In terms of legacy rock bands, Radiohead is an anomaly. More than 25 years into their recording career, the band’s lineup remains unchanged. Nobody has died, been fired for abusing drugs or quit in order to study UFOs. Not only is Radiohead uniquely stable, but they also have uncommon quality control. The band’s most recent studio effort, 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, might not be your favorite Radiohead LP. But it’s a lot better than, say, Dirty Work, or anything else most bands put out in the midst of middle age.
However, it’s undeniable that Radiohead’s output has slowed down considerably in the ’10s. After putting out three albums in the ’90s, and four albums in the ’00s, Radiohead will likely only put out two studio records, 2011’s The King Of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool, in the current decade. More and more, the band members have been focused on their own projects. Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Philip Selway have all put out solo albums and composed film scores. Ed O’Brien is also said to have his own album in the works. (Only Colin Greenwood has been content to stick strictly with Radiohead.)
Seeing as how Radiohead-related music increasingly seems to exist outside of Radiohead, including Thom Yorke’s acclaimed new solo LP ANIMA, it seems like a good time to assess what is truly essential in the realm of Radiohead solo releases. For this list, I decided to consider albums only, forgoing the sizable number of film scores. Clearly, this decision hurts Jonny Greenwood the most, as he’s the most prolific movie composer in the band. (Had I decided to include film scores, There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread would have come out the best, though I also like the Grateful Dead rip-offs he wrote for Inherent Vice.)
But a stand-alone album feels different than music written to accompany a movie. Let’s leave the nerdy-but-compelling-because-I’m-a-Radiohead-nerd conversation about “best film scores composed by members of Radiohead” discussion for another day.
7. Philip Selway, Familial (2010)
I went into this wanting to argue that Familial is better than The Eraser, because I like the idea of pouring gasoline on Radiohead’s Reddit page and then lighting a match. Honestly, I’m not sure if there’s a point to ranking solo albums by Radiohead members if you’re not going to seriously overrate the output of Phil — sorry, Philip — Selway. Putting the extremely pleasant and almost willfully inconsequential solo debut by Radiohead’s drummer last on this list feels a little obvious, even gratuitously dismissive. But, alas, even my affection for contrarian arguments couldn’t push me that far into the realm of insane takes. Familial is by no means a bad record — I could even imagine a small segment of Radiohead’s fanbase hearing it as a breath of fresh air. The modest vocals and emphasis on lightly strummed acoustic guitar suggest an alternate universe in which Radiohead simply re-wrote “Thinking About You” over and over, popping a new Quaalude each time.
6. Philip Selway, Weatherhouse (2014)
Believe it or not, but the gap between this album and Familial is quite wide. This one actually sounds more like a ’90s Radiohead album — if they had decided to compete with Coldplay and Travis in the wake of OK Computer, instead of running in the opposite direction with Kid A, they might have produced a ballad as nice as Selway’s “It Will End In Tears,” hands down the best song of his solo career. It’s like “Karma Police” with all of the Orwellian overtones removed; it could have been a solid B-side during the A Moon Shaped Pool era.