Radiohead – OK Computer

You’ve heard it all before, so I’ll just point out what’s important for me – in no particular order:

1. ”The Tourist” – the album’s worst song – is also the most fitting closer for the album, in the way that the repeated “Hey man, slow down / Idiot, slow down” links the album cyclically with its opener, “Airbag”’s “In a fast German car, I’m amazed that I survived / An airbag saved my life.” Apparently the band spent an entire day deciding on the finalized tracklist, and it really shows; not just in the opener and closer, but the whole thing really works as a cohesive unit, in a way that The Bends kind of didn’t.

2. Ten years from now, the band would extract one of the best parts of “The Tourist” – the melody at the 0:23 mark – and recycle it for “Nude” (the “You go to hell” line) and expand on it. This is neither here nor there, I just thought I’d point that out.

3. ”Lucky” is one of the two songs off OK Computer that could be criticized for its generic-ness. Without Ed O’Brien’s injection of atmosphere, we’d essentially be listening to some of the easiest-to-learn guitar chords. That being said, there is one key moment that actively excites me; when Thom Yorke takes a pause after “It’s gonna be” and belts out “A GLORIOUS DAY.” People often stereotype Radiohead’s songs as cynical music made for cynics – that one moment is a rebuttal – an affirmation of life and a testament that it’s worth living.

4. The movement to catharsis within “Exit Music (For a Film)” is another such example.

5. ”Electioneering” – great title – is the other of the two songs off OK Computer that could be criticized for its generic-ness, but people who think it should have been cut off the album forget that this is a much-needed burst of energy on an album that mostly deals with the melodramatic.

6. ”Fitter Happier,” everyone’s favorite spanking child on the album, manages to take the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” and condense it into 2-minutes worth. It’s terrifying, both in the background piano that’s playing from within a locked room in your house and the concept that human behaviors have become the equivalent to how we input commands into a computer, turning us into “a pig in a cage, on antibiotics.” Even if you hated the song, did it really waste all that much of your time, being 2 minutes and all? Did it really? Didn’t think so.

7. Actually, my least favorite track on the album is “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” not because it’s bad, but because it’s a summer-y song on a winter-y album. But there’s one key moment – the quiet surroundings when Thom Yorke sings “But I’d be alright,” at the 2:55 mark and onwards, and how things go completely chaotic at the 3:17 mark, “I’m just uptight.”

8. When I first heard the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today,” it was a revelation to me – putting sad lyrics to a song in a major key (though upon further exploration in music, this juxtaposition isn’t all that rare, but still).

“Let Down” is a huge improvement on that. In a comparison between the two tracks, Thom Yorke is more abstract in what he’s saying — what exactly does the repeated “You’ll know where you are with” actually mean is anyone’s best guess  – but that’s a mantra if I’ve ever heard one. There isn’t anything as obvious as Corgan’s wrist-slashing “Pink ribbon scars” line, though every line in Radiohead’s best ballad (yes, it makes both “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” look like the stuff of soap operas in comparison) is heavy-hitting. It’s an effect that’s produced by the way Thom Yorke moves from vague topics, “Transport / Motorways and tramlines” to more direct ones, “The emptiest of feelings” and “Clinging onto bottles,” or the second verse’s “Wings twitch / Legs are going” to “Don’t get sentimental / It always ends up drivel.” Furthermore, his falsetto in the song’s last stretch is the most best use of falsetto I’ve ever heard.

9. People who accuse Radiohead has being unimaginative by offering the fact that they lifted the chord progression from “Sexy Sadie” for the bridge need to learn that there are better things to drink than haterade. Yes, that’s been well-documented, but it’s also a) the worst part of that song, if I were to break it down into parts and b) constitutes such a small section of the song that I’m left thinking “Who cares?” The thing about Radiohead is that they’ve managed to assimilate their influences into a package that’s accessible for people who might not have enjoyed those influences otherwise. In an extreme example, you’ve got people wearing Beatles shirts and listening to Aphex Twin songs. Anyway, I don’t have much to say about “Karma Police,” except that if you’re a novel guitarist, you might want to start there; it contains practically every chord you’ll ever need (don’t try to start with “Paranoid Android” like I did – you’ll hate yourself and your roommates will hate you too).

10. Also, that ending of “Karma Police” manages to wonderfully capture that paranoid feeling you get when on certain jaunts with Mary Jane. The same goes for how inhuman Yorke sounds on “Climbing Up the Walls.”

11. People bring up normal multipartite standards when praising “Paranoid Android” (The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” or stupidly, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”), but their similarities end with the use of the adjective. Both of those tracks were uplifting; “Paranoid Android” is cathartic. There are plenty of things to note within it: the riff in the second part of the song (starting at the 1:57 mark) that secures its place as one of the most badass riffs ever; Thom Yorke’s whines at the 2:12 mark that manage to actually convey the paranoia that he sang about in the first part of the song; how Thom Yorke’s most visceral performance in his, ”You don’t remember you don’t remember why don’t you remember my name? Off with his head man off with his head man why won’t he remember my name I guess he does oooooooooooooooyeahhhhhhh,” leads right into Jonny Greenwood’s equally visceral solo at the 3:04 mark; the amount of counterpoint (especially in the slow-tempo part) within the song that could make Johann Sebastian Bach shit his pants; the way there’s a really subtle chord change in the lone acoustic strum under Thom Yorke’s final lines, “God loves his children” that signals the whole band to come crashing back in with the assaulting riff with Thom Yorke’s “Yeah!” MUSIC!

12. It’s unfortunate that it’s been overlooked thanks to everyone rushing to hear the main attractions (“Paranoid Android,” “Let Down,” “Karma Police,” “No Surprises), but “Airbag” is fantastic, and much more than just an opener for “Paranoid Android” (those beeps were a fantastic idea. Speaking of the album’s cohesiveness again, Parlophone clearly understood how essential those beeps were to “Paranoid Android” that they kept them for the 2008 compilation, Radiohead: The Best Of. Unfortunately, since they were proceeded by “Just,” there was something lost in the translation – “Airbag” and “Paranoid Android” go together like pasta and pasta sauce). No, “Airbag” is a wonderful testament to Brian Eno’s work (listen to how some of Phil Selway’s drums are replaced by lasers – the same effect was done on Talking Heads’ “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel) and how much music has changed since. The whole thing sounds like it was fed into a computer (one of the few times this is meant as a compliment) from how incredibly dense the song is: the the cello’s phrasing is deliberate cut, but that barely registers because of how it interchanges with the guitar – Colin Greenwood’s bass guitar similarly creeps in and out of earshot, but sounds rush to fill the void. “Scrolling up and down / I am born again?” That predated the Facebook era by almost a decade.

13. For me, and tons of others, this is the album equivalent of a gateway drug. After connecting with it, it became a life mission to listen to the rest of Radiohead’s discography, listen to Radiohead’s influences and then listen to anything that might bear passing resemblance to Radiohead. But like drugs, every time I think I’m done with it, I put it on again and I realize how much I love every second of it. And sometimes I get mad at the album, because of how I winded up writing reviews for music on the internet that no one’s going to read instead of getting a move on my life, and then I get sort of bummed and I put on OK Computer and it doesn’t help me get un-bummed. It still sounds amazing while it’s doing that though.

14. Best album of all time? I can live with that. I can most definitely live with that.

15. I still kiss with saliva.


15 responses to “Radiohead – OK Computer

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