Radiohead's PhD fan mail revealed

February 11, 2005

Their music has echoed through student halls of residence for the past 12 years. And now academics have caught on to Radiohead, too.

Thirteen scholars from around the world have contributed to a volume that analyses the critically acclaimed Oxford quintet's music, lyrics, artwork and videos within their cultural and social contexts.

The Music and Art of Radiohead finds lyrical allusions to George Orwell and Thomas Pynchon, visual references to Anselm Kiefer and Jean Dubuffet and sonic echoes of John Cage and Charles Mingus.

Joseph Tate, a PhD student at Oregon State University, put the work together after publishing a paper on the band in the journal Postmodern Culture in 2001.

"The hubbub around this essay led me to see if there were other scholars interested in Radiohead and there were. Frankly, there were more than enough for two books," Mr Tate said.

Musicologists including Allan Moore, head of music and sound recording at Surrey University, and Dai Griffiths, head of music at Oxford Brookes University, noted the scale of the band's musical ambitions and frequent sharp changes in stylistic direction.

"They are probably unique to go as far as they have, back almost to first principles with each new album," Professor Moore said.

Professor Griffiths said: "People who like reading about pop music seem to think Radiohead are very important."

Kevin Dettmar, James Joyce scholar, professor of English at Southern Illinois University, and author of the book's forward, called Radiohead "the most obscure popular band".

"Academics generally have difficulty with extremely popular bands, but while Radiohead's albums debut in the charts at number one, their music has higher-concept elements," he said.

A chapter by Paul Lansky, professor of music at Princeton University, examines the band's sampling of a piece of his own computer-generated music for a track on the album Kid A.

Mr Tate's contribution to the book examines the band's videos. In May, he will present a paper on how they "critique America's global socioeconomic influence in the 21st century" at a conference at Warwick University.

The Music and Art of Radiohead is published on April 28 (Ashgate, £50.00 hardcover and £15.99 paperback).

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