Perhaps no band has a more tortured relationship with one of their songs than Radiohead with “Creep”. The ode to self-loathing became a worldwide hit in 1993 – a rarity for an alternative band on their debut album – and critics were awed by Thom Yorke’s vocal acrobatics and Jonny Greenwood’s guitar slashes. But like a country over-reliant on one export, Radiohead came to resent the song’s predominance.
“We seemed to be living out the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again,” guitarist Ed O’Brien later recalled. “It was incredibly stultifying.” During the band’s first US tour, audience members would cry out for “Creep” and then leave after it was performed. Such was Yorke’s animus towards the track that he disowned it in the 1994 single “My Iron Lung”: “This is our new song/just like the last one/a total waste of time.”
“Creep” was subsequently excised from the band’s set list – “Fuck off, we’re tired of it,” Yorke explained to a Montreal audience – and now, like a submarine, only surfaces at rare junctures (Reading Festival 2009, Glastonbury 2016).
Now Radiohead have added a new chapter to the “Creep” chronicles. On 13 July, Yorke released a remixed version of the song “Creep (Very 2021 Rmx)” for “a world that is seemingly turning upside down”. The track, which was first used to soundtrack a Japanese fashion show in March of this year, sees an earlier acoustic version stretched from four minutes to nine by means of a radically slowed tempo. Faced with this, both admirers and detractors of “Creep” might reasonably ask: what the hell are they doing here? The first verse alone is two minutes long and, aside from some electronic burblings, is rather underwhelming (unless deathly slow strumming is your thing).
But any misgivings are dispelled by the entrance of a majestic synth at the 3:07-minute mark, which takes the track into entirely new territory. Combined with Yorke’s woozy vocals, the effect is to turn a dated slice of early Nineties angst into something far eerier – think “Exit Music (For A Film)” or “Morning Bell/Amnesiac”.
The track’s extended length mirrors how the pandemic fractured our sense of time: lockdown months that seemed at once longer and shorter. Rather than a cry of self-despair, Yorke’s lyrics now feel like a collective lament in an age of perpetual crisis: “What the hell am I doing here?/I don’t belong here.” For who has not asked themselves that question at some point over the last year?