Radiohead | MiniDiscs [Hacked] | Review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

‘If I get old, I will not give in/ But if I do, remind me of this’. So sang Thom Yorke on b-side ‘A Reminder’ (a charming, if inessential, outtake from a band at the peak of their career). It’s highly unlikely that Radiohead ever expected early demos of the song, in which Yorke sings a cappella over the sound of the wind, to receive an official release 22 years later.

MiniDiscs [Hacked] is a 17-part anthology of studio outtakes, live performances, acoustic demos, band rehearsals and even field recordings made prior to the sessions for 1997’s OK Computer album. The recordings were leaked online by a collector, prompting the band to officially release the collection (minus some third party copyrighted material) and pledge all proceeds to Extinction Rebellion.

This anthology is the perfect example of a curate’s egg. Long-time Radiohead fans will find much of interest, although after an initial listen it’s unlikely that many will listen to the release again in its entirety. And frustratingly, the 17 parts are not split into individual songs, meaning that song titles are not provided for the previously unreleased demos and song fragments.

Radiohead fans often have to be patient, however: the official, markedly different studio recordings of ‘Nude’ and ‘True Love Waits’ (which were written at around this time) weren’t released until 2007 and 2016, respectively. ‘Lift’, ‘I Promise’ and ‘Man of War’ were all recorded during the OK Computer sessions and performed live, but weren’t officially released until 2017’s 20th anniversary edition of the album.

Highlights of this collection include a Thom Yorke acoustic performance of ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ from 1996, and a different studio recording of ‘Lift’ that matches its live arrangement. There are a few mysterious untitled instrumentals, reminiscent of the ambient-flavoured pieces heard in 1998’s Meeting People is Easy documentary. There are synthesizer drones which demonstrate that 2000’s Kid A wasn’t a complete volte-face for a band known for using guitars. There are lots of previously unheard songs which never made it past the bedroom demo stage, and embryonic versions of many songs that did.

Unfortunately, these recordings do not have the consistency of the outtakes released on 2017’s OKNOTOK cassette. There are off-key vocals, fluffed takes, wrong notes, false starts, recording errors and poor sound quality – demonstrating that this collection was never intended for public consumption. If you want to hear Radiohead at their polished best then go elsewhere. There are also many, many versions of ‘I Promise’ – in all honesty not one of Radiohead’s better songs. However, these recordings do provide a unique insight into the composition and creation of one of the best and most enduring albums of the 1990s.

If you survive the 16-hour journey, MiniDiscs [Hacked] will serve as a reminder that musicians are imperfect human beings like the rest of us, and as proof that they don’t just produce an album as absorbing and popular as OK Computer without an immense amount of hard work.

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