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Music

The real reason why Radiohead’s Thom Yorke hates music algorithms

Thom Yorke thrives on doing what is unexpected of him, so he’s unlikely to take kindly to an algorithm on the internet informing him that he should listen to a particular artist. And so it came to pass that The Sunday Times asked him what he thought of algorithms. “No,” replied the Radiohead frontman. “‘If you like this, you’ll like this’, and then it gives me… MUSE.”

Music journalists have compared Radiohead and Muse for years, but Yorke clearly doesn’t see it as a compliment, and he’s right to hold them with such disdain. Muse have commonly sounded like a collection of Radiohead outtakes, and not the sort of outtakes that would appear on Pablo Honey, Radiohead’s first and worst album. More like the type of outtakes that remain blessedly in the vaults, away from prying eyes and ears, and far from the whims of the common people. As if.

Muse have followed half-hearted album after half-hearted album for ages, and when they ran out of Radiohead moves to try out, they decided to ape Queen on the awful ‘United States of Eurasia’. Muse has only released nine albums – thank the Lord for small miracles – four of them geared towards fans of Twilight, and other such offerings destined to thrill the teenage senses. But at least they were memorable, something which can’t be said about the albums that came after. And that’s something no band that follows Radiohead should be: forgettable.

Sadly, music is pivoting into the area of bland, as can be heard on the last three Bond films, which all centred around pedestrian piano ballads, instead of the giddy inventiveness of Jack White’s 2008 offering. Interestingly, Yorke issued a theme for Spectre that was decidedly more inventive than the work that wound up on Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as James Bond. Sam Smith recorded the tune for Spectre, but Yorke was unhappy with their efforts.

“That was a fine moment,” he said. “We sat down and whats-his-name, the guy who did the Bond film we didn’t do? He stands behind us, and I’m sitting with my daughter, her friends, and my girlfriend when suddenly everyone goes ‘Saaaam!’ I’m, like, ‘Aaaaargh!'”

Clearly disappointed in what he considered a less interesting artist, and song, to the offering he had in store for the band, Yorke recognised that the best way to project a sense of ingenuity and innovation was to continue working as a creative thinker. The singer has released three solo albums: 2006’s The Eraser, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and 2019’s Anima.

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None of the solo albums borrowed from the one that came immediately before it. Instead, it trod a new path, one that was woven by the intensity and the philosophy of the moment in question. His newest work holds character, competition and condition, creating a sense of urgency and fatality in the majority of his songs. It’s hard to imagine Matt Bellamy writing something as impassioned, intuitive or as intellectual as ‘Creep’, and he certainly couldn’t come up with something as esoteric or as hauntingly beautiful as Kid A.

Instead, Bellamy favours the flavours of the cliche, characterising rock as a sort of bathroom entertainment, never understanding the integrity of the soul ballad as a means for the audience to escape from their dismal realities. Instead, Muse’s outlet is a convoy of candy floss: sugary and gives an appetising overview of what escapism could be like, but without having the backbone, or the inclination, to go through with the pursuit.

Muse will never be as original as Radiohead, as far-reaching as U2, or as energetic in live performances as Queens of The Stone Age. Muse can continue to entertain the 14-year-old demographic in their own charming way, safe in the knowledge that these fans will one day mature into more discerning young adults, who will come to cast off the shadows of their younger years for a more enlightened pathway into avant-garde rock. Yorke has every right to feel suspicious of Muse. Indeed, everyone should be.

More happily, Yorke enjoys Billie Eilish, precisely because she’s happy to do “her own thing.” Creating a new form of music, Eilish knows what her strengths in uncovering a new, undiscovered genre can lead to. Harbouring a framework that flits from corrosive to cerebral, Eilish has only once wavered into the territory of bland, and that was on No Time To Die, a film that was almost as boring as the soundtrack that accompanied it.

But even artists can have their off-days, and Eilish, like Yorke, has done more than her fair share to shape the esoteric shapes of pop, creating a new lexicon that many of her disciples are eager to learn. If Muse has disciples, they’re more likely to be wearing vampire makeup than making out the codes of a new form of music.

Stream Radiohead’s rejected theme for Spectre below.