In an era when far more people download music than buy physical albums, when tracks are leaked via the internet instead of being played for the first time on the radio, one has to ask: has the musical event become extinct? Everyone’s got a story from parents about when a Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd album came out: they went out and bought it, returned home, probably shared a joint and then listened to the whole album. Now, such a thing is practically unheard of, a relic of a simpler time.
On Tuesday, Radiohead distributed copies of a “newspaper” entitled The Universal Sigh — a reference to a lyric from their newly–released album, The King of Limbs. Handed out for free around the world (and on 36th and Walnut), the paper is a collection of art pieces, short stories, lyrics and avant–garde blurbs.
As with most of what Radiohead creates, it’s unclear what we’re intended to do with The Universal Sigh, or what they meant in making it. Thom Yorke, one of music’s most interesting enigmas, is predictably silent on the Sigh. On an artistic level, the newspaper is an expectedly bizarre articulation of long–running Radiohead themes, such as alienation from society, dissatisfaction with consumerism and a yearning for simplicity and nature.
However, I think the meaning of the newspaper is in our own hands. People lined up, eagerly anticipating its release. The website for the paper features thousands of pictures of people with their freshly–printed copies. Ultimately, Radiohead created a modern release event that also managed to be communal.
Today, this counts as a feat.