In ways 1997 is like light years away. For instance an Apple Computer would look like this..
I guess the point I’m is skirting around here is just how timeless great music can be. June 1997 saw the release of the third album by Radiohead. It was released at a point of climax of the Brit Pop scene but is an album that transcends that genre with huge ease. Also OK Computer had a tough challenge already to up the ante from the bands previous album The Bends.
I have always seen the album as a bit post punk Pink Floyd and just like that groups finest records it still sounds important today. The album is widely cited as one of the best albums ever released and although I am no huge fan of the band I would struggle to name more than a dozen better albums.
OK Computer is a collaborative affair, the whole album is written by the whole band, there is no stand out song writer credited, not sure why, but I like this.
Airbag lauches the bands pinnacle and quite fittingly it is the song most akin to styles showcased on The Bends. It is however already more sonic than the group ventured on their admittedly great previous album.
Paranoid Android and OK Computer shows it’s sublimely strong hand very early. The track was released as a single before the album was dropped on the unprepared public. With a clear reference in to The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy the song is one of the bands most unique recordings ever – even considering the more experimental offerings that were to follow OK Computer. The track is an epic and veers a lot from solid rock sound conjuring musical images of an melancholy Bohemian Rhapsody to deep dreamy altered states. A wild guitar finally unleashes flexing like an electrical eruption. I shouldn’t really reference the video but this in unison with Paranoid Android is a blend that rarely works so effectively.
Subterranean Homesick Alien although nowhere near as astonishing as the preceding track shows that OK Computer is going to be consistent. Waves of stuttering guitar and a band very much playing as one.
Exit Music (For A Film) has such a title as it was written for the 1996 film version of Romeo & Juliet and does indeed outro the movie. It is one of the most earnestly deep touching pieces of music from any genre I have ever heard. It builds from a minimal sound with startling real beauty and does what Radiohead can do so effectively. The vocals and instruments soar away, they actually take you to another place and whilst this is happening the hairs on your forearms may flex and skin streak with goosebumps. It is one of the band finest ever songs.
Let Down calms OK Computer down after the preceding sonic bliss. It is mellow yet solid throughout its near five minute duration.
Karma Police is one of the bands most popular songs and was also a hit single. It is a haunting but accesible song. Almost knowingly the lyric peaks with the line “for a minute there, I lost myself” Radiohead nail why their fans would take this track to their hearts. A blissful post rock scorch enters as the song fades.
Fitter Happier has interlude qualities and is an under two-minute piece with computer style generated spoken vocals.
Electioneering is a more full on song. Loud and consistent it is not the strongest track on OK Computer but is certainly no filler.
Climbing Up Walls has a more experimental feel than most of the songs on OK Computer. It ventures into electronica and features very hollow sounding drums. The soundscape is huge.
No Surprises from its child like intro is another firm favourite with Radiohead fans. I have only seen the band play live twice but both times when they played this song the look of joy on the crowds faces is one I have rarely ever seen at gigs by any other artist.
Lucky is probably the birth of Radiohead coming onto their own. Although it sits towards the very end of OK Computer it was written very quickly and quite a while before the album was properly conceived (for the Help! charity album). It is another luscious deep song that starts with near optimistic lyrics before switching into a more familiar dark vibe. Waves of guitar punctuate the song before a guitar streak that may challenge your senses phases the song away.
The Tourist closes OK Computer with a slow solid sound. It is not a stand out song but there are no fillers at all on this timeless classic.
Realistically Radiohead can never better Ok Computer – I believe this is beyond them now. They followed the album with two very challenging albums that split opinions. With hindsight Kid A and Amnesiac are very brave records and the band did not rest on their laurels or do a “Muse”. Whilst I was working in a record shop a representative from EMI told me pre Amnesiac release that the album would be called Kid B. I loved this notion and wish it had been called so. Maybe then Kid A and Kid B could be reflected on like having your own children and trying to shape their musical direction only for them to go off and do something you didn’t totally approve of, daft, but I just love that concept.
I do rate really highly 2007’s In Rainbows and in ways it is the bands most creative yet accessible album – I would however agree that OK Computer is indeed one of the finest albums ever released and it will still sound fresh when your Macbook Pro Retina Display is a laughable underpowered relic…