This weekend, Radiohead will unveil a brand-new studio album—its first in five years, and the latest in a decades-long career that’s seen the band grow from a scrappy, slightly sour-pussed guitar-rock outfit to a sprawling, slightly sour-pussed experimental combo. The group’s reshaped and re-purposed its sound on each record, and every Radiohead fan has his or her favorite phase, whether it’s the crunching, stadium-ready sounds of the Bends era, or the astral bombast of the OK Computer years, or the blissed-out mysteries of In Rainbows period. Here’s our ranking of the group’s studio efforts; we understand if, after reading, you want to come at us with knives out.

8

King of Limbs (2011)

The toughest-to-love Radiohead record to date, Limbs is a tightly wound (if frustratingly diffuse) assemblage of looping drumbeats, spectral vocals, and lockstep guitars…and all with nary a decent hook to be found (believe us, we’re still looking). Devout ’head-heads will likely make the case that Limbs is best enjoyed as an atmospheric grower; the rest of us will have to settle for the small pleasures here (like the shuffling psychedelica of “Little By Little” and the jittering rhythms of “Morning Mr Magpie”), and leave the rest of King of Limbs at arm’s length.

XL Recordings

The toughest-to-love Radiohead record to date, Limbs is a tightly wound (if frustratingly diffuse) assemblage of looping drumbeats, spectral vocals, and lockstep guitars…and all with nary a decent hook to be found (believe us, we’re still looking). Devout ’head-heads will likely make the case that Limbs is best enjoyed as an atmospheric grower; the rest of us will have to settle for the small pleasures here (like the shuffling psychedelica of “Little By Little” and the jittering rhythms of “Morning Mr Magpie”), and leave the rest of King of Limbs at arm’s length.

7

Pablo Honey (1993)

Pablo Honey will always be best remembered for the weirdo hit single “Creep,” a snarling anti-love song anchored by Thom Yorke’s soaringly pissant voice, Johnny Greenwood’s distorted pre-chorus guitar gulp, and lyrics seemingly grifted from the most miserable yearbook quote of all time. The rest of the album, though, is generic mid-’90s alt-ness, and while tracks like “Ripcord” and “You” make for pleasant-enough distraught-rock, it would be a few more years before the members of Radiohead proved why they were so fuckin’ special.

Capitol Records

Pablo Honey will always be best remembered for the weirdo hit single “Creep,” a snarling anti-love song anchored by Thom Yorke’s soaringly pissant voice, Johnny Greenwood’s distorted pre-chorus guitar gulp, and lyrics seemingly grifted from the most miserable yearbook quote of all time. The rest of the album, though, is generic mid-’90s alt-ness, and while tracks like “Ripcord” and “You” make for pleasant-enough distraught-rock, it would be a few more years before the members of Radiohead proved why they were so fuckin’ special.

6

Amnesiac (2001)

A sort of spiritual sequel to Kid A—whose songs were recorded during the same sessions—Amnesiac finds the band at its chilliest, and often effectively so: “Pyramid Song” is something only Radiohead could pull off, a power-piano number with lyrics featuring black-eyed angels and astral cars, while the brooding ballad-slash-call-to-arms “You and Whose Army?” sounds like a gym-jam for the four horsemen. And though Amnesiac is light on rockers, tracks like “Knives Out” and “I Might Be Wrong” are full of nervous energy and future tension, making it one of the group’s most pleasingly unsettling efforts.

XL Recordings

A sort of spiritual sequel to Kid A—whose songs were recorded during the same sessions—Amnesiac finds the band at its chilliest, and often effectively so: “Pyramid Song” is something only Radiohead could pull off, a power-piano number with lyrics featuring black-eyed angels and astral cars, while the brooding ballad-slash-call-to-arms “You and Whose Army?” sounds like a gym-jam for the four horsemen. And though Amnesiac is light on rockers, tracks like “Knives Out” and “I Might Be Wrong” are full of nervous energy and future tension, making it one of the group’s most pleasingly unsettling efforts.

5

Hail to the Thief (2003)

The hour-long running time’s a bit too much, and the Bush-baiting title is waaaay too on-the-nose, but Thief is deeply satisfying nonetheless—an inadvertent career-overview that sounds like all of Radiohead’s previous records laid atop each other. In the mood for forward-thinking, electro-shocked Radiohead? It’s there on “Sit Down. Stand Up,” which, with its skittering beats and minor-key swells, could be the theme for a robot soap-opera. Need some Bends-era bluster? That’d be “Go to Sleep,” a Zeppelin-on-Zoloft rocker that demonstrates just how many shades and sounds Greenwood can coax from his guitar without killing it. If any Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling album can ever be accurately dubbed “underrated,” it’s this one.

EMI Music

The hour-long running time’s a bit too much, and the Bush-baiting title is waaaay too on-the-nose, but Thief is deeply satisfying nonetheless—an inadvertent career-overview that sounds like all of Radiohead’s previous records laid atop each other. In the mood for forward-thinking, electro-shocked Radiohead? It’s there on “Sit Down. Stand Up,” which, with its skittering beats and minor-key swells, could be the theme for a robot soap-opera. Need some Bends-era bluster? That’d be “Go to Sleep,” a Zeppelin-on-Zoloft rocker that demonstrates just how many shades and sounds Greenwood can coax from his guitar without killing it. If any Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling album can ever be accurately dubbed “underrated,” it’s this one.

4

The Bends (1995)

Released amid the boisterous heights of Britpop, The Bends is full of the sort of aerial guitar-work from which the band members would later distance themselves—but hooboy, was Big-Riff Radiohead fun while it lasted! “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” is gloriously melodramatic near-metal; “My Iron Lung” is fuzzily primo, grunge-gripped angst; and the title track is a raise-a-pint sing-along masquerading as an existential downer. In between all of this are two of the band’s most starkly beautiful ballads, “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees”—the not-so-subtle closing tracks for many a lovelorn mid-’90s mix CD. The Bends wears you out, in the best ways possible.

EMI Music

Released amid the boisterous heights of Britpop, The Bends is full of the sort of aerial guitar-work from which the band members would later distance themselves—but hooboy, was Big-Riff Radiohead fun while it lasted! “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” is gloriously melodramatic near-metal; “My Iron Lung” is fuzzily primo, grunge-gripped angst; and the title track is a raise-a-pint sing-along masquerading as an existential downer. In between all of this are two of the band’s most starkly beautiful ballads, “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees”—the not-so-subtle closing tracks for many a lovelorn mid-’90s mix CD. The Bends wears you out, in the best ways possible.

3

In Rainbows (2007)

Lost amid all the talk of the album’s pay-what-you-want prescience and stealth-release sneakiness is the fact that In Rainbows is the most purely pop effort of Radiohead’s career. The spare, sparkling “All I Need” is a forthright, downright prom-worthy love song—a relative rarity for Yorke—and the ghostly hums of “Jigsaw Falling into Place” have a serene gentleness. “Bodysnatchers,” meanwhile, triangulates the guitar-prowess of The Bends, the self-assured oomph of Hail to the Thief, and the chilling alienation of Amnesiac—all in one song. No matter what you spent on In Rainbows, it probably wasn’t enough.

XL Recordings

Lost amid all the talk of the album’s pay-what-you-want prescience and stealth-release sneakiness is the fact that In Rainbows is the most purely pop effort of Radiohead’s career. The spare, sparkling “All I Need” is a forthright, downright prom-worthy love song—a relative rarity for Yorke—and the ghostly hums of “Jigsaw Falling into Place” have a serene gentleness. “Bodysnatchers,” meanwhile, triangulates the guitar-prowess of The Bends, the self-assured oomph of Hail to the Thief, and the chilling alienation of Amnesiac—all in one song. No matter what you spent on In Rainbows, it probably wasn’t enough.

2

OK Computer (1997)

Even if OK Computer had consisted of nothing more than the six-and-a-half-minute space odyssey that is “Paranoid Android”—a shape-shifting, Punk Floyd epic that forever separated Radiohead from its Britpop brethren—the album would still be near the top of this list. Every song here occupies its own strange, gorgeous headspace, from the glittering dourness of “No Surprises” to the adroit paranoia of “Karma Police.” The album (and its resulting live shows) solidified Radiohead’s rep as the most progressive and curious rock act of its era—meaning they had no choice but to turn their backs, dig in deep, and return with…

Parlophone

Even if OK Computer had consisted of nothing more than the six-and-a-half-minute space odyssey that is “Paranoid Android”—a shape-shifting, Punk Floyd epic that forever separated Radiohead from its Britpop brethren—the album would still be near the top of this list. Every song here occupies its own strange, gorgeous headspace, from the glittering dourness of “No Surprises” to the adroit paranoia of “Karma Police.” The album (and its resulting live shows) solidified Radiohead’s rep as the most progressive and curious rock act of its era—meaning they had no choice but to turn their backs, dig in deep, and return with…

1

Kid A (2000)

By the end of the ’90s, Yorke was fried, guitar rock was street-spiriting (fading out), and Radiohead was in danger of backdrifting. Hence this epochal about-face—the seething, synth-riddled equivalent of a band shoving all of its instruments into a car-crusher, rebuilding each by hand, and divining as many new sounds from them as possible: “The National Anthem” is a jazz-kraut hybrid with a core-deep groove, while the pulsing electric mayhem of “Idioteque” is pure apocalyptic block party. But no song points to the band’s future like the opening track, “Everything in its Right Place,” which has all the suspicious warmth and swimming confusion of a Benadryl binge—and which served as notice that, after Kid A, Radiohead would never be the same again.

Capitol Records

By the end of the ’90s, Yorke was fried, guitar rock was street-spiriting (fading out), and Radiohead was in danger of backdrifting. Hence this epochal about-face—the seething, synth-riddled equivalent of a band shoving all of its instruments into a car-crusher, rebuilding each by hand, and divining as many new sounds from them as possible: “The National Anthem” is a jazz-kraut hybrid with a core-deep groove, while the pulsing electric mayhem of “Idioteque” is pure apocalyptic block party. But no song points to the band’s future like the opening track, “Everything in its Right Place,” which has all the suspicious warmth and swimming confusion of a Benadryl binge—and which served as notice that, after Kid A, Radiohead would never be the same again.

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Every Radiohead Album, Ranked in Its Right Place