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#2 Radiohead – OK Computer

October 16th, 2013

Radiohead – OK Computer

The age that we live in often feels too fast. There appears a mutiny of data passing through our brains whether it is on the news, social media or in our lives. OK Computer has often felt like the culmination of these ideas as one slowly goes insane during the process. One might link it to a modern day “The Wall” by Pink Floyd, although without the storyline and quite a bit more abstract than that album was.

‘Ok Computer’ was a difficult sell, not due to the fact of the music on the album but rather my own preconceived notions of the band Radiohead. There was something that was not appealing to me before this point and so I believe it took me at least a year to get the gall to purchase the album, partly due, I believe to all the good press that it was getting not just by critics but by fans as well. Hell, I still remember listening to Sound Opinions back in 1995 when it was on Q101 and both Jim Derogatis and Bill Wyman were critical of R.E.M.’s choices for their opening bands during the Monster tour. Looking back at that decision it would appear that they made the right choice.

The story on where to begin with Radiohead is often whether you would prefer the safe approach (OK Computer) vs. the experimental route (Kid A). While these albums were made back to back, their styles albeit both depressive show a stark difference. That being said, OK Computer by itself is by itself a leap of faith but it also demonstrates the growth the band endured by their third record. In fact, we could say that Pablo Honey was amateurish compared to OK Computer.

Radiohead quite simply were able to create one of the most beautifully depressing albums that you would ever hear. When we talk about the growth of Radiohead, we can start with the song “Paranoid Android”, a song with 4 distinct sections, and ties many of the themes of OK Computer together including greed, violence and insanity. Paranoid Android is a game-changer for the band that released “Creep”.

“No Surprises” should be the warning sign for any band that is dealing with the pressures of fame. Simply, its beautiful and depressing and the video featuring Thom Yorke underwater for a great deal of it sheds light on the both the theme of the album but also the state of Thom Yorke. This on top of “Exit Music (For a Film)” brings more light to this theme when Yorke sings “Breathe, Keep Breathing, Don’t lose your nerve”. But throughout the songs there is the antagonist: “We hope your rules and wisdom choke you”.

OK Computer, is part science fiction, a grasp on late 20th Century fears of a digital age, on aliens but it’s collected in part to a collage of beautiful music that it becomes to feel very visual. Unlike the very stark Kid A, there is a bit of humor on the album and hope (see Lucky).

For me, the album seemed like this alternate universe that the band tapped into. I seem to remember listening to this album alongside R.E.M.’s ‘Up’ at the time and noting the similarities that Up had to Ok Computer, it was not as political as Ok Computer was nor concerned with the speed at which society was speeding up. In a way the album is very reflective, and allows us to slow down, to ponder and to think.

The bar was raised by such a degree between The Bends and Ok Computer that, if it were not for the current popularity of the band, both The Bends and Pablo Honey are natural progressions for the band but do not hold water to their work from this point. For me, the album seems poignant to current events. There was a host of emotion when I thought of America’s current default crisis and it just seemed like a fitting moment to reflect on all of this and the first album that came to mind was my number 2 album of all time.

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