Early Radiohead, when Thom was blonde

All Radiohead Albums Ranked Worst to Best

Are you a creep? A loser, perhaps?

So we here, at The Mary Sue, have started to diversify our roster and cover more music-related topics. On the one hand, as someone whose first “nerdy” interest was music, I’m thrilled about this change in direction and am fully prepared to get insufferable about my own opinions and tastes.

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On the other hand, it puts me in the unfortunate position to rank certain bands I may or may not hold very near and dear to my heart. And Radiohead is next up on the chopping block.

Like many teenage indieheads, Radiohead was one of my go-to bands. And no, as cringey as teenagers could be, I didn’t play “Creep” on repeat (…past the age of 13, at least.) Therefore, with everything I know about them and with how much I love them, ranking their albums feels almost sacrilegious. But hey, if someone’s gotta do it, it may as well be someone who loves them.

So here they are, every studio album put out by Radiohead ranked from least to most listenable, and with a caveat: none of these albums are bad. All of them are worth a listen if you’re new to the band. Don’t let the superfans get to you, these are good albums—some are just more worthy of acclaim than others.

9. Pablo Honey

I never really listened to much Pablo Honey, because it’s fallen victim to what I think of as “Britpop Syndrome.” Britpop was a rock movement in the 90s that was unique to the UK, bringing us such bands as Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Libertines, and so on.

In other words, the music of this time was very ballad-y, and even thought the roots of what would come to be known as “Radiohead’s style” are present in Pablo Honey, they still sound quite similar to other Britpop albums at the time. It’s still a pretty good album, though, and better than some other Britpop albums of its time.

8. The King of Limbs

This album is what got me into the band, because I was a kid and, like any kid, I wanted to impress my dad. And since my dad was into Radiohead, and this was a new album, I figured, Hey, time to be cool and wise up to this band.

It … was not the best album to start with. It’s full of a range of sounds and themes that signal an attempt to move towards something new, without quite sticking the landing. It’s like, you can tell you’re listening to Radiohead, but it feels like a Radiohead from another dimension. It’s cool in pieces, yet otherwise a little odd.

Maybe that’s what they were going for, though. In which case, good on ya, boys.

7. Amnesiac

The songs on Amnesiac are very … brain-massage-y. If that makes sense. The band really got eclectic with their sound design on this one, in what would come to be fairly standard as far as Radiohead goes, and the result would be a truly unique and interesting album to listen to.

But you have to be in a mood for “unique and interesting.” And ultimately, the collection of sounds and motifs present throughout this album feels exactly such: a collection. It’s like Amnesiac carries little bits and pieces of the predominant motifs in each of their albums, which makes listening to it a not-so-memorable experience.

6. Hail to the Thief

Although Hail To The Thief suffers from the same sort of problems as the last two albums, I’m giving it a higher ranking because it’s ultimately something of a concept album, and the concept is pulled off quite well. The concept is also something I can personally get behind: anti-war, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism.

It’s also meant to mirror children’s stories and lullabies concurrently, which is such a cool and effective pairing. The first time I listened to “Wolf At The Door,” I couldn’t stop thinking about it and listening to it for weeks. It’s absolutely one of my favorite Radiohead songs, full stop.

5. Kid A

In the grand scheme of things, Kid A isn’t all that unique, but goddamn is it cool. This is such a cohesive, artful album, the sort of album you can listen to all the way through on a long drive and have it fit perfectly.

It’s got such a great range of sounds, too, and they all fit better than they did in Amnesiac. You’ve got the harder guitar and bass licks, you’ve got the moody, emotional croons, you’ve got the techno meep-morps—you’ve got it all here.

And then, you’ve got “How To Disappear Completely,” which saved my depressed middle-school life. Which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

4. The Bends

It kills me that Thom doesn’t like most of the songs on The Bends, because even if it doesn’t reflect the authentic sound that the band eventually grew into, it was one of the most solid rock albums of the 90s. I mean, christ, this album hits hard. “Just”? Hoo, boy. You do it to yourseeeelf, you do.

And look, I get hating an early-career piece of art. When I was a small-town musician, my friends loved the few songs I produced, but I deleted that shit as soon as I graduated because it was embarrassing to me. Interesting how that works: “High And Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” might be two of Thom’s least favorite creations, but they’re millions of peoples’ favorites. An odd dilemma, to be sure.

3. A Moon Shaped Pool

This actually is part of a music video from this album, I just love BDG.

This might annoy some people. A Moon Shaped Pool is their most recent album, having come out in 2016 to much anticipation, and I think all that hype let some people down. After all, it signaled a departure from Radiohead’s more rock-heavy origins, and a decision to go more electronic. And after King of Limbs, I think a lot of people were really against this more than anything else.

But here’s the thing: it worked in A Moon Shaped Pool. I may not remember all the names of the songs, since they meld somewhat seamlessly together, but I remember how I feel listening to it. And I can’t even describe what that feeling is, it’s just a huge, heavy feeling, and it’s great.

The one feeling I can address, however, is the emotions I get listening to the last track, “True Love Waits.” For most of my teen years, this song was relegated to an acoustic cover that Thom didn’t know what to do with. But then, he finally figured it out, and the results are religious. Unreal sounds.

2. OK Computer

This will definitely annoy some people. I don’t know what to say guys, it’s by a hair here.

OK Computer is one of the best rock albums ever produced, and all the hype you’ve heard about it is merited. Sure, there’s absolutely a circlejerk of praise surrounding it, but it’s not without reason. The band pulls out all its stops and individual talents in OKC, and in case it isn’t apparent by now, the guys in this band are incredibly talented.

I mean, in this one album alone, we have several tracks that have been used recurrently in popular media. “Exit Music (For A Film)” was in Black Mirror, “Let Down” accompanied the end of the critically acclaimed show The Bear, and of course, “No Surprises” has been making the rounds on TikTok.

It’s a good album. A great album, one of the best. It really only loses out for a very small, inconsequential reason.

1. In Rainbows

Your mileage may vary, but I tend to think albums are better if they don’t go on and on, and if they stick to a sound that works and melds all the way through. OK Computer only lost out to In Rainbows because it did have just slightly more of an endless feeling to it, whereas In Rainbows feels just right in terms of length and cohesiveness.

And sure, I might be biased here, since In Rainbows is one of my favorite albums of all time. But I try not to rank based on personal bias, and in this case, I really do mean it when I say that In Rainbows is worthy of this spot.

It’s beautiful, it’s electric, it elicits a plethora of intense feelings—ahh!! It’s the rare sort of album that tells a story through sound alone. The transition from the first two aggressive songs, into the slower “Nude,” and then the gorgeous, haunting “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” which is followed up by goddamn “All I Need“???? And then a brief respite with “Faust Arp,” only to be hit again with “Reckoner.” My god. They put magic into this album. I could listen to it over, and over, and over again, and never get even remotely sick of it.

It’s starting to rain in SoCal, y’all. If it’s raining where you are, I can’t recommend listening to this album enough. Especially from the “From The Basement” session.

(Featured Image: Parlophone)


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Author
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).