It may be time for the Oxford English Dictionary to add a new word to its already expansive volumes:
Radioheady (ray-dee-o-hehd-ee) adj. 1. describing or pertaining to a bunch bands that sound like Radiohead. 2. similar to the band Radiohead. 3. describing individuals who have radios in their heads.
The word doesn’t need to have a negative connotation, but considering how many bands (and maybe individuals) the definition covers, it would be nice to have a handy adjective, even one as clunky-sounding as the above. Who knows? The definition may expand and cover all manner of situations. “Yeah, man, I was feeling dehumanized and alienated. I was so Radioheady.” Perhaps, “Yeah, she’s great. She’s so Radioheady.” Or even, “Excuse me, do you have any Radioheady ice cream? I’m watching my weight.”
But moving on, Lovedrug’s Pretend You’re Alive can be described as rather Radioheady. The Ohio-based four-piece which formed in 2002 does exhibit shades of the distraught British quintet and the flood of sad Brits that followed. Frontman Michael Shepard even sounds a little like a nasally, cooing cousin of Thom Yorke or Chris Martin. The album shifts between moments of brooding melancholy, woe-is-me lamentation and flashes of inspiration, carried to each diverse destination with Oxford-by-way-of-Cleveland lyrics.
On some songs, Shepard’s words sound like dark coffee house poetry or Billy Corgan at his most melodramatic. During the head-bobbing, palm-muted chorus of “In Red,” a distorted Shepard moans “All the blood that we’ve spilled cannot fill my empty heart”. Many songs come across as an angel-obsessed high school student’s love letters, equating romantic failings with falling. The surprisingly morbid lyrics on the prowling “Blackout” would have been right at home in Murder Ballads. On “The Monster,” ushered in by ominous synth and strums, Shepard channels a kid’s spooky story about a metaphorical monster around the corner and out for blood.
Apart from the breathless bombast of “Pandamoranda,” the best on the album is the rolling despondency of “Candy.” Shepard’s dejected piano and David Owen’s weeping guitar are good accompaniment to his rueful lyrics (once again featuring angels), but like many songs on the album it breaks into a distorted pound rather that sustaining its effective somber quiet. The quiet closer “Paper Scars” unfortunately doesn’t go on quite as long as its seven minute predecessor “It Won’t Last.” Featuring some of the most evocative lyrics on the album – offering a strangely moving simile about a pair of ugly fish – it makes you wish that the song was fully developed.
I guess my impression of Pretend You’re Alive is encapsulated by my opinion of the title song. It’s good for the most part, it mentions ghosts and angels, but overall it’s not as affecting as I would have hoped. It’s a fine Radioheady effort, yet it’s like a specter of the real thing drifting sadly skyward but never quite reaching the heights it could achieve.