June 3, 2017

Radiohead - "I Promise"

This summer, Radiohead will release OK Computer: OKNOTOK 1997-2017, a reissue of their 1997 landmark album. Along with various b-sides, the reissue will also include three previously unreleased tracks and the first, "I Promise", is a stunning reminder of the band's radical shift from one-hit-wonders and Brit-Pop luminaries to mega-stars of the underground.

In the hours leading up to the worldwide release of last year's wonderful A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead fans around the world gushed when the track listing revealed that the long-time classic "True Love Waits" would finally make an appearance on an actual Radiohead album. For decades, the song appeared in various live formats, but the band had argued that a solid studio recording never came to fruition. When the track closed out the album, the version fans found was not the acoustic guitar rendition that had been bootlegged across the internet, but rather a gorgeous piano ballad that gave the song a new life in a new century. "I Promise" was recorded during the same era as OK Computer and existed on various set lists throughout the '90s but much to the chagrin of fans, it also never found its way onto an actual album. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense. It's hard to hear this song and argue that it truly belongs on OKC or Kid A and it certainly does not fit with the later experimentation the band went through in the early aughts. If anything, A Moon Shaped Pool would probably be most suitable for this song. However, the version that finally saw the light of day earlier this week does not follow the same path as "True Love Waits." The band didn't rerecord this lost gem, but instead left it intact and now it makes perfect sense. Nearly twenty years later, the track now seems to serve as a crucial link from the melancholic beauty of acoustic ballads off The Bends ("High and Dry" and "Fake Plastic Trees") and the movement into the unknown territory that cemented the band as England's best export since Pink Floyd. Selway's steady snare march, resilient strings, that acoustic strum and Yorke's aching lyrics are all vintage Radiohead. It's another beautiful glimpse into a world of haunting vocals and serene acoustic guitar that, somehow, immediately conjure up strong emotions and evoke tear-jerking moments of distilled passion. It's grand and simple all at once, a skill the band has mastered quite unlike anyone else over the years. It's a reminder of just how powerful the band was and still is three decades into their monstrous career. For fans that have patiently holding their breathe all these years, the wait was certainly worth it. I promise.

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