On The Download: Radiohead’s Rewarding Reissues

From the groundbreaking guitars of 1993’s “Pablo Honey” to the innovative pay-what-you-want release of 2007’s “In Rainbows,” it’s no secret that Radiohead has been one of rock music’s most consistently forward-thinking bands – and arguably, its best.

Their move into electronic music on 2000’s “Kid A” helped paved the way for the success of acts such as the Postal Service and techno legends Daft Punk, while the serious rock anthems of 1995’s “The Bends” and 1997’s “OK Computer” pushed Britpop away from Oasis and Blur and set the template for a generation of British acts from Coldplay to Muse.

But on Capitol/EMI’s newly released reissues of the band’s first three albums, the band is revealed as a surprisingly prolific act as well, with enough extra material to fill another set of classic albums.

While each one of these albums – particularly “OK Computer,” a paranoid look at the Information Age driven by singer Thom Yorke’s evocative vocals and Jonny Greenwood’s incendiary lead guitars – belongs on your iPod (and is likely there already), the reissues present an abundance of rarities and extras that are often as impressive as the original album cuts.

“Pablo Honey,” the band’s grunge-era debut, is best known for its anthemic hit single, “Creep,” but the reissue’s second disc offers a number of worthy tracks – B-sides “Stupid Car (Demo)” and “Killer Cars (Live)” dig in to Thom’s fear of driving, and songs such as “Inside My Head” reveal the band’s noisy roots.

The bonus disc for 1995’s “The Bends,” the album that spawned singles “Fake Plastic Trees” and “High and Dry,” offers one of the band’s best EPs, “My Iron Lung.” It features “Lozenge of Love,” a Beatles-like acoustic number that recalls the Eastern influence of “Within You, Without You,” and “The Trickster,” itself a tense tune with searing fretwork from Greenwood and the band. Another highlight of the disc is “Talk Show Host,” a slow-burning track that gained notoriety after its appearance in the 1995 film “Romeo + Juliet.”

Strangely, the reissued “OK Computer” organizes its extras into the tracklists from its individual single releases rather than offering the songs in the order of the “Airbag/How I Am Driving” EP, their finest non-album release. Luckily, none of the tracks have gone missing. There’s “Palo Alto,” a hard-charging rocker about “a city of the future” and “Polyethylene, Pts. 1 & 2,” which begins with a lullaby of an acoustic introduction before rising to anthem stature. “OK Computer” is Radiohead’s masterpiece (or at least one of them) and the full slate of songs left off the album sizzle with the same level of inspiration.

Many of these tracks have been available over the years only on out-of-print singles and EPs, but for Radiohead fans – which should include just about everyone by now – they’re an essential document of the wide-ranging career of some of the finest musicians of our time. The dozens of tracks’ worth of uncovered material – as well as the equally stunning live performances and radio sessions compiled among the discs – are as good as most bands’ discographies.

For those hungry for Radiohead, these reissues should more than satisfy.

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