So after talking about my experiences seeing these two bands live as well as reviewing their respective discographies, how do I compare them side-to-side?
In terms of music, I don’t think I could place War-Unforgettable Fire-Joshua Tree above The Bends-OK Computer. Each of these five albums represents the core of the “rock” period of each group. All five albums are intimately tied to where I was in my life when I heard them for the first time (High School in the first case, initial move to Europe in the second). So, I suppose that it is a draw.
Score Radiohead 1 U2 1
As for Boy-October vs. Pablo Honey, U2 gets the nod for more polished and complex music even at such an early stage.
Score: Radiohead 1 U2 2
Once the bands started dabbling in electronica, I have to say that for me Radiohead was much more successful than U2 when we compare Kid A-Amnesiac to Zootopia-Pop.
Score: Radiohead 2 U2 2
The live albums, I Might Be Wrong vs Live at Red Rocks-Rattle-and-Hum kind of come to a draw because Red Rocks was huge for me at the time and because I Might Be Wrong is such an excellent recording of Radiohead that really captures them as I experienced them.
Score Radiohead 3 U2 3
Lastly, the latter period of returning to rock-n-roll albeit with influences from their electronic work represented for Radiohead by Hail to the Thief-In Rainbows-King of Limbs and by U2 by You Can’t Dismantle an Atomic Bomb-Everything You Could Never Leave Behind-No Line on the Horizon, for me Radiohead clearly wins out due to the originality of all three albums and the near perfection of In Rainbows in particular. Score: Radiohead 4, U2 3
In terms of public image, U2 and Bono in particular, has attempted to be the band of world peace, Dalai Lama and all that. Have they been successful at it? Perhaps relatively speaking yes. But they are still open to criticism when you consider the exorbitant cost of their touring get up vs. the cost of feeding some of the hungry people that they are grandstanding about. I suppose that sometimes it seems a bit difficult to be the quintessential rock star, planetary idol and attempt to always be the good guy but I suppose that’s all part of the Bono persona or something. I was so glad to actually hear the Edge talk (in the previously reviewed It Might Get Loud) because Bono just seems so engulfing.
Radiohead has been a bit lower key as surely Thom Yorke is no Bono. That being said, they have been outspoken about internet freedom and the death-grip that the music industry has on musicians and I feel they have been far more consistent in this regard perhaps precisely because they have relatively quiet about it.
Score: Radiohead 5 U2 3
As for their value as musicians, I think that in terms of composition and mood, Radiohead pulls ahead but in terms of guitar mastery and mega-single writing, U2 pulls even.
Score: Radiohead 6 U2 4
In terms of longevity, both bands have been able to keep the original unit intact up to now. But since U2 had a 10-year lead on Radiohead, they get the edge (no pun intended).
Score: Radiohead 6 U2 5
And lastly, in terms of live performances, I’d also say it is a draw for me – I saw both twice U2 was beyond belief in 1985 and less credible in 1987 – Radiohead was incredible both in 1999 and 2005.
Final Score: Radiohead 7 U2 6
Perhaps I missed a category? Feel free to comment!