovely shiny blue transparent 7” is also covetable but the rarest is the album highlight ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ in beautiful, stripped-back Fila Brazillia and Zero 7 remix versions.
Radiohead entered the 21st century with twin releases that made full use of popular music’s ever-evolving digital palate, which they presented in individual double 10” formats, bringing out both records’ rhythmic fizz and throb. The only singles of the era were from ‘Amnesiac’, ‘Pyramid Song’ and ‘Knives Out’, with the former made available again in 2009 as part of their former US label Capitol’s From the Capitol Vaults series on 180 gram, with its sleeve embossed with a silver Radiohead logo and a 10 x 5” wraparound sticker of the original release artwork attached to the sleeve.
DJ Shadow Vs. Radiohead
‘The Gloaming (DJ Shadow Remix)’
(Reconstruction Productions, 2004) / Buy
Limited edition 10″ picture disc
The Hail To The Thief album, pitched between OK Computer’s avant-rock and Kid A / Amnesiac digitalism without truly emulating the best of both incarnations, got the now-requisite double vinyl issue, but played at 45rpm. But more desirable was DJ Shadow’s picture-disc remix of the album’s glitchiest chapter, ‘The Gloaming’. Though the trip-hop maestro eschewed any trip-hop makeover for a heavier, industrialised soundscape with cut-up samples of President Bush (though it’s Vice-President Dick Cheney on the cover). Only 2000 copies were pressed up, on 10”, though the playing area (at 33rpm) is actually 7”.
Radiohead In Rainbows
(_Xurbia_Xendless Limited, 2007) / Buy
Limited edition box set
Radiohead’s approach to the back-to-form In Rainbows underlined the new age – file-sharing, downloading, social media, the proposed death of the music industry – with an unprecedented pay-what-you-want model, essentially giving it away for free if buyers so chose. But at the top end, a deluxe package spread the album over twin vinyl and included two CDs (including a bonus disc), plus sheaves of artwork and lyrics.
Arguably the highlight of In Rainbows, the restless, spectral ‘Reckoner’ was released in the Netherlands as a one-sided 12” as a striking nine-minute techno/trance remix by the British trio Above And Beyond. Yours these days for £60 or thereabouts.
Radiohead The King Of Limbs
(Ticker Tape Ltd., 2011) / Buy
Limited edition double 10″
Apart from not being sold with a pay-what-you-want option, and being constructed by more sampling and cut-up manipulations, Radiohead’s eighth studio album followed the same musical and distribution pattern as In Rainbows: download first, then physical releases, and finally a special edition. The so-called ‘Newspaper Album’ included newspaper-format fold-out artwork, alongside two clear 10″ vinyl, single CD and – according to the sales-speak, a “perforated blotting-sheet containing 625 tiny pieces of artwork” while, “a full-colour piece of oxo-biodegradable plastic film holds it all together.”
From July to November 2011, Radiohead released eight 12” singles with two remixes apiece of King Of Limbs’ eight tracks, with some notable remixers, such as Four Tet, Caribou, Jamie xx and Mark Pritchard. A limited edition 12” box set rounded all of the first seven (the eighth, TKOL RMX8, was too late for inclusion on the album and was subsequently released as a download).
Radiohead The Brighter North – Live In Canada – Vol.1 & Vol.2
(Darwinism In The Falkland, 2015) / Buy
Unofficial coloured vinyl editions
This is where it gets tricky. Are these two double vinyl albums bootlegs, or legitimate Italian imports? Can you have ‘semi-legitimate’ releases? The label concerned, Darwinism in the Falklands, suggests this could be iffy, but it’s nevertheless commercially available through reputable sources. Either way, they comprise an entire live show from Canada from 2001, plus several bonus tracks recorded in Europe at the same time, as perfect a Radiohead’s Greatest Bits Live album as you’ll find from that era. The 180 gram vinyl is available in silver and marbled grey/brown editions.
Deluxe case-bound vinyl edition including a piece of the master tape
Come June, there will be a very limited twin “opaque white coloured” vinyl version, but for full bells and whistles, September’s deluxe edition promises a double CD (featuring two extra tracks), 32 pages of artwork and that snippet of tape, and the only essential part of the package, “two heavyweight vinyl records,” as a “case-bound album inspired by the albums for 78rpm shellac records in the library of La Fabrique in France” – namely the studio where the bulk of A Moon Shaped Pool was recorded, within a 19th century farmhouse in Saint-Rémy de Provence. The ¾ inch tape, however, is pure marketing rather than anything practical: “You may have silence, you may have coloured leader tape, you may have a chorus,” the band’s statement explains. “It’s a crapshoot.”