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Hmmm, That Multiplatinum Band Sounds Familiar

3 Min Read

Who says nice guys always finish last? In 1998-2004, the British charts shifted from the swaggering Britpop of the Oasis era and the stomping rave soundtrack shaped by Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers to a more finessed brand of guitar rock, anthemic yet somehow fragile. 

“OK Computer” didn’t just usher in a new era for Radiohead. It opened the door to a rare moment of male sensitivity in British rock, spearheaded by singers with inevitably high, yearning voices channeling the Thom Yorke of “Exit Music (For a Film).” 

In focusing on one aspect of Radiohead’s sound, these bands specialized in swoon-worthy melodies delivered with the earnestness of choirboys — an unlikely formula for multiplatinum albums, perhaps, but the massive commercial successes of Travis, Coldplay and Muse proved otherwise. 

Around that time, I asked Yorke about the trend and here’s how he responded: “This question makes me feel ill. A&R departments all around the world went on a feeding frenzy for months circa 1998-99, as Colin (Greenwood) puts it, and perhaps now we are witnessing the results. We, however, have moved on.”

Radiohead did exactly that. It followed up the guitar-based opuses of “OK Computer” with the electronic soundscape of “Kid A” in 2000. The band never again took rock straight on as it had on its ‘90s breakthrough, which left the road wide open for its more tradition-bound disciples.

Some made a ripple and then drifted off: Turin Brakes, South, Starsailor. A few made at least one sturdy album that holds up under scrutiny nearly two decades later, and a couple continue to enjoy long-lived careers as arena headliners. Here are some of the more notable post-“OK Computer” U.K. rock success stories 

Travis

The Scottish quintet wanted a piece of that “OK Computer” magic so badly that it employed Nigel Godrich for its second album, “The Man Who.” Smart move, as it filled the Radiohead void on the British charts by taking woe-is-me introspection to rafter-raising heights in 1999. Little wonder one of the album’s Top 10 singles boasted a title that could’ve served as a mission statement for this new wave of Radiohead-adjacent bands: “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?”

Muse

The trio enlisted former Radiohead producer John Leckie (“The Bends”) to oversee the making of its 1999 debut, “Showbiz.” Singer Matt Bellamy’s operatic excess anticipated the arena tours to come. A penchant for progressive-rock arrangements furthered the connection to Radiohead’s more byzantine “Paranoid Android”-like moments.

Coldplay

Chris Martin let his vibrato reign on the breakthrough “Yellow” from the band’s rapturously received 2000 album “Parachute.” The band’s 9-million-selling debut was just a prelude to a career led by a vocalist who makes Yorke sound like a death-metal singer. Bonus points for including a guitar played named Jonny (Buckland).

Doves

With its first two albums, “Lost Souls” (2000) and “The Last Broadcast” (2002), this Manchester trio brought its own spacy touches to the Radiohead formula with a hybrid of underground dance-club electronics, rousing rock choruses and 3 a.m. introspection. Singer-bassist Jimi Goodwin aspired to wounded beauty like you-know-who and guitarist Jez Williams filtered every strum through a small armada of effects pedals (Jonny G. would be proud). 

Elbow

On their 2001 album “Asleep in the Back,” Guy Garvey and company patiently worked through a sound field that lingered like morning fog. Occasionally, listeners could even be forgiven for slipping off for a short snooze, only to return just in time for the payoff, so slow-moving are the tempos. 

Keane

With “Hopes and Fears” in 2004, the trio mined the piano-driven tracks of Radiohead and Coldplay for inspiration. You know the deal: Start out with a measure of angelic-voiced reserve (courtesy of singer Tom Chaplin) and then build inexorably until you find yourself reaching for a lighter to wave around in the nearest jam-packed arena among thousands of other Keane fans.

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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