Saturday Night Live pulled out all the stops for its season premiere this weekend, booking sixteen-time host Alec Baldwin and musical guest Radiohead. While Baldwin mostly impressed (especially as Tony Bennett), we were left a little cold by Radiohead’s two songs (“Lotus Flower,” above, and “Staircase,” below). These are songs we’ve heard before, of course, but something about taking them out of the basement and putting them on the Saturday Night Live stage robbed them of no small amount of their power.
The King of Limbs songs (and b-side “Staircase”) can best be described as moody explorations over locked grooves. “Lotus Flower” does have the closest to a traditional song-form, but like the other tracks, it’s still designed for focused listeners. Nitsuh Abebe wrote at Vulture about how Radiohead have cultivated “serious listening” in their fanbase. It’s true, and in certain ways the band is to be admired for that. But when the band lacks complete control over the context and presentation of the songs, do they still hold up? We’re not so sure.