Radiohead vs U2

So I was watching The Colbert Report last night (the companion show to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart). He had an extended show (an hour as opposed to the usual 30 minutes) which had Radiohead as his special guest. They performed several songs and did multiple interview segments as well.

King of Limbs is an absolutely stunning album for me. Actually almost everything they’ve done has been completely stunning to me. As I watched last night I was taken with the thought that Radiohead is what I’d always hoped U2 to be.

One of the major differences in my mind is that Radiohead seems less concerned with that ‘Best Band In The World’ label that U2 touts and are more concerned with making their music.

Don’t get me wrong. I love U2’s music. But I don’t love it the same way. U2 has always imbued that ‘must be radio play ready’ sensability to their songs. I love the fact that Radiohead does not.

I guess I find the difference is that Radiohead are musical purists whereas U2 are more concerned with mainstream success. Is that a bad thing? Sometimes I have to think so.

For me, since Pop was released, it seems to me that U2’s music is safer. And despite the fact there was some experimentation with No Line On The Horizon, it could have gone a lot farther. I find that concern with success tends to be something that is holding them back from really letting go and seeing where they could end up. I think there is such a real fear of failure there that they gave up the spark that took them from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby, Zooropa and the unfinished Pop.

Maybe U2 has tons of material that will never see the light of day that would blow us away. Maybe not. I find Radiohead’s endless willingness to fracture sonic boundaries and explore well beyond the norms we see so incredibly inspiring.

If anyone cares to share their thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear it. This is where my mind is and has been for a long time. Curious if I’m alone in that.

In the US (not sure if anywhere works), watch the full episode here.

In Canada (and elsewhere hopefully) you can go through the various videos here.

This is my favourite video of all time…Lotus Flower:

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8 Responses to Radiohead vs U2

  1. Damien Smith says:

    Both bands have spent their ENTIRE careers experimenting– which is why they are special talents. U2’s whole sound since the beginning of their journey in early-80’s is ONE GIANT EXPERIMENT– from War, to The Unforgettable Fire, to The Joshua Tree, to Rattle & Hum (where they experimented with American blues & country music), to Achtung Baby, Zooropa, & Pop (all extremely experimental albums)– and even their more recent efforts where they return to a classic U2 sound but still have elements of experimentalism.
    Same goes for Radiohead, who’ve always taken left turns throughout their own journey. From The Bends, to OK Computer, to Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows, & King of Limbs.
    Instead of wondering whose music is ‘better,’ or ‘more experimental,’ or will ‘last longer,’ we should all be thankful we are around at the same time they are. Both are magic.

    • larrylootsteen says:

      Trust me, I’m thankful to have been able to experience both bands. Their experimentation defines them but I still believe Radiohead went farther sonically then U2 ever did. It doesn’t minimize them in any way. Just different roads travelled…

    • vinox says:

      Thanks. I couldn’t say it in a better way

  2. Marcus says:

    U2 must be radio-ready? Let me point out that only a band as badass as U2 has a track like Until the End of the World and NOT release it as a single. Great things are great things for a reason; they speak to us all. I really don’t think we need to even be comparing Radiohead and U2 yet. I think a more viable comparison is Radiohead vs. Muse, and I’ll still tell you that Muse is the better band.

  3. Ethan says:

    You know I have to also agree with you. I am a long time U2 fan. They were my band growing up. I know all the songs been to every concert in town and even used to collect singles back when money didn’t flow into mortgage payments =;) I have always liked Radiohead, but recently got back into them. I found myself thinking just other day while listening to In Rainbows, “Wow, this is sonically interesting and not the usual drivel!” I found myself very quickly comparing it to my go to band, U2. And what did I find? That U2 left me a bit empty or unsatisfied. Which as a bit of a shock as I have always been one to stand up for Bono and the Boys.

    I also have to agree with the comments made about playing it safe. U2 always seems to be pre-occuided with this notion. Zooropa for me, is the last time that U2 made any real strides in pushing the boundaries. Pop could have been had they had the time to finish is it or even if they had really stood behind it and not shrunk back when there was backlash from media and stalwart fans. Radiohead seems to just go for it. Much like classical composers creating a substantial piece of work, Radiohead seems to craft their albums and songs like artists. U2, as of late seems to be putting things together with really safe lego blocks.

    Just my two cents.

    • larrylootsteen says:

      I really like the symphony comparison. It’s kind of like you are drinking a cup of coffee from your usual place. It’s dependable, satisfying. Then you try espresso and go ‘wow I had no idea coffee could taste like this’!! Of course the difference here is U2 is the price of espresso and Radiohead is the price of Tom Hortons or Dunkin Donuts coffee.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. Except on Pop. Pop was their last truly experimental album. They seemed to get scared off by the album not selling well, which always struck me as absurd, since it’s not as if U2 need the money. U2 sold themselves to the corporate machine in 2000 wuith ATYCLB, which was drivel, and folloewed it with the equally execrable HTDAAB. They have never recovered>

    Radiohead grow and grow, and wonderfully, do not give a damn about material success or chart position. They are the band U2 never can be, and are the most relevant British and since the Beatles.

    • larrylootsteen says:

      Actually that is what I was saying about Pop. That was the last real experiment. I said unfinished because it was. But it was definitely experimental. So I totally agree with you on that. Oddly my favourite track from Atomic Bomb was the one that never made the North American release and provided the title for the album, Fast Cars. I consider that a credible song and always wondered why they didn’t include it.

      As for Radiohead, there are simply stunning. They took their early success and decided to continue to make their own music and not cater nor cave to the machine. And Thom Yorke’s voice is an instrument in its own right.

      Thanks for the thoughts!! I really appreciate you sharing that.

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