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The understated genius of Colin Greenwood, Radiohead's secret weapon

Whilst Radiohead is undoubtedly the sum of its parts, with each member bringing something vital to the fold, often it is lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and frontman Thom Yorke who bask in all the limelight. 

This is understandable, given that both Greenwood and Yorke are the most prominent in the media due to their extra-Radiohead activities, with Greenwood moonlighting as one of the finest composers of his generation, and Yorke delivering the stellar soundtrack for 2018’s Suspiria, amongst other things. In addition to this, what Greenwood and Yorke bring to Radiohead is the power that has carried them all these years.

In truth, we could discuss the importance of Greenwood and Yorke for an age, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to discuss the importance of Radiohead’s other resident Greenwood, Jonny’s older brother, Colin. A bass-player extraordinaire and multi-instrumentalist, Colin is the band’s secret weapon, and without a doubt their most underrated member. Without his input, the ice-cool syncopated grooves that the band does so brilliantly wouldn’t get off the ground.

He sits in drummer Phil Selway’s pocket, and delivers some of the most astute and effective basslines in modern music, leaving lots of space in a measure and regularly choosing to fit his work into the off-beats, enabling the band to create the glitchy and futuristic work that made everything following OK Computer so pioneering.

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Greenwood has delivered countless genius basslines over his career, and it’s safe to say that even when Radiohead were just getting started with OK Computer he had confirmed himself as one of the world’s most refreshing masters of the four-string, utilising a warm tone and a breadth of effects and techniques to achieve his creative vision.

Fittingly, the opener of the album, ‘Airbag’, remains one of his best-loved moments, and in it, he displays his most important technique, his love of the off-beat. His bassline, whilst repetitive, bounces around like an electrical signal, as the guitars and textures envelop to create what is one of the band’s most consequential tracks.

I don’t think anybody will forget his performance towards the end of the track either, where he starts to play the notes on the beat with what is an almost bluesy riff, upping the tempo with Selway and bringing the song to its crescendo. Arguably though, Greenwood’s best bassline comes in ‘How to Disappear Completely’ as he plays that soothing run that ballasts the entire track. This is Greenwood’s style to a tee, it’s laid-back but is always focused on its purpose.

Ever humble, Greenwood fully understands the objective of the bass in the context of music in general and within Radiohead. He constructs lines that allow his bandmates to work on top of, providing them with the concrete foundation to create complex and dynamic music that is nothing but timeless. Colin Greenwood deserves the respect outside the relatively small circles of diehard fans and bass nerds, as he has had a deciding hand in changing how the bass is approached in contemporary times, a remarkable feat.

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