Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rudolph the Red Nosed Radiohead!! (and three other good ones)

I can't help myself. I'm a goofball sometimes. The video for Radiohead's "Burn the Witch" looks so much like those stop-motion Christmas specials from Rankin-Bass that I just had to reference that somewhere in the title of this week's blog! Anyway, on we go!!

"Burn the Witch" by Radiohead: What happens when you put Rankin Bass Christmas specials, persecution of women based on false accusation, a classical orchestra, and electronic beats into the same setting?! You probably were going to say either "a bad dream" or "an acid trip", but the answer is Radiohead, whom I guess kinda resemble those two things sometimes! The song that combines all these factors, "Burn the Witch", is calming and edgy all at once, like a lot of Radiohead's songs tend to be. Both the lyrics of "Burn the Witch" and its accompanying Rankin-Bass-goes-to-the-dark-side music video are Thom Yorke's way of expressing criticism towards many facets of contemporary society. For instance, the song's chorus of "Abandon all reason/Avoid all eye contact/Do not react/Shoot the messenger/Burn the witch" could be interpreted as a "madness mantra" against how foolishly people tend to react to political events (just about any events, really). The jarring yet brilliantly hilarious juxtaposition between innocent children's show imagery and people causing chaos amongst themselves also lends itself to many interpretations, one of which is the dissonance between the idea of "family values" and how grim some think the reality of such "values" can be as a result of impinging them upon society. After seeing the music video for "Burn the Witch" (, you might never look at "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" the same way again!!

"Casual Party" by Band of Horses: Band of Horses have experimented with quite a few sounds on the rock spectrum during the 2010's. "Laredo" found BOH trying out a sound that mixed CCR with Gram Parsons, "Knock Knock" was BOH at their most rock 'n' roll sounding, and their latest tune, "Casual Party", is BOH at their most alt-pop-y. What do I mean by that?! Well, think along the lines of groups like Walk the Moon or Neon Trees, but with a slightly quirkier direction in sound and not as much synth reliance. It's a long way off from sensitive power pop ballads like "No One's Gonna Love You" and "The Funeral", but it still manages to work relatively well for the band. The vibe of "Casual Party" makes it sound like it belongs at a nightclub on the beach (or perhaps a beach turned into a nightclub) that exists solely in the listener's imagination. The keyword to "Casual Party" seems to be "party", as there appears to be more emphasis placed on the instruments and the energy they give off than on the lyrics of the song.

"Dark Necessities" by Red Hot Chili Peppers: Hard to believe RHCP have been popular for 25 years, and around for just a little over 30, isn't it?! Well, it seems like Anthony, Flea, and the boys have taken to being an aging rock group rather well. Their latest song, "Dark Necessities" even sounds a little like The Who's "Eminence Front", albeit a notch or two softer. It's notable for being one of the first (if not THE first) RHCP song with a piano as one of its leading instruments. The band who once prided themselves on being relentlessly wild funk-rockers who frequently performed half-naked onstage are growing up, it seems, with this song. It's not as though they haven't had mature songs before. After all, their biggest hit, "Under the Bridge", is probably one of the saddest songs I have known, especially towards the end. "Dark Necessities" seems to really solidify the "mature" aspect of The Chili Peppers, though, like hardly any other songs I have known by them, as if they are responding to the induction they got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 4 years ago.

"Need You Tonight" by Bonnie Raitt: Bonnie sure has eclectic taste in cover songs, and she does them rather well, too! 2012 saw the release of her spiced-up reggae inflected version of soft rocker Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line". Neither Rafferty nor Raitt have much of anything in common with Australian rock group, INXS, yet that is who Raitt is choosing to cover this time around! INXS seem to be unsung heroes when it comes to influencing the indie rock scene, influencing at least in part a number of popular indie groups like Phoenix, TV on the Radio, The 1975, and Walk the Moon, among others, yet rarely talked about as an influence on such groups. I thought one of them would have covered "Need You Tonight" before Bonnie did, but lo and behold, I was wrong!! "Need You Tonight" is a funk-rock classic that came out about a decade after funk had its day in the limelight, and many a rock historian knows that funk has its roots in the blues, which Bonnie Raitt is excellent at playing, so perhaps it should have come as such a huge shock to me that she chose to cover this one, but it did. Nonetheless, Raitt's spin on this song manages to pack in both more funk and more riffs than the original version did! If only Michael Hutchence could have heard this version, I think he would have loved it!