Radiohead drop woozy 'Lotus Flower' and 'Staircase' on 'SNL': What did you think?


Image Credit: Dana Edelson/NBC

Saturday Night Live opened up its 37th season over the weekend with guns blazing. The show trotted out record-breaking, much-beloved host Alec Baldwin, whipped off their first funny political cold open since the 2008 election, and invited Radiohead, one of the most cultishly adored bands on the planet, to stand in as the musical guest.

In case you have forgotten, Radiohead actually put out an album this year. It’s called The King of Limbs, and it was almost completely forgettable. Objectively speaking, it’s another impressive sonic accomplishment, full of rumbles and hums and womb-like soundscapes. But once upon a time, the band used to write real songs, and those are nowhere to be found on The King of Limbs.

They didn’t do much to change minds on Saturday night, as frontman Thom Yorke and his collective of bleep-bloop obsessives twitched their way through a pair of tunes: the sinister b-side “Staircase” and the sorta-single “Lotus Flower,” the latter of which you can check out below.

Look, Radiohead can do whatever they like. They’ve earned the right to do nothing but put their elbows on a sample of penguin mating calls, loop it for an hour, and call it an album. That’s the sort of caché a band can buy when they put out The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid A in what has to be the greatest three-punch combination in rock history.

However, it gets harder and harder to break into the insular world of the post-Kid A albums, and the live experience actually hurts them more than it helps.Radiohead still have a reputation for being an incredible live act, and that is true to a point: It’s impressive that they can execute such complex songs live, and their older material still gets delivered with requisite intensity and furor. But there are all sorts of red flags.

Yorke still manages to pull off his embarrassing white guy dance (holding up the torch for recently-retired R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe), but the fact that Jonny Greenwood often trades in his guitar for a bank of electronics feels a little alienating. And at what point did Radiohead decide they needed two drummers like they were the Allman Brothers Band?

The bottom line is I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel watching that video above, and there isn’t a whole lot in the song to clue me in. I don’t need to be spoon-fed, but the reason why even the headiest bands rely on hoary rock and roll clichés is because they actually work. Without those sign posts, I might as well be watching Trey Anastasio endlessly noodle on “Tweezer,” and at that point I’ve already turned my television off.

What did you think of Radiohead’s performance on SNL? And what do you think of their latter-day material, especially in comparison to their older stuff? And if I’m missing something completely, would you let me know? Sound off in the comments below.

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Comments (141 total) Add your comment
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  • negatory

    are you serious?? those albums the greatest three punch combo in history??! do you own any records older than the 90s? not only are those albums aural thorazine but what about Dylan’s mid 60’s records? The Beatles? The Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet-Exile? the Hendrix Experience lps? Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia? Stevie Wonder’s early 70s albums? Springsteen’s run of classics from Born to Run to Born in the USA? go buy some records, dude. Radiohead is musical benadryl.

    • Angie

      I concur with Mr. Anderson! And yes, I own records from the 60’s till today. I won’t reveal my age but I will say that I’m a much “older RH fan.”

      • lucylili

        My best friend has just announced her wedding with a great man who is a celebrity!
        They met via { himillionaires*c’o’m}
        It is nice club for rich men or pretty girls mate.
        You do not need to be wealthy or famous, but you can meet your true love, it’s worthy a try.

    • Klint

      The Stones?! Even Jagger admits the only really decent album they had was Exile on Main Street. Ditto for Hendrix and Are You Experienced. Sounds like you’re stuck in a rose-tinted past, Negatory.

      • QED

        @Klint, if you think Hendrix’s only “really decent” album was Are You Experienced, then I feel sorry for you

    • Color Me Impressed

      @negatory: I’m a huge fan of all the stuff you just mentioned (I also would have included Zeppelin I-IV). However, I’m going to go ahead and guess you’re an old geezer who listens to nothing but stuff that was on the radio when younger, back in “the good ole’ days”. Yeah, the Stones, the Who, Springsteen, thats all great, classic stuff, but you really should broaden you’re listening palette. Yes mainstream music sucks nowadays, especially when you take into account the fact that they used to play great tunes like “I Can See For Miles” & “Stone Free” on the radio back in the 60’s, but there is a lot of great indie/alternative music from the late 70’s on that you really should give a chance, such as: The Replacments, The Strokes, Pixies, Bon Iver, Husker Du, The Killers, Neutral Milk Hotel, and yes, RADIOHEAD. I would have to agree with Mr. Anderson by saying that Yorke and crew have one of the greatest three-punch combos in rock music, absolutely (although the distinction of THE greatest would have to go to Rubber Soul-Revolver-Sgt. Peppers.)

      • Jeremy DC

        A fellow 90s band in Pearl Jam had a better three in a row with Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy.

      • Jeremy DC

        Forgot to mention, I think In Rainbows is Radiohead’s second best album after OK Computer.

      • True Blue

        The problem is that Kyle said “THE greatest”, not “ONE of the greatest”, which would’ve been far more accurate.

    • StemCellFajita

      Well now we have to play the game of which artists have the best three album sequence. I’d have to say “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver,” and “Sgt. Pepper” is the best three punch in music history.

    • Andrew

      To all of you comparing radiohead to any band pre-1980, ESPECIALLY THE BEATLES, you should be ashamed of yourselves. First of all, the Beatles, while they did change the music industry and were incredibly good FOR THEIR TIME, put out horribly boring music. It’s standard pop tunes from the time. Radiohead is so far ahead of their time, if you actually took the time to pull apart a song, analyze it, and figure out what they’re actually doing…
      come on.. the beatles? really? Kid A is probably one of the biggest benchmark albums in history. Not to mention Amnesiac, In Rainbows, Hail to the Thief, OK Computer, and the Bends.
      Pablo Honey was crap, and King of Limbs…eh

      • Morrison

        You are an incredible moron.

      • Jeff C.

        I agree with you. Kid A is, in my opinion, one of the top ten best albums ever made.

      • demiserv

        King of limbs wasn’t a total flop. The first couple of songs aren’t their best…but the rest of the album way more than makes up for it. No, thom cannot dance (see lotus flower video lol) but his music is amazing. End of story

      • steve

        Yeah the Beatles made boring music because you said so and Mozart was only good FOR HIS TIME too but he’s so overrated. You need a wider forum to express your views so they can be ridiculed into oblivion.

  • Cole

    You are totally writing off In Rainbows. It is an amazing album. And isn’t KId A full of the “bleeps and bloops” you are compaining about?

    • Lauren

      Yes thank you! In Rainbows and the Basement Sessions they did with that album. They have gone a little too far off the grid for my taste since then. My husband is still a diehard fan though and he loved the performances. He did a mean imitation of Thom’s crazy dance too.

      • Aunt Sassy

        I kinda liked his little crazy dance – although I don’t think I ever realized he’s so short. He looks like he’s about 4’1″ during this perfromance.

    • Dave

      I was going to say the exact same thing.

    • Melly

      Dude, what about Hail to the Thief? That was a brilliant album as well.

    • Roekest

      I love Radiohead and my friends wince every time I say this: Kid A sucked. Kid A sucked because of the bleeps and bloops. Bleeps and bloops are nothing new.

      And while I love Radiohead, I wish they’d get off their anti-capitalism kick while at the same time issuing different collections of whichever latest album of bleeps and bloops they decide to put out. If Thom and the boys are SO against capitalism, they would be giving every album away for free and donate any profits from their concerts to good causes.

  • Ethan

    Sure the performance was not amazing, but you’re being ridiculous about King Of Limbs. If eveyrthing shy of a Kid A/OK Computer level album is a “failure” or “totally forgettable,” no album will survive. King of Limbs is a great collection and remains one even if it doesn’t exactly change the music world around it. Plus “post-Kid A albums” would include In Rainbows, which was regarded pretty favorably by almost everyone other than you. I’d say you should be appreciative for music as good as Radiohead provides instead of whining that it doesn’t meet the standards set by some of the best albums of the last 20 years, for which almost no album will meet.

    • Angie

      Well said!

    • PNK

      In Rainbows did win best alternative album @grammys that year. And prob should have best album (was nominated).

    • Radzinsky

      Agreed. The reviewer is being really stupid. I love “The King of Limbs” and listen to it regularly.

  • Stephanie T.

    Come on. Radiohead was the only good thing about that episode. When the joke include, “Oh my G-d there’s a huge spider on your face”, and “Your mama’s so fat, she’s got ribeyes.” , that tells me to fire the writers and get better ones or cancel the show.

    • Kyle

      Exactly! I only stayed up for them! And I know everyone will hate me, but I get to see them at the ROSELAND!! Woo-hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Erin

      @Stephanie T. Agreed, the entire show was cringe-worthy! SNL needs to fire some of their writers. I only saw the premiere because I wanted to see my favorite band play two songs. I wish I could’ve fast forwarded through all of the pitiful skits.

  • D

    It is difficult to feel as excited post Kid A because there have been fewer grand/anthemic sounding songs like National Anthem or Karma Police. The newer stuff is great in its own right, but it doesn’t seem to have as much build. And for me it doesn’t seem to leave as much of a lasting impact though there are many songs I still enjoy. I’ve seen them live several times and have to agree with the reviewer-Saturday was a pretty weak performance.

    • Ethan

      That’s a surprising conclusion about songs that aren’t “grand/anthemic.” I don’t find those two songs to be especially similar, but, to me, songs like “All I Need” and “Wolf At The Door” are vintage Radiohead becuase they’re accessible, paranoid, dense and revealing on successive listens like all their best songs. On the new album, “Bloom,” “Give Up The Ghost,” “Morning Mr. Magpie,” and “Lotus Flower” all are not just songsthat reveal themselves more and more – they show Radiohead as capable of greatness still. I guess my only advice is to keep listening.

  • cathy

    In Rainbows was Radiohead’s most accessible Album since OK Computer, if not The Bends. And Hail to the Thief is arguably less experimental than Kid A, which this reveiwer apparently liked. Which makes me wonder if Mr. Anderson has actually listened to a Radiohead album since Amnesiac.

  • clem r

    My 2 cents: Thom Yorke needs falsetto lessons. Or he needs to give up singing falsetto. Or add a ton of reverb to soak up the ill-fated pitches he’s trying to hit. He’s got a cool voice in his non-Elmo range and should stay there.

    The first song was a total ‘meh’. After that I went to bed.

    • Angie

      Thom sounded nervous. He just doesn’t have the same voice he had when he was in early 20’s. But still love him.

      • Woody

        I for one love In Rainbows and The King of Limbs and really appreciate their continued maturation. To your point Angie, Thom was obviously having trouble initially, but I thought they were great after he got through his nervousness on the first verse and chorus of ‘Staircase’. In fact, I’ve noticed that they seem much more comfortable and accessible lately in their live performances – their songs are incredibly difficult to perform live. For more proof of their seemingly new comfort in their own skins, take a look at their “surprise” tune-up show recently at the Glastonbury Festival.

    • clem r

      their performance on Colbert was much more impressive than SNL – really well done

  • angeljake

    I did like in Rainbows thought it was really good…

  • BobDecker

    What’s with the “post Kid-A” hate? Amnesiac is a perfect companion to Kid-A, and they both have these so-called “bleep-bloop obsessives”. Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows both pushed the envelope as well, and I think were almost better in general. King of Limbs may not be that great, granted, but that is no reason to dislike all of their most recent work.

    • Angie

      Amnesiac is my favorite ‘head album, believe it or not.

      • Chris

        I always thought Kid A and Amnesiac should have been released together as a double album.

      • Tommy Rainbow

        Good call Chris. The thing about ALL of their albums for me since OK computer is they each have at least one track I will skip every single time I listen to it after the first. And it is always a “bleep-bloopy” one. Not that they don’t have some genious bleep-bloop songs as well. Actually the only one that’s popping into my head right now is, I just realized, off of Thom’s solo album “Eraser.” So maybe not.

  • PNK

    I have King of Limbs and I like it. In Rainbows is genius, and their performance on (2-year ago?) Grammys was outstanding.
    SNL here, however, started out with a weak vocal on the second song, and I thought Yorke was nervous or something. Then he got a little stronger. Since I like the album, I liked the performance after his voice strengthened.

  • Wilbur

    My standard for the band is not OKC/Kid A, it’s Pablo Honey. To expect an OKC/Kid A level stuff on every record is not fair to them as a band nor to me as a listener. When they put out an album my only question is whether it is a worthy addition to their catalog, and as long as it clears Pablo Honey, which The King of Limbs easily does, my expectation has more or less been met.

    In terms of old Radiohead vs. new Radiohead, I suppose it depends on where you put that dividing line. If you’re talking 90s (Pablo, The Bends, OKC) vs. 2000s (Kid A, Amnesiac, HTTT, In Rainbows), I don’t even have to think twice to tell you I’d take 2000s Radiohead. If you split their discography in half (the first four vs. the second half), then I take the first half. But a lot of people consider Kid A to be the starting point of new Radiohead, so I’m not sure sure where you put that dividing line. (And as an aside, the fact that this debate between old vs. new even exists is one of the things that makes Radiohead great if you ask me — you can’t do this for a lot of bands, because so many just trot the same thing out on every album over their carreer.)

    I enjoyed their SNL performance. Thom was horribly off on the first half of Lotus Flower, but he pulled it together on the second half and sounded fine. Staircase just had a really muddied mix — listen to the From the Basement version and you’ll hear everything a lot clearer. Jonny and Colin play lead on that song, and they were totally wahsed out in the mix — if you can’t hear them, the song is just not the same. Also, Staircase is not a b-side, it’s currently unreleased. We’ll see what happens with it.

    • Megan

      I prefer 2000s Radiohead as well but I’m sure it has something to due with the fact that I’ve only been a fan since early 2007. The Bends and OC are amazing, but In Rainbows is their true masterpiece (IMO).

      • Rose

        You say that because that album blatantly addresses “Love” themes, which is not typical RH. Get out of here, woman.

    • clementine

      couldnt have said it any better wilbur, i enjoyed the album and the performance as well.

      • Santosh

        It may be short, but I’ve flealn in love with it as well. I especially liked #7 – Reckoner — beautiful vocals, as always. I’ll probably spend about $10 to get it, even though my brother technically has like…three copies, since he got the discbox. I love Radiohead just that much!

  • Charles

    Even Radiohead’s sub par performances are miles better than most bands these days. I’m sure they’ll do better on the Colbert Report.

    P.S. I’m glad they played “Staircase” — should’ve been on the album.

  • PNK

    On the overall SNL episode, where is the creativity? Political parodies and gossip-celeb impersonations are just a drag. Where are things like The Coneheads, the Bees, Rosanne Rosanna Dana, the Samurai deli guy, etc. of old, my gosh! Or Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood!

  • Beth

    I didn’t watch the show, but I’m still willing to bet that a halfway decent song performed by Radiohead still beat the heck out of the rest of the show, and out of most music out today. I can’t wait to see them on Colbert tonight.

  • Pat

    Radiohead is my favorite band, and I’m sure they always will be. I by no means think the performance was flawless. Thom sounded nervous, and I’m sure the jet-lag wasn’t helping a bit. The unfortunate thing is that because they had a shaky performance on a live show that is watched by millions, the audience is immediately thrown into judgement mode towards one of the most important bands of our time. Every band has a so-so performance. It just comes with the territory. It’s unfortunate that it was on SNL and so now everyone is throwing in their 2 cents about where the future of Radiohead lies. The funny thing is that if they had given a completely incredible performance the headlines would read “Radiohead bounces back from TKOL with SNL performance,” or “Radiohead’s back again.” One performance shouldn’t define a band or their musical integrity. I love you, RH.

    • Angie

      Well said, Pat. One little performance shouldn’t define the band. They are still one of best live bands around.

    • Scott

      Thank you for this.

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