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Monday, February 28, 2011

Radiohead's "Creep"

This is another piece from Between The Ground & God, a collection of writings published in book form in 2005 by Ridgeway Press. This piece first appeared in the Metro Times in 1994.

Radiohead's "Creep" is an amazing record; it may be post-punk rock's most fully realized link with the varied elements of early rock and roll. Even though Radiohead writer/singer Thom Yorke may have been attempting to distance himself from the clutches of classic rock traditions, "Creep" cements a deal between grunge and pre-Beatles rock.

And like a lot of the most interesting rock songs, "Creep" is something of a one-off, an isolated event. Originally hidden on a 1993 album called Pablo Honey, the song is now a re-released hit on alternative radio. It came well before Kid A & OK Computer, Radiohead's twin masterpieces.

Slurring out a story of immense alienation, Yorke's singing sounds like the sluggish dissolve of a fading siren. Where blues singers use broken cadence and the dropped word to match the feel of the rhythm section, Yorke uses the punk's swollen alliteration to sound even more like the ugly outsider. He's not the classic rock anti-hero who will one day be redeemed by a large audience for the purity of his stance; the guy in "Creep" is too consumed by self-loathing and misanthropy to even strike a pose.

"I wish I was special, you're so fucking special

But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo

What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here."

The singer is trapped first by his alienation, then by his desire, and finally by his lack of humanity. Yorke whispers the final chorus without any guts or vision. He (the singer's character, which may actually be the singer himself) is a creep, not to be admired or dismissed. What "Creep" is really about is loving the refuge that rock and roll provides, loving all of its stylistic and emotional possibilities. The creep does belong, finally, in a song with virulent guitars and the general dis-ease of a Dostoyevsky story.

Yorke also tosses jabs at popular culture and the alluring promise of the ad world--"I want a perfect body"--before sullenly addressing the object of his desire and the distance of his alienation: "You're just like an angel, you float like a feather in a beautiful world."

But it's not the world Yorke dwells in. His is a world of masks, of the spiritually dead. The social contradictions in the song are nearly hopeless--what's left after the failure of innocence? We guess that Yorke is crushed by the plasticized consumer culture while the girl, via her unrequested beauty, is naturally included.

About mid-song Yorke breaks into a chilling falsetto, as if there was nowhere left for his physical expression to go. Howled over gristle and bone guitars, this middle eight ties together rock's great antiquarian highlights--Elvis Presley's "Blue Moon," Jimmy Logsdon's really weird "Midnight Blues," Roy Orbison's "In Dreams," even Marc Bolin's elegant explorations of exclusion--with the anti-romantic punk of the Sex Pistols and Nirvana. "Creep" progresses on as well as it recalls earlier music; in this sense it has an achieved beauty that's as rare as it is difficult to sustain.

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