On August 25, Whitney: Can I Be Me will make its TV premiere on Showtime. Nick Broomfield’s documentary focuses largely on Whitney Houston’s tumultuous private life, and at one point a member of the singer’s inner circle suggests that the whitewashed image that was crafted for Houston by her handlers was, in part, responsible for her inevitable self-destruction. It’s no secret that Houston was largely an A&R creation, a traditional vocalist who emerged in the era of Michael Jackson and Madonna, two self-empowered artists who took 360-degree creative control of their careers.
Upon Houston’s death in 2012, Slant’s Andrew Chan lamented both the mediocrity of Houston’s catalogue and the detached appraisals of her music that failed to dig through the rough. In his piece, Chan wrote: “If we were to gather up all such instances where the material was working for Whitney’s greatness rather than against it, we might not be able to fill half of a CD.”
Well, gather them up we did, and even Chan agrees he gave Houston’s ability to transcend her calculatedly curated material short shrift. That she didn’t write her own material is starkly juxtaposed by the fact that her performances of those songs make it virtually impossible to imagine anyone else singing them; the most quintessential “Whitney” songs were covers (“Greatest Love of All,” “I Will Always Love You,” “I’m Every Woman”), further testament to not just Houston’s gift for interpretation, but her ability to—in her prime—out-sing just about anyone. Sal Cinquemani
15. “My Love Is Your Love”
By the late ’90s, Whitney had fully embraced R&B, but almost all of the singles from her 1998 album My Love Is Your Love were given gaudy house remixes that rivaled or exceeded the original versions in popularity. Wyclef Jean’s reggae-infused album mix of “My Love Is Your Love,” however, is unmatched in its effortlessness and remains her most soulful single. Further disproving the suspicion that she was incapable of conveying emotion in any form other than shouting, Whitney’s restrained vocal performance here rides a smooth, shuffling groove into eternity. Cinquemani
14. “Step By Step”
The sole uptempo offering on the ballad-heavy soundtrack to Houston’s 1996 holiday film The Preacher’s Wife, the inspirational anthem “Step By Step,” a cover of an Annie Lennox B-side, fits snugly among the album’s more explicitly gospel material. Producer Stephen Lipson, who also helmed the original, gives the track a balmy house rhythm, while Whitney turns in a dramatic but understated performance, her words of perseverance rendered more poignant by the revelation that the singer suffered a miscarriage just days after the film’s release. Cinquemani
13. “The Greatest Love of All”
You can thank Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann for making it marginally more respectable to be 100-percent gay for Whitney’s squarest anthem (yes, even counting “The Star Spangled Banner”). Or you can just continue to embrace the Yamaha DXY-drenched, unashamedly masturbatory song of oneself, as confident a coming-out as any new pop vocalist has ever dared. As RuPaul is fond of saying, “It do take nerve.” Or just the raw talent to sell a high note for the gods. Eric Henderson
12. “Million Dollar Bill”
By the time Whitney’s final album, I Look to You, dropped, critics were quick to carp that her voice sounded, well, not like a million-dollar bill. But great disco is great disco, and it’s certainly elevated more problematic vocals. The genre is and always has been a vehicle for transcendence of all sorts. And thanks to some pitch-perfect pastichery by writer-producers Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, “Million Dollar Bill,” even with the burden of 20-20 hindsight, still plays like a full-on phoenix rising moment. Henderson
11. “Thinking About You”
A deep cut off of her debut album, this Top 10 R&B hit never crossed over to the pop charts, and it’s perhaps most notable today as a brilliant showcase for Kashif, one of the great R&B producers of the 1980s. Still in her early 20s, Whitney sounds chirpy, girlish, and (despite her already evident vocal skill) not particularly distinctive, her star-making bravado subdued by a swirl of synthesizers, drums, and background vocals. But that doesn’t stop the song from being a deeply seductive gem—and one of the most teasingly erotic of all her dance-floor jams. Andrew Chan
10. “So Emotional”
Though some critics turned their noses up at the rock-inflected “So Emotional” when it was released in 1987, the track is animated not by its scorched-cheese electric guitars, but by Whitney’s elated performance. Like that of Mariah Carey’s “Emotions” a few years later, the song’s soaring slogan—“I get so emotional, baby!”—is so nebulous as to say absolutely nothing at all. Passion transcends words, of course, and Whitney’s ecstasy practically verges on religious. Cinquemani
9. “My Name Is Not Susan”
Long before Becky, there was Susan. In the twilight of the new jack swing era, Whitney used the jagged edges of the beat-heavy genre to stab at a two-timing lover who mouths the name of a side chick in his sleep. A close cousin to “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” the song placed modestly on the pop charts, but it’s one of the most deliriously entertaining of the singer’s kiss-offs, full of snarling sass and quirky, Michael Jackson-like jabs of falsetto. At times, Whitney seems to be having so much fun that you forget she’s chastising a man who did her dirty. It’s hard not to wonder how much more multifaceted her discography might have been if she’d been allowed to follow this noisier, more aggressive sound to its limits. Chan
8. “How Will I Know”
Right out of the gate, Whitney’s vocal pyrotechnics were an odd match for the sort of Arista-engineered lyrics that stressed her emotionally tender-footed artistic persona. And so it is that you got unexpected reserves of dramatic tension from some of the most purposefully palatable pop music of the 1980s. How will she know if he truly loves her? How could she care? Of all her early hits, though, “How Will I Know” at least sonically met her halfway, with producer Michael Nareda Walden delivering the same engine-revving flourishes he just finished servicing Aretha Franklin with. Not that her tank needed to be topped off. Henderson
7. “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”
Both the clubs and pop airwaves opted for the jackhammer subtlety of Thunderpuss’s remix, and that dance chart-topping version arguably remains the definitive iteration. But the true power of “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay,” incidentally Whitney’s first track to earn her Grammy respect in the R&B categories (and her last competitive win), lies in the contrast between the version that topped the pop charts and it’s far more poker-faced album mix. Thunderpuss emphasizes the “not right” half of the equation, the receipt-checking, caller ID-peeping half. Rodney Jerkins’s can’t-be-bothered smoothness emphasizes the “it’s okay” half, assuring that, as angry as Whitney is and always will be, she also knows no man will ever truly measure up. Henderson
6. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
In the end, it might be a slow dance that Whitney’s craving to cure her dusk-inflicted loneliness, but with its parenthetical title, gummy bassline, schmaltzy horns, tinkling keyboards, and half-step key changes, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” is definitive ’80s dance-pop, beseeching the lion-maned, mini-skirted divas in us all to take a chance for a burning love that will last at least three to four weeks, depending on the severity. And it hurts so good. Cinquemani
5. “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)”
A fiery diva voice might not seem like the most comfortable fit for a song whose message amounts to a noncommittal, que-sera-sera shrug. But the marriage of Whitney’s voluptuous tone with Babyface’s exquisitely nuanced production made for one of last great hurrahs for crossover quiet storm. Moving from one vague display of big-sister wisdom to another (“Sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you’ll cry”), Whitney disciplines her voice to a grown-and-sexy whisper, signaling with her sweetly diaphanous sighs that she can’t be bothered to work up a sweat over life’s unsavory inevitabilities. What starts out as a compendium of throwaway self-help slogans becomes something much more profound and mysterious: a gospel revival masquerading as a sonic massage. Chan
4. “I’m Every Woman”
Whether it’s the album version’s faithful update of Chaka Khan’s original 1978 disco hit or Clivillés & Cole’s amped-up house mix, which quotes both Teddy Pendergrass’s “You Can’t Hide from Yourself” and the obscure Eddy Grant B-side “Time Warp,” one thing remains: Whitney’s performance of “I’m Every Woman” is one of sheer vocal muscle. She simply out-sings Khan, but it’s unfair to compare the two: Whitney’s vocal run at the end of the song’s bridge that follows her self-declaration that she’s beyond comparison is nothing short of supernatural. Cinquemani
3. “I Have Nothing”
You’ve got to hand it to a ballad that had to live in the long shadow of “I Will Always Love You” and still clears a space around itself to this day. With more strings than 400-plus percale, “I Have Nothing” is a basement-flooding battleship of feigned subservience, a comically aggressive-passive love song. “Take my love, I’ll never ask for too much/Just all that you are, and everything that you do.” Right off the bat, a possessed Whitney claims she’ll never change all her colors for him, but she’ll sure ’nuff change keys in melodramatic fashion. And her romantic conquest doesn’t get a thing to say about it. Henderson
2. “I’m Your Baby Tonight”
Roundly dismissed at the time of its release, Whitney’s third album sought to prove that the singer could be viable in a more authentically “urban” idiom—perhaps as a response to the backlash against her allegedly whitewashed persona. The album’s title track is a relentless whirligig of rhythm, drenched in synths and building to a sustained climax that has Whitney belting a string of fast-paced, syllabically intricate cadences that would leave even Beyoncé breathless. It’s a vocal tour de force, one that demonstrates how much pleasure Whitney could wring out of doing battle with a sick beat. Chan
1. “I Will Always Love You”
No pop hit of the 1990s brought more allure to the art (and athletics) of singing than this monster ballad, which finds Whitney delivering a tender, unassuming Dolly Parton composition as if from the peaks of Mount Olympus. “I Will Always Love You” may not qualify as a work of restraint, but as far as Whitney performances go, it’s minimally embroidered, with enough slow-burn dynamics, hushed intimacies, and elongated vowels to showcase the pure beauty of her timbre. From the a cappella opening to the dramatic caesura that precedes the final chorus, producer David Foster’s onslaught of shameless gimmickry is calibrated for maximum impact. What gives the song its emotional authenticity, though, is the way Whitney glides through each vocal hurdle with a mix of urgency and self-assurance, like someone relying on her God-given talent to whip some sense into her own broken heart. Chan
Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch
There’s something uncommonly relaxing about many of McPhee’s patient elaborations of things known and unknown.
“But beyond the flaring headlines of the past year, few are aware of who Richard Burton really is, what he has done, and what he is throwing away by gulping down his past and then smashing the glass.” This is one of those quotes, which, through its sheer heft and style, threatens to turn any accompanying review into a redundancy. To find other lines that meet its towering standard, seek its source: The Patch by John McPhee. There’s no shortage of arresting remarks in this nicely heterogeneous collection of writing. One sinks into the book, riveted, but also races across it as its fascinations multiply.
The first section is called “The Sporting Scene.” Those typically uninterested in sports or sports writing, like myself, shouldn’t be deterred by the title. As I discovered through other recent encounters with McPhee’s ballyhooed writing, the author has a knack for inexorably moving readers beyond their biases. Two-part New Yorker articles like “Oranges,” “The Pine Barrens,” and “Basin and Range,” which were later turned into books, are studious and propulsive. Fine-grained matters of geology or citrus aren’t exactly simplified in these articles, but wading through the density becomes an irresistible prospect thanks to the author’s intelligibility, wit, enthusiasm, and atmospheric touches. For an example of the latter, consider McPhee’s focus on the “unnatural and all but unending silence” of the Floridian orange groves that he visited. What’s more, he often conveys a certain sense of respectful understanding, as when he mentions that he has “yet to meet anyone living in the Pine Barrens who has in any way indicated envy of people who live elsewhere.”
Similar virtues spruce up the “The Sporting Scene.” Its pieces include emphases on fishing, football, golf, and lacrosse. McPhee honors the athletic endeavor by carefully illuminating its particulars. He busily supplies facts, anecdotes, ideas, and biographical details. In “The Orange Trapper,” for instance, he discusses his hunt for errant golf balls. It’s an engaging topic. He has learned, among other things, what occurs when you take a saw to a golf ball. You find the world: “Core, mantle, crust—they are models of the very planet they are filling up at a rate worldwide approaching a billion a year.” Other jolts arrive through the often remarkable conclusions to his paragraphs and pieces. The ending of “The Orange Trapper” is an especial wonder—a thrilling mobilization of words that elicits laughter and awe.
There are also bears: “Direct Eye Contact” is a compact assortment of hopes and advisements concerning bears in New Jersey, and it concludes on a sweetly uxorious note. Indeed, one never knows where any of these pieces are going. In “Pioneer,” meanwhile, McPhee ponders Bill Tierney’s choice to begin coaching the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team. “How could he leave Princeton?” McPhee asks. “It can be done. And Tierney knew what he was doing.” Those lines showcase the occasionally pithy, pleasantly chiseled style of his prose. It’s a considered design that favors clarity, structures hairpin turns toward new discursive trails, and pairs well with punchlines. In “Phi Beta Football,” one of McPhee’s colleagues promises to deliver him “a nice piece of change” if he figures out a suitable title for his book. “I went away thinking,” McPhee tells us, and then adds, “mostly about the piece of change.”
The recounting of sporting events is likewise augmented by the author’s playfulness. “Pioneer” throws us this line: “But Syracuse exploded—one, two, three—and the game went into ‘sudden victory’ overtime, the politically uplifting form of sudden death.” So transporting and genial is McPhee’s writing that the specifics of any given match never weigh down the reading, nor do his more elaborate remarks. “It’s a Brueghelian scene against the North Sea,” he declares in “Linksland and Bottle,” his piece on the 2010 British Open, “with golfers everywhere across the canvas—putting here, driving there, chipping and blasting in syncopation.” What’s even better is his sensitivity, in the same paragraph, to the fine distinctions between the manner of Scottish and Californian galleries as they observe rounds of golf. Suddenly, his words become almost numinous, and no grace is lost.
The second section of The Patch is called “An Album Quilt” and it encompasses a dizzying mixture of short pieces. None are available in any of McPhee’s other books. In an introductory statement, the author compares these pieces to the dissimilar blocks of a quilt. He notes that he “didn’t aim to reprint the whole of anything”; he sought out “blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses.” This section is quite distinct from “The Sporting Scene,” but no less extraordinary in its overall effect. A piece about Cary Grant starts things off. Boyhood encounters with Albert Einstein are up ahead.
There are more standouts than can be briefly mentioned here, including an evocative overview of the craftsmanship that McPhee discovered within the original Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. The author’s clipped expressions of wonder enliven that piece: “Gulfs of chocolate. Chocolate deeps. Mares’ tails on the deeps.” A little later, he mentions “granite millstones arranged in cascading tiers, from which flow falls of dark cordovan liquor.” One can imagine Don Draper reading through this with poignant interest. In another entry, a series of succinct blurbs about tennis luminaries, Rod Laver’s childhood is crisply set against his eventual stardom: “Had to wait his turn while his older brothers played. His turn would come.”
And so one just leaps from piece to piece, and, along the way, discovers scenes from different periods in McPhee’s life and career. An encounter with two New York City policemen—this likely occurred in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, given the “familiar green and black” on the cop car—is particularly memorable. It begins with the author’s recollection of locking his keys inside his car, which, he notes, had been parked “in a moted half-light that swiftly lost what little magic it had had, and turned to condensed gloom.” After that characteristically precise fusion of atmosphere and psychology, he describes scrounging around for wire so as to open the door. The sudden arrival of the policemen created a dilemma: Would they view McPhee, who had been wedging a coat hanger into the car, as a thief or the hapless owner? “The policemen got out of the patrol car,” McPhee tells us, “and one of them asked for the wire.” From there, the situation undulates a couple more times before concluding through a sparkling punchline that’s supplied by one of the officers. The story is over before you know it, but its brisk and detail-oriented pleasures are echoed throughout much of the book.
In the title piece, meanwhile, McPhee movingly writes about his father, but also about fishing a pickerel out of a patch of lily pads. Here and elsewhere, granular descriptions become byways into a range of enthusiasms, histories, and hearts. The author, of course, frequently registers himself through the infinitesimal details, and through the humor that he yokes to affection. “‘Fuck you, coach!’ Quote unquote” is a message that McPhee once emailed to Bill Tierney. Great warmth radiates below the mantle of those words.
This, among sundry other qualities, keeps one reading. There’s also something uncommonly relaxing about many of his patient elaborations of things known and unknown. And there is, both within the book’s individual pieces and across its varied totality, a sense of constant renewal and revelation. As McPhee notes down somewhere amid the blocks of his quilt, “I could suddenly see it, almost get into it—into another dimension of experience that I might otherwise have missed entirely.”
John McPhee’s The Patch is now available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018
Our most-read articles of 2018 comprise pretty much everything we do best.
Like last year, it wasn’t the most highly praised or viciously excoriated film, album, or TV show that garnered the most attention among Slant readers in 2018. It was a so-called “average” star rating of a video game that led to our most-read—or, rather, looked at—article of the year. More predictably, lists proved to be increasingly popular, particularly among cinephiles. Aside from a few pieces that didn’t make the cut—like our career-spanning interview with Jodie Foster and our five-star review of Synapse Films’s Blu-ray restoration of the original Suspiria—this list comprises pretty much everything we do best. Alexa Camp
10. The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a “safe space” in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie.” Budd Wilkins
9. Album Review: Mariah Carey’s Caution
At a mere 10 tracks, Caution is Mariah’s leanest album in 25 years. With the exception of the formulaic “With You,” which sounds like an outtake from E=MC2, the R&B and adult contemporary-style ballads that launched (and re-launched) her career have been largely replaced here by textured, midtempo grooves. Caution feels like the album Mariah has wanted to make all along: one that throws caution to the wind and sees her embracing her inner weirdo. And, ironically, it took her ending up back at Sony Music to do it. Sal Cinquemani
8. Game Review: Far Cry 5
With this entry, the Far Cry series has suddenly decided to crib story ideas from real American nightmares: the Ammon Bundy standoff, Jonestown, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Waco, the Westboro Baptist Church. It indulges a certain level of ejaculatory N.R.A. fantasy about a day when the Second Amendment saves the world, when all those guns hoarded by frightened men, all those survivalist bunkers, all that cynical preparation for the collapse of society proves useful. A regular supply item in this game is called a Prepper Pack. Major secrets are hidden in bunkers filled with canned food and ammo. These little hat tips toward the gun-toting survivalist sect might’ve been worthy of an eye roll had the game come out, say, prior to 2016. But at this particular moment in American life, those tips of the hat feel downright sinister. Justin Clark
7. All 90 Best Picture Oscar Winners Ranked
It’s a rare type of cinephile who wasn’t introduced to the idea of film as more than just idle entertainment by the ritual of the Academy Awards. And it’s an even rarer type of cinephile who didn’t soon thereafter vehemently reject the Oscar as the ultimate barometer of a film’s artistic worth. Those of us who started off with The Godfather, Schindler’s List, All About Eve, or Casablanca all eventually got around to Out of Africa, Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, and Cavalcade. First loves being first loves, we still find ourselves regressing if for only one night a year, succumbing to the allure of instant canonization even as it comes in the form of repeated slap-in-the-face reminders of Oscar’s bracing wrongness: Gladiator, Braveheart, Chicago, Crash. In that sense, consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives. If we had to sit through every one of these movies, the least you can allow us is the chance to show you our scars. Eric Henderson
6. Film Review: Aquaman
The best point of comparison for Aquaman is Black Panther, another superhero movie about a king of a forgotten realm reclaiming his throne. But whereas Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly affecting superhero film restored weight to both the choreography and the drama of the genre, Aquaman remains adrift, so much fantasy flotsam and jetsam floating before our eyes. Pat Brown
5. The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact on some nebulous past. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a video game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife
4. Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War
What is this, a crossover episode? After 18 films, the overlords at Marvel Studios have gathered almost all of their indentured servants, err, star-studded stable together into the ever-crashing, ever-booming, and ever-banging extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. Whether you look at this whirling dervish and see a gleefully grandiose entertainment or a depressing exemplar of the culturally degraded present moment will depend on your investment—in all senses of that term—in Marvel’s carefully cultivated mythos. Keith Uhlich
3. TV Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
If Jack Ryan never gets around to offering its audience a definition of a swift transaction, that’s because all that matters to the series is that it’s a tool used by bad guys, whom only Jack Ryan can stop. Despite paying cursory service to humanizing its principal characters, Jack Ryan is mostly interested in a battle between broad notions of good and evil. It thrives on the tension of Jack’s chess match with bin Suleiman, reducing an entire nation’s efforts to combat terror to a personal beef between two archetypes. Michael Haigis
2. Every Pixar Movie Ranked from Worst to Best
If The Incredibles was essentially a superhero riff on male mid-life crisis, Incredibles 2 primarily concerns male anxiety about women taking over traditionally masculine roles. Brad Bird’s film also touches heavily on the uncertainty and doubt that many women feel about pursuing their dreams at the expense of spending time with their families. These are weighty topics to pursue in an animated action-comedy, and Bird, with a light tone and deft touch, manages to give them their due. This is a fleeter, funnier film than the original, and the director gets considerable comedic mileage out of Jack-Jack’s wild capriciousness, as evidenced by Incredibles 2‘s single most hilarious sequence, in which the baby uses its multifarious abilities—fire, lasers, multiplying, turning into a gremlin—to battle a feral raccoon just for the hell of it. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best. Keith Watson
1. Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2
For all of the significant improvements Red Dead Redemption 2 has made to an open-world template, however, it still maintains Rockstar’s bullish commitment to a clunky control scheme. Across what’s now four games and two console generations, the company’s characters have lumbered along in what’s meant to convey the weight of a real person in contrast to the light, effortless controls of so many other games. But the result is artificial rather than convincing. Studios like Naughty Dog have proven capable of giving characters a consequential sense of weight without making it a challenge to navigate around a table or requiring you to hold down buttons to move at acceptable speeds. Coupled with middling gunplay feedback and a few too many stealth segments, the chunky act of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t feel good so much as it feels, eventually at least, tolerable. Scaife
Top 10 Radiohead Music Videos
To celebrate Radiohead’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at the group’s best and most innovative music videos.
Twenty-five years ago, the world was introduced to Radiohead by way of their debut single, “Creep.” Thom Yorke and company may have soured to their very first modern rock hit, but as we said in our list of the Best Singles of the 1990s, for which the song ranked at #37, “Creep” is rivaled only by “Every Breath You Take” as the ultimate kind-of-obsessive/kind-of-romantic crush anthem, with guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s perfectly timed blasts of electricity turning it from slightly creepy to threatening. The track peaked on the Billboard pop chart in September of 1993, a full year after its initial release, and Radiohead would go on to become one of the most influential bands in rock history. To celebrate the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at their best and most innovative music videos.
Editors’ Note: This article was originally published on July 24, 2013.
10. “Burn the Witch” (Dir: David Mould). “Stand in the shadows/To the gallows/This is a round-up,” Thom Yorke cautions at the start of “Burn the Witch,” with all the paranoia and politically shaded intrigue we’ve come to expect from the Radiohead frontman. Directed by Chris Hopewell, the music video for the track depicts a government official sent to inspect the strange goings-on in a small village, where he’s burned alive in a giant wooden statue in a scene reminiscent of the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. The clip features stop-motion animation in the style of the 1960s-era U.K. children’s show Trumpton. Sal Cinquemani
9. “Paranoid Android” (Dir: Magnus Carlsson). Radiohead commissioned Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson for this bizarre and somewhat graphic video, which sees the titular protagonist of Carlsson’s series Robin encountering various unsavory or unearthly characters, including a prostitute in a tree, a deranged businessman, and an angel flying a helicopter. Cinquemani
8. “House of Cards” (Dir: James Frost). When the “House of Cards” video came out, it struck me as a tech geek’s gimmick, but in retrospect, its motion-capture technique is used for deeply human ends. First we see two faces in close-up, their physicality rendered as blue-ish data points. Then, indistinct bodies at a party and a whole suburban landscape being wiped away in Etch-A-Sketch fashion. It’s a kind of digitally envisioned nightmare: Every pixel of everything we know, instantly erased. Paul Rice
7. “No Surprises” (Dir: Grant Lee). Lo-fi simplicity tends to work best for Radiohead’s live-action videos. In “No Surprises,” we get to watch Thom Yorke gasp for breath as a water chamber fills and releases around his head. It’s a sly sadomasochistic dream that could be his, or that of plenty of Radiohead haters everywhere. Rice
6. “Daydreaming” (Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson). In this video for 2016’s “Daydreaming,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera follows Thom Yorke through numerous locales, from hotel hallways to laundromats. The images, lucid and confrontational, exude an almost gestural quality as they cut from interior and exterior spaces, with Yorke waltzing in a sleep-like torpor toward a hole—or spacious studio igloo?—somewhere on a snow-capped mountain. The world here appears at once real and imagined, and by the time the fire within the hole lights Yorke’s face and the song grinds to a halt, Anderson dramatically reaffirms most of our beliefs about Radiohead’s music as, above all else, the prettiest soundtrack in the world to one man’s devotion to his own alienation. Ed Gonzalez
5. “Just” (Dir: Jamie Thraves). There’s a Kafkaesque absurdity to the simple concept of “Just” that gets and stays under the skin. A man lies down in the middle of a monochromatic city sidewalk. People trip on him and ask how he is and why he’s there. Finally, he tells the crowd (though we never know, since the subtitles cut out), and they all lie with him, presumably in conjoined doom. Rice
4. “Knives Out” (Dir: Michel Gondry). Thematically evocative of the director’s 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the elaborate, seemingly single-take “Knives Out” juxtaposes emotional and physical hardship via Michel Gondry’s signature surreal imagery, including singer Thom Yorke’s head replaced by a giant heart in which he stores a Polaroid photograph of his fiancée, whose critical condition he may very well have been responsible for. Cinquemani
3. “Pyramid Song” (Dir: Shynola). Thom Yorke and company have long been champions of animation, and “Pyramid Song” is their best, most heartfelt work in the form. A man—or a thing (the figure could be human or beast)—dives into a lost civilization, wading through bones to a home where he watches TV. CG allows for meticulous detail, but the gorgeous design by artist collective Shynola is purposely murky, full of unknown layers, and like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, released the same year, it suggests a ruined past we can never get back. Rice
2. “Fake Plastic Trees” (Dir: Jake Scott). Jake Scott, noted music video director and son of Sir Ridley, has said that his striking clip for Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” filmed in an aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California, is an allegory on death and reincarnation. His claim is borne out by images of colorful characters, old and young, strolling the aisles of a neon-lit supermarket, being watched on surveillance cameras, and eventually carted off to a heavenly looking “exit.” Cinquemani
1. “Karma Police” (Dir: Jonathan Glazer). Director Jonathan Glazer claims that this creepy revenge clip, in which a car slowly follows a man running down a desolate road only to have the tables turned thanks to a chance gasoline leak, was inspired by a bad dream. His remarkable use of point of view implicates the spectator in the video’s action, but it’s the spooky way with which he fashions a Möbius strip from karmic irony that makes “Karma Police” Radiohead’s finest contribution to the music-video medium. Cinquemani