Greatest Song At This Moment - Radiohead's "Optimistic"




Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Weezer's "El Scorcho," Ronnie & The Daytona's "Little G.T.O.", and Tender Box's "Spectacular Spider-man Theme."

I have a strange resistance to some music. Tell me something's great, and I'll usually listen to it with a serious "We'll see about that" sitting on my shoulder. I'm not the breed of music lover who takes many loves, conquering one after another and adding notch after notch to my headphones. Some of these beliefs have been changed or in some cases worn down, and Radiohead was one of these. At first I took to them just like Cher in "Clueless"--a character I've found myself aligning with more than a normal heterosexual man would probably admit--by liking it well enough as cry-baby music, or in some cases the kind of "sad bastard music" Barry from "High Fidelity" might deride. My insane resistance to R.E.M.-inspired songs with parentheses in the titles eventually wore down through, of all things, radio air play and odd "they're great" assumptive name-dropping from respectable sources (friends, writers, etc.). Upon re-examining the band, I found much to enjoy, much to appreciate, and even more to love, which brings us to "Optimistic," a song epitomizing the 'Head's ability to rock as hard as they pretend they don't know how. But as I've replayed this tune a million times in the week and the more I've come to like Radiohead in general, the more I've worried, "Does this mean I like Pink Floyd now?"

See, I can't stand Pink Floyd, and for a number of reasons, not the least of which are their odd dedication to Ambitious Rock Music with capital letters and their legions of dedicated fans who never seem to cease in telling me how Ambitious Pink Floyd's Rock Music is. It's not that I don't appreciate ambition ("Ambition") in rock 'n' roll. I absolutely do. I just don't award Ambitious rock with a free pass if you're not rocking in the other ways. That's a long way to say Pink Floyd's style, vibe, and entire scene has always left me cold. And that's a polite way to say my ears would rather eat a chunk of chicken turd than sit through "Money" one more time.

So if my pedigree is strictly anti-Floyd style, and it can be safely assumed that Radiohead's style is, at the very least, not completely un-Floyd, why the change? Maybe it's simply the absence of nonsensical, intentionally frustrating, "artistic" movies in Radiohead's catalog that makes the big difference. Sure, I prefer the music of Radiohead to Floyd, and it's always nice to have a contemporary artist carrying the torch instead of an old group past their prime, but the lack of way-too-long music videos that are all supposed to mean something goes a long way for a guy like me. That's not to say that Radiohead doesn't try to mean something with every weird beep and spacey boop of "Kid A," or that they don't make some weird, trippy, often Ambitious videos. They do. They're actively weird. They are quite possibly the most cerebral band of current age, and it's this quality that has kept me at arms length from loving them entirely. But while I wouldn't call a song like "Treefingers" my cup of musical tea, the organic human greatness of an "Optimistic" is so powerful that all the well planned, well plotted, critical-darling bating is nearly forgiven. If I need to listen to a rock band trying to recreate the final act of "2001" to get something as great as "Optimistic," I guess I'll just have to put up with it.

On the other hand, I don't feel an obligation to eat my musical vegetables, as it were, in order to enjoy my rock 'n' roll desserts. So maybe the difference between Radiohead and Pink Floyd is just timing. They're contemporary. I once heard an "Appetite"-era Duff McKagen interview explain that while the band loves Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones, their time had past and that there is great power in simply being contemporary. So perhaps just as GNR fans in the late 80's might have loved them over their older influences from an era they didn't directly connect to, maybe I am relating to the modern incarnation of this style of music because it is part of this "nowness" of my world. There might have been songs from other prog-rock bands to rock as beautifully and gracefully as "Optimistic," but they didn't come from the last six or seven years, or from bands in their prime. The song isn't just up my alley, it's up my current alley.

As a matter of fact, a song like this, or their later "Bodysnatchers," is so far up my alley that it's frustrating. If this band can be this kick ass some of the time, why not do it all the time? Do Radiohead--and, more specifically, Radiohead fans--feel guilty for allowing themselves the pleasure of such a song so close to the dumber end of rock? "Optimistic" is at its core is as repetitive as anything AC/DC ever did. It's the same riff, over and over, reworked a bit here and there. The artistry comes, of course, in how these tried and true staples of music are arranged, and in that regard "Optimistic" handles the staples with a master's hand. And that's something Pink Floyd may have done for their fans, but because they suffer the sin of not belonging to this time period, I don't listen to them. I've got my own era's band.

But all of this is the kind of talk that one expects when discussing such a cerebral band. Maybe the reason I don't hold Radiohead's recorded meanderings against them like I do for Pink Floyd, is much more simple than the 'Head wants me to believe. When it comes down to the ability to rock, Radiohead delivers in a way Pink Floyd never could.

"Optimistic" Live In Studio


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Written By Phillip Mottaz

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Greatest Song At This Moment - Radiohead's "Optimistic"