Subterranean Homesick Alien
Inspiration pour la chanson : 1994-1995
Travail en studio : mars 1995
Premier live (acoustique) : 4 avril 1995 (KCRW ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’)
Changement de titre ? : novembre 1995 (Uptight)
Enregistrement : août 1996
Sortie sur album : 21 mai 1997 (OK Computer)
Un résumé de la chanson, avec le recul :
Recorded during the initial album sessions in rural Oxfordshire in early 1996, this rippling, Dylan-misquoting song mocked the millennial obsession with UFOs, as popularised by The X-Files, and recalled a school essay assignment to imagine how Oxford might appear to a recently arrived extraterrestrial. Here, Yorke’s stressed narrator (the song was originally called Uptight) fantasises about being abducted. The singer conceived the song while listening to Miles Davis’s unnerving jazz-fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew in his car. “It’s got this incredibly dense and terrifying sound to it,” Yorke said of Davis’s album. “That was the sound in my head.”
Fin 1995, Thom décrit la chanson comme une histoire drôle qu’il a écrite en 3 minutes.
Il en dit aussi qu’elle est fortement inspirée par Miles Davis :
That’s the good bit for me. Subterranean Homesick Alien was born out of listening to (Miles Davis’s) Bitches Brew endlessly every time I drove my car. I completely missed it… but there again I didn’t.
What got to you about Bitches Brew?
The first time I heard it I thought it was the most nauseating chaos. I felt sick listening to it. Then gradually something incredibly brutal about it and incredibly beautiful… you’re never quite sure where you are in it, it seems to be swimming around you. It has that sound of a huge empty space, like a cathedral. It wasn’t jazz and it didn’t sound like rock’n’roll. It was building something up and watching it fall apart, that’s the beauty of it. It was at the core of what we were trying to do with OK Computer.
Miles Davis never repeated himself.
A friend sent me a copy of these flash cards that Eno uses when he’s recording. One of them says something like, “Whatever worked last time, never do it again”. It’s incredibly depressing, but it’s true. Whatever method you have at this particular moment will never work again.
Autre influence, que l’on ressent dans les paroles, les extra-terrestres…
Thom: “Yeah! Jonny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine, I’m on the pavement thinking about the government…”
Colin: “When we were doing ‘The Bends’, John Leckie told us about this hollow earth theory that John Power of Cast has. Apparently, there’s a sun revolving in the centre of the earth and there are holes in the north and south poles that aliens fly into. We, er, weren’t completely sold on it to be honest, Jon.”
Jonny: “Americans believe in alien abduction but that’s about it. I’m a fully paid-up subscriber to Sceptical Inquirer magazine. If you go into a newsagent in America you’ll find 30 mags about UFOs, aliens, the supernatural, etc and Sceptical Inquirer, which has all these scientists providing logical explanations for everything. Thanks to ‘The X-Files’ and everything, it’s become the lazy option to believe in all this stuff, but science fascinates me far more than aliens.”
Colin: “Yeah apparently there is now neurological evidence to prove the existence of a human soul. They’ve had big meetings about it in the Vatican, because obviously the Roman Catholic church are very keen to control it. Er, I sound like John Power now, don’t I?”
Thom: “What do I think of ‘The X-Files’? And which Spice Girl do I like?”
A prendre au second degré, bien sûr :
Thom: “That was supposed to be a joke song anyway – as much as my jokes are ever funny – but it was also… I was interested in the fact that there was a lot of misdirected spirituality placed toward the “X-Files Syndrome.” Like at the end of the last century, everyone started seeing bleeding statues of Jesus on the cross and so on. Suddenly, everyone sees sightings, though some people claim we always see them. It’s the angels-vs.-aliens thing, which is fascinating, but not really the issue.” Jonny: “I feel the song is more about hope than any other subject. I’m an enormous cynic. I side with science, I’m afraid. The best magazine in America is one called Skeptical Enquirer, which basically is all these scientists debunking all this stuff. And there’s about 200 other magazines, too. That song is more about how for every generation, it’s a different thing. Before UFOs it was the Virgin Mary, and before that it was something else. People flock to the same places with their cameras and hope to see the same things. And it’s just about hope and faith, I think, more than aliens.” Thom: “Actually, a lot of the song stems from the idea of when I was at school, the first essay I wrote was: ‘You are an alien from another planet. You’ve landed and you’re standing in the middle of Oxford. What do you see? If you’re an alien from another planet, how would you see these people?’ And that’s a lot of where it came from, from someone who is not involved. Laughing and recording, taking home movies back to their home planet to show to their friends.
Le groupe a commencé à travailler sur la chanson dès l’époque de The Bends, vers mars 1995.
Le titre est inspiré d’une chanson de Bob Dylan : “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, et ce n’est pas un hasard !
“Like the Dylan song, but not,” says Thom later, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
04 avril 1995
La chanson se lance pour la première fois, dans une version acoustique dans l’émission radio sur KCRW ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’.
Thom: “The new one, do the new one first?
Thom: “Um…ok. [laughs]
Jonny: “Never been played before.
Thom: “Never been played before and the working title is ‘ Subterranean Homesick Alien’.
Chris: “And you guys are still working this out as we did the soundcheck here.
Jonny: “Yeah so don’t expect too much. [laughs]
Chris: “So this is actually a premiere then?
Thom: “Yeah, this is indulgence sorry.
Chris: “Okay, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead live on KCRW.
[Play Subterranean Homesick Alien’]
Chris: “It’s Radiohead, Thom Yorke (on vocal and guitar work), Jonny Greenwood ( on guitar) it’s the two of them acoustic here in the studios at KCRW a song called ‘ Subterranean Homesick Alien’. That’s the first time that’s been heard so..um…there’s your premiere.
28 octobre 1995
Le titre est peut-être “uptight”, on ne sait pas bien…
Thom: “Alright, this is a new one… and that’s in tune… this is called “Subterranean Homesick Alien” if I have anything to do with it.
[Play ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’]
Gary: “Radiohead on XFM, ‘Uptight’ or will it be called ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’. Maybe we should get people to ring in, Thom, should we get them to decide?
Thom: “Yeah… if… yeah.
18 novembre 1995
Quoiqu’il en soit, le NME considère encore ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ comme une potentielle face-B :
Le groupe enregistre la chanson dans son studio mobile, Canned Applause.
En interview à la même époque sur une radio israelienne, Jonny explique que le groupe est sur le point de travailler un arrangement pour Subterranean Homesick Alien :
Host: How it is called?
Jonny: It’s called, um, Subterranean Homesick Alien.
Thom: Subterranean Homesick- yeah, as in the Dylan song, but not.
Host: So let’s hear it, a brand new song from Radiohead.
Thom: Okay. Oh god, how does it start?
C’est Thom qui joue du Rhodes en concert sur la chanson. La chanson fut composée à l’origine, comme beaucoup de chansons du groupes, à la guitare acoustique, puis Thom la travailla au piano, mais aucun de ces instruments n’apparaissent dans la version finale, car le groupe utilisa des techniques d’enregistrement traditionnelles, sans instrument digital.
Un vieux Mellotron fut également ressorti. Jonny réussit enfin à canaliser la fougue de sa guitare en privilégiant la réverbération, à l’effet plus aérien, plutôt que la distorsion.
21 mai 1997
On retrouve la chanson sur OK Computer.
Thom expliqua en 1998 qu’il était difficile de jouer la chanson en concert :
Du coup, alors qu’on l’avait entendue très régulièrement sur la tournée 1997-1998, la chanson se fait rare ensuite. Elle n’est jouée que deux fois en 2003, 2 fois en 2011, 1 fois en 2012…