Music Monday: Bending The Computer

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 11/250

So I have spent the last month floating around the earlier reaches of the acclaimed albums list with albums by the likes of Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan meaning it is time I travelled a bit forward in time. Looking through my iTunes and CDs I have noted there is a very large discrepancy in my stuff when it comes to the 1970s and the 1980s which I will deal with in the future.

For now I’ll go back to the 1990s and go for some music that I was way too young at the time to appreciate and grew to appreciate in more recent years. Another band with multiple albums and this post will look at the first two; let’s have some Radiohead.

Radiohead.bends.albumart Radiohead.okcomputer.albumart
Title: The Bends
Artist: Radiohead
Year: 1995
Position: #80 (previously #93)
Title: OK Computer
Artist: Radiohead
Year: 1997
Position: #12 (previously #13)

I think we can all agree, to start with, that it would be a tall order to ask a five year old boy to listen to Radiohead when the main music he was exposed to (to my knowledge) was a mixture of Enya and The Human League. To be honest it took until the release of In Rainbows that I properly gave Radiohead a go and, unlike most people, I went straight for The Bends rather than OK Computer.

Both of these albums are really strange to look back on since both The Bends and OK Computer were so universally lauded at the time. I remember as a seven year old that people were talking about OK Computer as an album that would be an all-time class and become truly influential in the future. I still have not seen an album be so decorated, or the critics be so correct. As a vehement and long-serving fan of Björk I still think that OK Computer somewhat overshadowed her magnum opus Homogenic to the point that despite universal acclaim it does not appear in the Top 250 (rather at 308 which is still impressive). Then again I am biased since that is one of my favourite albums of all time.

Anyway, musical grudges aside Radiohead is one of the view male-fronted acts that I enjoy and listen to in my own time (this is odd company they keep since it stands them alongside Beck, Sufjan Stevens and Of Montreal). Thing is I don’t know how to explain this without really retreading over what hundreds of reviews have said many, many times before.

I like listening to Radiohead for a number of reasons. They are able to jump between genres and fuse them together along the way. They combined alternative rock and electronica on OK Computer before it was a regularly done thing. When contemporary acts like Oasis and Blur were duking it out on the charts to become the dominant force in the emerging face of Britpop out comes The Bends completely out of left-field with little to no ego and a male singer who is not afraid to sing beautifully.

Thom Yorke’s high register and falsetto is what makes Radiohead’s songs (that are already melodic and well produced) a song by Radiohead. There is an emotive quality in his voice that many others like Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Keane’s Tom Chaplin have since tried to emulate but not quite get right.

Like most other people listing to these two albums I really rank ‘False Plastic Trees’ and ‘No Surprises’ as great songs… but above these I have to say my favourites are  ‘Sulk’ from The Bends and ‘Let Down’ from OK Computer.

‘Let Down’ hits home for me because of the walls of sound generated by the guitars (and some other instrument I have yet to work out) which is out of sync with each other, much like how the song is about being out of sync with the world around you. It’s a beautiful song and, personally, the best produced on the album because of the sheer number of layers with their various time signatures.

Then there is ‘Sulk’ which I like for a similar reason to ‘Let Down’ since it is one of the big production numbers on The Bends but in the end it comes down to the sweeping chorus and just the sheer depth of emotion in the lines “sometimes you sulk, sometimes you burn”. The fact that this is apparently a song that is absent from the Radiohead live sets just confuses me.

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