Hot New Joint: "Spectre" by Radiohead

Christmas morning, I woke up to find the greatest gift of all—Radiohead shared a ‘new’ song online.

Rejected as a submission for the James Bond film of the same name, “Spectre” finds the band doing something that they haven’t done since 2007: sound like an actual band.

Sure, Radiohead released The King of Limbs in early 2011, but despite how much you may or may not have liked that record, the fact remains that it didn’t sound much like five people operating as a whole; it sounded like the kind of thing Thom Yorke would put together on his laptop over a long weekend and release as a solo album.

So “Spectre,” in a sense, serves as a return to form for the band. Or at least, a return to one of their forms—since OK Computer, they’ve always been a little restless with what sound they settle on at any given time, but here, they fall back into the lush orchestration and organic soundscapes they last visited on In Rainbows.

Clocking in just over three minutes, “Spectre” wants to be essential in the band’s canon, but it feels somewhat unfinished. You get the feeling that you are on the cusp of something really big happening, and then it just ends without much in the way of resolution.

When listening, it’s hard to separate its near association with a movie, and in writing the song, you have to wonder what the process was—if the band were shown a rough cut of the film, or if they were just given the title, and simply told to go to town. Either way, “Spectre” does a good job of remaining ambiguous with its lyrics: “I’m lost, I’m a ghost. Dispossessed, taken host,” Yorke sings in the opening line. It’s the kind of open-ended, dissociative writing that we’ve come to expect from the band.

On a side note, even though this attempt at a movie theme didn’t completely work out in the end, I am just pleased the band could complete it and turn it in for consideration. Radiohead notoriously tried to record a song for the 1998 movie The Avengers, but as documented in the movie Meeting People is Easy, tensions ran high in the studio while attempting to commit “Big Boots” AKA “Man O War” to tape, and the sessions, and song, were abandoned.

The real question that surrounds “Spectre” is if it a sign of things to come from the band, or if it was just a one-off that didn’t pan out. The band spent a bulk of 2015 in the studio, recording their ninth record—but what does it sound like? Does it sound like this? Or does it sound like something else completely? And more importantly: when will we find out?