Radiohead - "Man of War" (Singles Going Steady)

by PopMatters Staff

28 June 2017

Previously unreleased "Man of War" is quintessential Radiohead: melancholy, unsettling, and full of high drama.
 

Kevin Korber: I can understand why Radiohead left this off of OK Computer when it came out; while it shares the album’s sense of techno-paranoia, it’s far closer to a straightforward rock song than Radiohead probably would’ve liked. The song also has a dramatic ebb and flow that fits right in with the “saviors of rock” tag slapped onto the band in 1997. Despite this, “Man of War” is still excellent; it’s the sort of straightforward rock song that only Radiohead could pull off convincingly. Moreover, it has a decidedly organic element to its arrangement and to Thom Yorke’s vocal performance, as if it were the hint of a beating heart inside the computer. [8/10]
  

Adriane Pontecorvo: Previously unreleased “Man of War” is quintessential Radiohead: melancholy, unsettling, and full of high drama. Thom Yorke could sing the greatest hits of Lawrence Welk and still sound raw, but naturally, “Man of War” is much more haunting than that, a dynamic work full of effective contrasts—soft and mournful keys, electric guitars that will set your hair on end; nearly naked voice, rich and poignant strings—that give a short song tremendous scope. The video, simple and distressing, adds another thrilling shot of adrenaline to the track. So far, the previously unreleased OK Computer-era tracks have been a perfect blast of the best 1990s sounds; here’s hoping there’s a vault of heretofore unheard Radiohead tracks out there somewhere, and that there are more of these to come. [9/10]

Mike Schiller: Between this and “I Promise”, it’s clear that there was some quality material left behind from the OK Computer sessions. That said, what “Man of War” also has in common with “I Promise” is that it actually sounds like it might have fit in on The Bends more seamlessly than OK Computer. “Man of War” is a little bit like a mellower “My Iron Lung”, a slow-burn that gets pleasingly big and loud and epic—exactly the sort of thing that Radiohead absolutely mastered 20 years ago—with the faintest hint of “Karma Police” sound effects at the end. For a band whose entire M.O. is to relentlessly look forward, it’s a bit of a (beautiful, fascinating) retread. The video, for its part, offers similar conflicting emotions: while it successfully elicits the paranoia it is so obviously striving for, it’s a close second place to Massive Attack’s “Angel” in the hyperspecific genre of “music videos that are song-length metaphor-laden chase scenes featuring a mob of antagonists who come out of nowhere.” [8/10]

Paul Carr: “Man of War” occupies the space where The Bends ends and OK Computer begins. Musically, Radiohead were yet to figure out how to deconstruct their sound and subvert the expectations of a rock band. The chiming, graceful guitar notes signal the more understated approach on OK Computer whereas the dizzying crescendo of strings, drums and distorted guitar sound like the rock band who made The Bends, albeit with their sights set on something profoundly more ambitious. All told, “Man of War” doesn’t sound like a song suitable for either album and offers a fascinating insight into a band in transition. It’s also phenomenal. [9/10]

Spyros Stasis: Recorded during the OK Computer sessions, “Man of War” remained unreleased until today. In terms of tone, it is the embodiment of that era for Radiohead, somewhere between The Bends and their third full-length album. Its distinct clean guitar sound, the heavier riffs and Yorke’s sweet and haunting performance accompany perfectly the track’s video protagonist as he is plagued by his own fears. “Man of War” is essentially a time capsule, a new way of rediscovering the magic of OK Computer, even though it is not as strong as the final tracklist of the album. [8/10]

Ian Rushbury: Just when you think the band were going to spiral inside themselves in a blur of atonality, they whip out “Man of War”. It’s even got hooklines and The Bends era dynamics. There’s typically a lot going on here, but it’s so well written, you hardly notice as one section dovetails neatly into another.  Whoever arranged the strings deserves an extra days pay, too. [9/10]

Tristan Kneschke: OK Computer turns 20 this year. Radiohead fans are celebrating with several unreleased tracks and a slew of b-sides, a gift from the band called OKNotOK. In the “Man of War” video, which recalls the unsettling “Rabbit in Your Headlights”, Radiohead once again takes a simple concept with bare production and creates an utterly engrossing watch. A pair of cameras track a paranoid man during day and night, seamlessly cutting between the two times—no small editing feat. Are the times of day meant to convey the man’s disintegrating mental state? That the decades-old song is given a modern music video deliciously displaces it in time, only adding to the claustrophobic panic that runs through much of the band’s work. [7/10]

Chris Ingalls: One of the three previously unreleased tracks that have surfaced via OKNOTOK, the 20th anniversary deluxe reissue of OK Computer, “Man of War” seems neatly placed right in between the guitar-heavy Britpop of The Bends and the more brooding, experimental follow-up. It wouldn’t sound out of place on either album and provides a nice sense of where the band’s head was in the mid-‘90s: embracing standard song structure while aching to soar above it. [8/10]

Chris Thiessen: You know it’s the peak-era of a band when even their unreleased material has the ability to affect emotions as much as this song and the previously released “I Promise” do. This track continues on the eerie paranoia of OK Computer and feels just as timeless as the tracks that created the 20-year old masterpiece. Colin Read’s music video is nearly perfect as well with its disorienting night/day nonlinearity that only accelerates the unsettledness of the song. [9/10]

SCORE: 8.33

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