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Radiohead’s newest single “If You Say The Word” is a mellow combination of the English rock band’s past eras and a look toward their future. The band’s members have been working on personal projects since the group’s last release in 2017, and many fans doubted the possibility of any new Radiohead content. “If You Say The Word,” however, is the first of several unreleased or reworked songs that will feature on “Kid A Mnesia,” a forthcoming compilation album that will combine the two-decade-old albums “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” with brand-new material.
“If You Say The Word” feels reminiscent of tracks on “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” like “Life In a Glasshouse” and “In Limbo.” The gloomy atmosphere, jazzy drum beat, and dreamy vocals ground the single in the sound of early 2000’s Radiohead, making it feel strongly connected to its companion albums. The song had been in the works since 1999, and its eerie enveloping intro is a classic Radiohead feature. Thom Yorke’s hazy and calm vocals start the first verse; an early line about being “stuck in rainbows, shattering glass” is an evocative reference to the band’s 2007 album “In Rainbows.” Released as a “pay-what-you-want” download, that album was a statement about the indispensable nature of music and having faith in its value, a belief that Yorke recently reaffirmed in an interview. Yet the phrase “stuck in rainbows” here also contains another meaning in the context of the subsequent line, “where you miss the moment, watching it pass,” and the single’s broader themes. It’s a metaphor for being stuck in a limbo between the present and an imagined future, just as rainbows exist in the limbo between earth and sky. In this sense, the metaphor represents the way in which the pressure to plan and prepare for the future can prevent us from appreciating the present.
The second verse continues this train of thought as Yorke sings,“when you spend your life wishing on a star” and later, “when you forget how lucky you are,” possibly criticizing the music industry’s focus on constantly producing more and more content while straying from authenticity. The instrumentation builds around the second chorus, creating an ethereal sound. The bridge once again touches on the disingenuous character of life in the spotlight, commenting on how quickly friendships can change, and then leads into the final chorus, ending with “I’ll come running.” Radiohead’s criticism of continuously aspiring for success reflects the band’s broader commitment to an authentic and personal connection to the practice of music creation and consumption.
Ultimately, “If You Say The Word” is a surprising yet welcome piece of art from Radiohead, and sets up high expectations for the remainder of “Kid A Mnesia.”
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