Radiohead OK Computer (1997)
One day, my friend Michael and I were playing Rock Band, and he decided he wanted to play Creep. I asked him if I should listen to Radiohead, as I was slowly expanding my music taste. He said that I definitely should, that Radiohead was probably the best band out there right now. My interest was piqued, so I did some research on the band (which consisted of me reading their Wikipedia page and the Wiki page for some of their albums), I decided to purchase OK Computer, since it was acclaimed as one of the greatest albums of the 90s. My expectations were quite high.
I was not disappointed at all. In fact, I was a bit surprised that I liked the album as much as I did. Every single musical change, every vocal, every odd-end instrument that’s thrown into the music, worked for me. Out of all the music I’ve listened to, nothing has connected with me more, has made more sense to me than this album. This album is the definition of musical perfection; listening to it is bliss. I search for flaws, only to find more nuances in the music that make me appreciate and love it even more. Since listening to this album, I have purchased every single Radiohead album, and only been disappointed once (care to guess?). They have morphed into my favorite band. My music taste has rapidly expanded into something that I can truly be proud of. I can definitively say that music is one of the three most important things in my life (girls and soccer are the other two). All thanks to this album.
1. Airbag- This song gets the album started off with a bang. The opening guitar riff is incredibly powerful, even if it isn’t the catchiest, with bass dropping in out of the song seemingly randomly. Colin said that he had recorded some of the bass parts and had planned to do the rest of it to complete the bass part for the song, but never got around to it. It actually works quite well, keeping the listener on his/her toes and adding an intricate layer to the music. The lyrics revolve around getting out of a car crash safely. Thom Yorke has said that he is terrified of the dangers of getting in a car and is shocked that more people don’t feel the same way. You know a song is good when its two influences are a magazine article and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. 4.5/5
2. Paranoid Android- I cannot put into words how much I love this song. “Airbag” segues perfectly into this song (the transition is actually is one of the best moments on the album). The song is a reference to Marvin the Android from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The four sections of the song fit together seamlessly, going from a drum loop-based opening into a jam-out section which features a nasty guitar solo. One of the darker sections of the song follows, and then we get to jam out some more before what is my favorite Radiohead song of all time ends. 5/5
3. Subterranean Homesick Alien- One of the weaker tracks on the album. That being said, it’s still a very good track. It’s a necessary track, as this helps along the flow of the album while being a very good song in its own right. The guitar section is very beautiful and continues the lyrical theme of fear, this time with aliens. Thom sings, “Take me on board their beautiful ship, show me the world as I’d love to see it,” over keyboards and laid back drumming. 4/5
4. Exit Music (For a Film)- One of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching tracks ever recorded. Simple chords on a guitar, Thom’s voice, and a masterfully added Gothic choir are all that is needed to drive the majority of the song along. The lyrics are a summary of the story of Romeo and Juliet, with lines like, “Pack and get dressed, before your father hears us, before all hell breaks loose,” clearly being about the play. One of the best nuances of the album comes in the buildup to the crashing in of the instruments. If you listen carefully, you can hear Selway tapping ever so softly on his hi-hat before his inventive fill comes in to start the song’s take-off. Something the casual listener would never catch, but it’s these details which makes this album a classic. 5/5
5. Let Down- A beautifully composed track. While none of the instruments stand out, together they work brilliantly. Jonny plays his guitar in a different time signature than the rest of the instruments, which is quite brilliant. The outro heightens the song, with a wonderful synth line taking us into the next song. 4.5/5
6. Karma Police- The most accessibly song on the album, Karma Police is built around a seemingly simple yet truly incredible piano part and standard rock beat from Selway, one of the few on the album. This features one of my favorite lines on the album, which would be, “Karma police, arrest this girl, her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill.” The lyrics were inspired by an inside joke within the band; whenever someone would do something bad, the others would joke that the “karma police” would come and get him. The song is structured oddly, as it doesn’t seem to have a true chorus. 5/5
7. Fitter Happier- The feedback at the end of Karma Police leads right into this track. Thom describes the lyrics as list of slogans from the 90s, and considers it to be, “the most upsetting thing I’ve ever written.” Even though there isn’t that much to the song, it holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first truly odd song that ever struck my fancy. 4/5
8. Electioneering- The intro is perfect after the atmospheric “Fitter Happier”. It sounds like the start of a race, with a horse scraping its hoof on the ground. Then, one of Greenwood’s best riffs comes in, and the song takes off and doesn’t slow down for it’s entire duration. A welcome change of pace. 4.5/5
9. Climbing Up the Walls- It also sets up this track perfectly. Simply put, this is one of the darkest, most depressing songs ever written, containing the ability to make you feel truly awful. This is the first indicator of Thom singing with effects, which would be revisited often on future albums. The guitar part almost doesn’t fit in, as it seems a bit more uplifting than everything else. Selway’s tom-tom beat is absolutely perfect for this track, which also has some ambient noises and Jonny Greenwood’s first strings composition to add to the mood. The lyrics greatly enhance the mood. 5/5
10. No Surprises- Once again, a perfect transition. Described by one critic as, “a Sunday wake-up song”, it is very relaxing. The bass in the intro is faint, but is very well-written to not take away the spotlight from the melodic guitar, but to add something for those listening carefully. The lyrics are juxtaposed to the music, as they are arguably more depressing than the lyrics in the previous track, with lines like, “I’ll take a quite life, a handshake of carbon monoxide, and no alarms and no surprises”. The goal for this song was to replicate the atmosphere of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,”, which the band successfully does, and in the process, creates a brilliant track. 5/5
11. Lucky- This is the song that started it all. The band wrote this for the Help! EP in 1995 and were incredibly happy with it. They decided that they would pursue this new style of writing, and out came this album. The song builds up, but not in a typical way, into the chorus, where everything crashes in. It took a long time for this song to grow on me, which is odd, considering it’s one of the more immediate tracks on the album. The lyrics deal with a man surviving an airplane crash and feeling like a superhero. Considering their positivity, the lyrics are an anomaly. The quality of the song is not. 5/5
12. The Tourist- This song is very unique in the context of the album. A Jonny Greenwood composition, the song is very spaced out and mellow, unlike the rest of the album, which is very dense. Selway lazily keeps time on his kit along with some very atmospheric guitar parts. The lyrics match the mood of the song, with Thom singing, “Hey man, slow down, slow down,”. My friend Michael vehemently believes that this song should switch places with No Surprises. I always vehemently disagree, mainly because the ending to this song (a single note on the triangle) is so perfect, is such a brilliant way to end the album, that there is no possible way that this shouldn’t be the closing track. Oddly enough, out of all of Radiohead’s albums (excluding Pablo Honey), this is my least favorite album closer, yet this is still easily my favorite album by Radiohead. Oh well. It works much better at the end of the album than it does as a song on its own, but still a wonderful track. 4/5
The album has an overall theme of social disconnection and depression, which is perfectly reflected by the music. This album serves as a bit of a bridge between Radiohead’s earlier and later work. While it definitely shows some signs of the experimental path the band would take with “Kid A”, it also still has some of the conventional rock track from “The Bends”. The mix between the two styles is one of the reasons that this album is their best effort ever, and one of the greatest albums of all time.
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