Song of the Day #265: ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ – Radiohead

radiohSpeaking of ugly singers…

The freakishly pale and impish Thom Yorke is another good example of the double standard for male and female artists. And a lot of women are actually attracted to this guy. It’s that “ugly sexy” thing, I guess.

But that takes nothing away from this song, which is another absolute stunner from The Bends. This was the first Radiohead song that really struck me (apart from ‘Creep,’ I suppose, which I didn’t even know was their song for the longest time). I heard it for the first time live when they were opening for R.E.M. It was right before they became huge and I didn’t pay much attention to their set even though much of the crowd was going nuts over them.

But this song, the opening bars of which caused the crowd to erupt orgasmically, definitely caught my attention and inspired me to seek out the album sometime later. I can’t fully explain why it’s so effective, which is probably the case with most great songs.

A lot of it lies in Yorke’s vocal performance, his fragile whine teasing the emotion out of every line. Then there’s the spectacular crescendo in the third verse (“I can’t help the feeling I could blow through the ceiling…”) and the band’s performance throughout.

Finally, it’s a splendid lyric, a poignant look at the evils and temptations of artifice. Yorke paints a portrait of a society striving for perfection at the expense of soulfulness. The plastic surgeon whose customers lose (because “gravity always wins”) is himself a “cracked polystyrene man who just crumbles and burns.” The town in the first verse is “full of rubber plans to get rid of itself.”

The narrator is aware of all this, lamenting that his the woman who “looks” and “tastes” like “the real thing” is truly his “fake plastic love.” And he longs to escape, to “blow through the ceiling” and run away from it all. And yet, in the song’s final lines, he seems resigned to this pursuit of outward perfection. He trails off singing sadly: “If I could be who you wanted all the time…”

Note: I recommend listening to the song without watching the video. It’s not that the video is offensive in any way, it just doesn’t do the song any justice and it’s distracting and it features Thom Yorke’s pale, impish face in close-up.

Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself
It wears her out, it wears her out
It wears her out, it wears her out

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins
And it wears him out, it wears him out
It wears him out, it wears…

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run
And it wears me out, it wears me out
It wears me out, it wears me out

And if I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted,
All the time, all the time, ohhh… ohh…

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #265: ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ – Radiohead

  1. Dana says:

    Good song. I definitely like this more than most of what i have heard from Radiohead (though, admittedly I have not heard a lot)

  2. Clay says:

    My opinion of Radiohead is unlike my opinion of any other band in my collection… I find 50% of their music eye-rollingly obnoxious and unlistenable, while the other 50% I absolutely adore.

  3. Kerrie says:

    Funny, Creep is the only Radiohead song I actually know. πŸ™‚

  4. Amy says:

    1. Great song

    2. Not ugly. Not sexy. Definitely not ugly sexy. Just pale and a bit freaky.

    Billy Bob Thorton and Willem Dafoe are two better examples of ugly sexy, just to once again derail the conversation from music πŸ™‚

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