Sunday, April 5, 2009

Primer Part 2: Radiohead- My Iron Lung EP

Radiohead have made it pretty easy on music critics because their career has had a respectable arc: band gets popular right away; band hates being known for a single hit song; band gets artier and weirder; band releases at least two groundbreaking albums; band settles into elderstatesmen-hood, releasing albums that may not be revolutionary and controversial but are still really, really good. It's kind of dizzying to think that Radiohead have been releasing excellent albums since 1995, a winning streak that shows no signs of slowing down even after the quietly brave In Rainbows release. And this can all be traced back not simply to The Bends, their second album, but to the EP that preceded it, My Iron Lung.

This EP was (is??) only available as an Australian import and collected both versions of the 'My Iron Lung' singles, which came well before the release of The Bends. While it's true that even by 1998 Radiohead were popular enough to cause stores like Best Buy to stock some of their imported singles and EPs, My Iron Lung became a kind of 'hidden gem'/Rosetta's Stone of sorts for the band. On one hand it has six excellent B-sides that fans will eat up, on the other hand it has gone down in history as early evidence of how far Radiohead would take their art. Remember that these songs were coming out only about a year after the release of Pablo Honey. The jump to The Bends doesn't seem quite as great after you've heard My Iron Lung.

Even the more 'traditional' songs on this EP--'Lewis (Mistreated)' and 'You Never Wash Up After Yourself'--show a lot of growth and maturity from Radiohead's debut album. But of course it's the other songs that make this EP so compelling. 'Permanent Daylight' sounds like more of a Sonic Youth pastiche than I remember, but it took guts for a British band to try something like this back then. 'The Trickster' is a fan favorite tune that rocks harder than almost anything Radiohead have laid down since 1995. The dreamy 'Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong' is like a preface of all the keyboards, effects pedals, and experimental elements to come. And 'Lozenge Of Love' has an intricate acoustic guitar part that will surprise listeners who, as I do, primarily think of Radiohead as an electric band.

I'm still hesitant to call this EP a five star affair. It's not as good as Airbag/How Am I Driving?, Radiohead's other well known EP, but it is more historically important. This should be at the top of your list once you've gotten all their albums from The Bends onward, however, because it fills in part of the puzzle of "how did they get from Pablo Honey to The Bends in one move??" by answering "well, they recorded a crackerjack single that bemoaned their first hit single along with a half dozen great B-sides, too."

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