Every Studio Album by Radiohead Ranked Best to Worst

Radiohead - OK Computer
Sometimes the cliche pick is the right pick. As creative as records like Kid A and In Rainbows are, Ok Computer stands above them as arguably the greatest alternative rock album of all time. Centering around themes like the danger of technology, the sting of depression, and the coldness of the modern world, it’s a record whose topics are handled beautifully. The care and sophistication with which its themes are discussed make it one of the most well-aged and topical projects in the band’s discography, a feat not achieved on their previous two efforts. Songs like “Paranoid Android”, “Karma Police”, and “No Surprises” are remembered as not just some of the best songs of Radiohead’s career, but as some of the best songs of the 90s, if not all time. The latter of those three tracks is my personal favorite Radiohead song ever, with Thom’s transcendental vocals, the song’s beautiful instrumentation, and the hard-hitting chorus all combining to create one of the most emotionally pulverizing tracks I’ve ever heard. “Exit Music (For A Film)” is similairly breathtaking, as it takes the sound of tracks like “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and completely perfects it, resulting in what’s arguably the most haunting song of Radiohead’s career. The following “Let Down” is also unforgiveably depressing. If I wished to, I could highlight the merits of each and every track on this album with complete ease, but since I only have so much space, I’ll just establish right now that Ok Computer is one of those rare records where every single song that’s on it could reasonably be considered a classic. Its staggering consistency and unmatched quality make it a record whose spot an number 1 on this list was already guaranteed before I re listened to it for the purposes of creating this, and even so many years later, it remains the group’s magnum opus, as well as one of the most seminal records of all time.

Favorite Song: "No Surprises"
Radiohead - In Rainbows
In Rainbows is undoubtedly one of Radiohead’s most eclectic efforts. From the gorgeous balladry of “Videotape”, to the crushing and catchy alt rock of “Bodsnatchers”, to the quirky and experimental “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” and “15 Step”, In Rainbows is an album that is constantly changing pace. Impressively, the record manages to alter sound and tone without coming across as sloppy, or malformed. Radiohead exude a free, but disciplined, attitude on this record that make it feel simultaneously sophisticated and controlled, as well as bombastic and exciting. They pull off a number of sonic left turns in a seamless, impeccable manner, never sacrificing professionalism for the sake of exhilaration. Lyrically, this record is also incredible, with the previously discussed “15 Step” and “Videotape” offering up delicious bounties of thoughtful writing and intricate musings, and while I personally believe that the metaphor on “Nude” is a bit under-written, it’s still brilliantly worded and poignantly stated, it’s eyrie sparseness contributing to its thematic worth. In fact, nearly every track on here is paired with more than adequate instrumentals and bits of production. Whether we’re talking about the gorgeous arrangement of “Faust Arp”, or the intense catchiness of “Jigsaw Falling into Place”, it’s rare that this record really lets me down musically. There are also songs on here that I feel like take the themes of repetition found on The King of Limbs, but do them far better, such as “Reckoner”, whose dizzying instrumental is gorgeously complimented by one of the best vocal performances on the album. Whatever the song, In Rainbows is a record that manages to remain consistently exciting, and even in its weaker moments, it always provides the listener with something fascinating to latch on to.

Favorite Song: "Reckoner"
Radiohead - The Bends
The follow up to Pablo Honey, The Bends saw Radiohead moving into a more experimental direction that they would go on to hone, and nearly perfect, on future records. Despite this, it still harbored many of the conventional alt-rock stylings of its predecessor. As such, many hardcore Radiohead fans seemingly view it as a less artistically important record in their catalogue than much of their later work, or as a weaker version of albums like Ok Computer. To these criticisms, I respond with disappointment, as The Bends not only serves as a terrific PRECURSOR to Ok Computer, but is also a terrific album in its own right. “Fake Plastic Trees”, “High and Dry”, “Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was”, and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” are, simply put, some of the best material Radiohead's ever released. The flawless way in which the band balances their artistic individuality with accessible hooks and familiar 90s-esque guitar leads is stunning, and it’s through the band’s growth on the record that The Bends is able to shed many of the insufferable clichés that held Pablo Honey down. Lyrically and vocally, Thom Yorke makes amazing strides. The melancholic writing of the aforementioned “Fake Plastic Trees”, when coupled with his haunting vocals, creates one his best ever vocal performances, and the high notes on “High and Dry” and “Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was” are nothing short of heart-wrenching. Are there a few sonic moments here and there that one could argue feel a little dated? Absolutely. I will concede that tracks like “Sulk” do lack really any individuality whatsoever, but considering when it was made, The Bends is an incredibly impressive moment of growth for Radiohead that has managed to hold up surprisingly well the older it grows, and though it may not be as expansive as an album like Kid A, its more grounded sound arguably lends it a greater degree of humanity.

Favorite Song: "Fake Plastic Trees"
Radiohead - Kid A
I know that my placement of this record will likely garner a degree of disdain for the few of you that will view this list, but I implore you to at least let me explain my reasoning. First off, It should be noted that I still love this record despite its placement. Kid A is considered a landmark moment in musical history, and I have no trouble seeing why, as it does a great job of creating a terrific atmosphere and building an expansive soundscape whilst also delivering great individual songs. Many of its tracks are easily some of the best material Radiohead ever released, and for them to transition so fluidly into the sounds of this album after creating Ok Computer is ridiculously impressive. Now that that's out of the way, let us complain.

I will first admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of “Everything in its Right Place”. It’s always struck me as a song that’s very cluttered. Lyrically, I don’t find it as compelling as a lot of other songs on Kid A, and I don’t find Thom’s vocals all too appealing on it, with all the needless effects layering over one another. Finally, the unfolding chaos which comes toward the end of the track has always felt tedious to me. But moving on from that, I’ve always found the placement of “Treefingers” within the track list to be a little bit confusing, as I don’t really believe it works all too well sitting between “How to Disappear Completely” and “Optimistic”. I will also state that I have long found Amnesiac’s version of “Morning Bell” to be superior to the one present on this record. Sue me.

Joyful contrarianism aside, Kid A is a masterful work of art. It’s handling of electronics, and tone deserves to be studied until the end of time. If anything, look at this its placement less as a slight against it, and more as an unfortunate consequence of how much other great material Radiohead has put out over the years.

Favorite Song: "The National Anthem"
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Cold and subdued, A Moon Shaped Pool is one of Radiohead's most laid back and atmospheric efforts. Perhaps that's why it took me a little while to fully appreciate it. Once I did, however, I found this to be one of the group's most gratifying releases, especially in comparison to the album they released before it, The King of Limbs. While a Moon Shaped Pool may not be as overtly energetic as some of Radiohead's other releases, it's no less well made, with songs like "Daydreaming", "Decks Dark", and "True Love Waits" already being treated like classics in their discography. Its sonic subtleties don't come across as reflections of disinterest, but rather as thoughtful, intricat nuances that display a band invigorated with newfound creativity. Songwriting-wise, this album consistently posseses a satisfying sense of purpose, with the beautiful paranoia of "Burn the Witch" helping to create one of Radiohead's best ever openers. The gorgeously implemented Latin touches of "Present Tense" also serve to deliver a welcomed change of pace near the back half of the album. Pretty much everything on A Moon Shaped Pool shows that Radiohead still has a purpose so many years into their career, and it's a record that is sure to have you looking forward to whatever it is they decide to do next.

Favorite Song: "Decks Dark"
Radiohead - Hail To The Thief
Radiohead’s most politically charged album, Hail to the Thief discusses topics like Thom Yorke's disdain for the Bush administration, and the rise of casual fascism in America. Predictably, these concepts and themes make for some of the band’s most intriguing and passionate lyrics. Some of their best tracks also end up becoming products of this new-found lyrical focus, with “2 + 2 = 5” standing proud as one of the group’s best opening tracks, and “There, There” acting as a much welcomed boost of energy around the midpoint of the record. Unfortunately, the record’s occasional sonic stagnation and confusing left turns make it feel more malformed than one would hope. Tracks like “Backdrifts” feature a dry musical landscape that serves as one of Radiohead’s most bland instrumentals, and other songs like “Myxomatosis” and “Scatterbrain” generally feel sonically half-baked. More problems emerge with songs like “Punch Up at a Wedding”, who veers away from the albums politically driven songwriting and delves into the struggles of being a famous rock band. While this track is admittedly a favorite of mine of the record, and I don’t entirely mind this album exploring different topics, it’s odd to have it come near the very end of the album when it’s more topically-centered themes have already been firmly established and imbedded into the project’s DNA. The aforementioned “Myxomatosis” and “Scatterbrain” suffer from similar issues. “A Wolf at the Door” does serve as a great closer, however, re-establishing the record’s jaded and topical nature, with a terrific vocal performance from Thom Yorke that is equal parts energetic and paranoid. Ultimately, Hail to the Thief has a handful of terrific tracks, but is inconsistent and a little bit long-winded at 56 minutes long. Nonetheless, while it may fail to deliver an experience that is holistically amazing, there are still enough bright spots on it to make it a record worth exploring.

Favorite Song: "2 + 2 = 5"
Radiohead - Amnesiac
Consisting mostly of b-sides from the Kid A sessions, Amnesiac is an album that seems to be a bit divisive amongst Radiohead fans, with some viewing it as nothing more than a collection of mediocre leftovers, and others seeing it as an underrated record in the group’s discography with a unique identity that’s entirely its own. As for me, I’m somewhat split on the record. While Amnesiac indeed has highs that serve to make it a decent record, it also has low points that unfortunately make it one of the duller records in Radiohead’s discography. Tracks like “Knives Out”, “In a Glass House”, and “Pyramid Song” are obvious highlights, but other songs such as “Hunting Bears”, and “Dollars and Cents” feel like the leftovers that they are. While this album is arguably more consistent than some of the ones that may rank above it, its lows are generally lower, and the album’s overall tone, atmosphere, and mood can at times feel like a worse version of what’s present on other Radiohead albums. I will admit that its jazzy elements do in fact lend it some intriguing, and occasionally unique, moments, but overall, I can’t help but leave Amnesiac feeling that I could listen to better renditions of its topics and themes on other Radiohead projects. It’s an album that’s admirably consistent in quality and tone, it’s just unsuccessful in making those elements as compelling as they could possibly be.

Favorite Song: "Knives Out"
Radiohead - Pablo Honey
Derided as derivative, simplistic, and far less complex than Radiohead's later work, Pablo Honey has the reputation of being the one album most often pegged as Radiohead's worst studio record. It's not hard to see why, as this record reeks of immaturity and growing pains, with many of its songs abiding by the common alt-rock cliches of the 90s. While this does admittedly lead to some catchy moments, such as "Creep" and "Anyone Can Play Guitar", the various aesthetics that Radiohead embraces on their debut album makes it painfully obvious that this is the sound of a band in their infancy. Certain elements of Pablo Honey do show up in Radiohead's later work, only they're not executed nearly as well on here. I suppose the album is exciting in the sense that it is fascinating to see such an artistically proficient group be somewhat clueless, and inexperienced. Thom Yorke's songwriting and lyrics aren't nearly as refined and sophisticated as they would go on to be, and, occasionally, they can even come across as dated and somewhat corny. While my overall enjoyment of the record is propelled by the aforementioned "Creep" and "Anyone Can Play Guitar", as well as songs like "Blow Out" and "You", I can't help but think of how much more this band is capable of, and, in fairness, Pablo Honey does seem to be a record that largely suffers from the curse of context. A decent, if predictably shaky, album, Pablo Honey is far from horrible, but also far from great. Sometimes, it feels far from really being anything at all.

Favorite Song: "Anyone Can Play Guitar"
Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Widely considered one of the group's weaker releases, The King of Limbs feels like the bare minimum of what a Radiohead album can be. With songs that sound as though they could reasonably pass off as b-sides or outtakes, as well as a generally incomplete feeling tracklist, The King of Limbs can at times seem more like an EP than an actual album. The lyrics are an extension of this flaw, with tracks like "Morning Mr. Magpie" featuring some of Thom Yorke's flattest and most uninteresting lyrics. As a whole, the record feels uninspired, with recurring sounds and auras that lend it continuity, but not enjoyability. It feels very "off" in an almost unexplainable sense. You can hear the group hitting a creative wall for the first time in their career, and it feels as though even they knew that none of these tracks were all too special. Really, it seems that what most people remember from The King of Limbs has to do with the meme that spawned from "Lotus Flower's" music video, and the live version of this record, which many cite as being fair superior to its studio counterpart. The King of Limbs may set an interesting mood, introducing a few soundscapes and concepts that are indeed intriguing, but it ultimately fails to stick in the brain of its listener, leaving little to no impression on whoever hears it, and it would be hard to find another Radiohead album that leaves your head as quickly as this one.

Favorite Song: "Lotus Flower"
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Putting the Bends ahead of Kid A .... so based
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October 2021 Playlist