Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ is already an arresting piece of music that oozes beauty, but this rare acoustic version of the song is somehow even more spectacular than the original.
The track helped confirm Radiohead as a household name and became an unlikely hit for the group. Then again, everything that they’ve ever done could be classified as falling into that category. The Oxfordshire group have always defied conventions and carried about their business in their own acerbic way.
‘No Surprises’ was written by Thom Yorke when the band supported R.E.M. in 1995 on a European tour which sparked an everlasting friendship between the two bands. After two years of playing around with the track in search of perfection, the band decided that they wouldn’t beat their first attempt, which is the version we all know and love.
“We wanted to sound like we’d all taken Mogadon,” Yorke told BBC Radio 6 in 2016. “We tried to play it as slow as we could, but it was never slow enough because we weren’t on Mogadon. So what we did was we took an earlier version and just slowed it right down.
“It always gets this huge reaction, the ‘bring down the government bit.’ People just start yelling spontaneously. It’s great. I don’t know why. It’s such an unpunk song [to] have released this weird anger.”
Bassist Colin Greenwood added: “The idea was: First frighten everyone with ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ and then comfort them again with a pop song with a chorus that sounds like a lullaby.”
A melancholic song like ‘No Surprises’ is already a delight, yet, when Radiohead performed it unplugged in Paris in 2003, they elevated it to a whole new level. Although Radiohead technically a stadium rock band, they’re about as far from the typical kind of outfit that pack out the same mammoth venues they do.
The Oxfordshire group’s sound is special no matter where they play, but this tiny venue in the French capital allows Radiohead to channel intimate energy. Even by watching a clip of the performance, you feel the intense emotions those Parisians were going through that evening.
‘No Surprises’ is the most hypnotising lullaby in rock and a song that will simply never get tiresome. Few tracks have the same power to captivate the listener into a spell in its entirety as ‘No Surprises’ can. That sorcery intensifies when the song is delivered, stripped back and unplugged.
Take a few minutes out of your day, and let Radiohead put you in a divine trance with ‘No Surprises’. (Skip to 27:58 in the video below to watch)