Sardonic, ironic, acerbic, paranoid and longing, Radiohead’s cutting lyrics come with political commentary, embedded references, and a Noam Chomsky outlook on the world. The sarcasm doesn’t mask the fact that underneath it all is a deep musical poetry. With this deep look at societal ills, Radiohead takes on corruption as well as shallow, plastic superficiality. Thom Yorke’s voice drips with sarcasm, musicality, and emotion as he delivers Radiohead’s unique perspective to the world. Here are the 5 best Radiohead lyrics.
Since the "Graduate" film, the idea of plastics symbolizing artificiality has roamed prevalently throughout our culture. The idea of having the words “fake” and “plastic” in the same phrase is deliberately redundant. Consumer fatigue is cleverly addressed in this song. This was the ‘90s, and the powerful influence of U2’s “Even Better Than The Real Thing” can be felt conceptually as well as literally when Yorke sings, “She looks like the real thing.”
“She looks like the real thing/She tastes like the real thing/My fake plastic love.”
Once again, Radiohead works with powerful imagery. The lotus flower contains many symbolic meanings across multiple cultures. The lyrics are poignant and poetic. The Bono-like falsetto gives the music an extra edge, bringing out the power of the lyrics.
“There’s an empty space inside my heart/Where the weeds take root/And now I’ll set you free/I’ll set you free.”
This song carries a powerful cinematic narrative. The lyrics and chords hint at “Hotel California,” with its tension of leaving versus staying. However, the feelings are not so mixed in this Radiohead song as the piece progresses. There are all sorts of layers to the lyrics (for example “Sing us a song” from Thom Yorke’s mouth comes across as a sardonic ode to “Piano Man,”), which take on power from a seemingly political subtext as the music builds.
“Wake from your sleep/The drying of your tears/Today we escape/We escape.”
This song is more haunting. The archaic title hints at something old and no longer thriving. The lyrics are mournful. Creating a song of aching beauty like this demonstrates growth on Radiohead’s part.
“You are my center when I spin away/Out of control on videotape/On videotape."
Rhythm and repetition are so crucial to Radiohead’s songwriting. The effect can be downright hypnotic. The lyrics, with their somewhat random feel, bring out something about the absurdity of life itself and are delivered with classic Yorke irony. In terms of linguistics, the phrases unfold starting with the repeated beginning of the phrase, becoming fuller in sentence structure, and then landing on another repeat of the ending phrase. This seemingly simple composition is such a great example of Radiohead’s sophisticated, original songwriting.
“Everything/Everything/Everything/Everything its right place/In its right place/In its right place/In its right place.”