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Radiohead - OK Computer CD (album) cover

OK COMPUTER

Radiohead

 

Crossover Prog

4.02 | 706 ratings

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Epignosis
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars I still remember the WTF expression on all our faces as my friends and I saw the music video for "Paranoid Android" for the first time in a hotel room. Never mind where we were or why we were there (Charleston, South Carolina and doing some missionary work, if one must know)- but we saw a fat man in a black, spiked leather thong trying to hack down a lamp post and wind up cutting off his own limbs, then getting saved by mermaids, an obese man dancing on a table in a bar with a head emanating from his stomach, an angel flying a helicopter, an alcoholic black kid with politically incorrect lips, who apparently liked to fondle the hooters of fleshy bartenders, and so much more that words fail to describe. It was for me the first time I'd ever consciously heard Radiohead, and, while such a video might have put me off from the get go, something about the music was hypnotizing and neurotic, yet completely accessible. Normally, music must be memorable for me to appreciate it, but for some unfathomable reason, this album is an enigmatic exception. What I mean by that is that I don't remember most of the melodies, themes, or chord progressions after this album concludes. That's especially cool for me, because every time I play OK Computer, it's like hearing a new album, except vaguely and euphorically familiar. The Pink Floyd influences are present artistically and lyrically, if not musically. Imagery from Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall appear in the artwork, and likes like "When I am king, you will be first against the wall" hearken back to Pink's isolation and decent into madness, not to mention the criticism of capitalism. Also, does anyone want to hear one reason Porcupine Tree sounds the way they do since Lightbulb Sun? Listen to this album.

"Airbag" One of my favorites on the album (and one of Thom Yorke's, I understand), this song is loosely based on Yorke's involvement in an automobile accident that rendered him frightened of cars for some time. The bass is sporadic (I remember reading the bassist saying something about meaning to go back and add parts to fill it out, but never getting around to it- laziness pays off!), and the drums are electronic approximations meant to imitate DJ Shadow. I think the refrain is one of the strongest moments of the album and sets the overall tone exceedingly well.

"Paranoid Android" Perhaps my favorite song by Radiohead, this excessively bizarre song has a few distinct sections that bleed together perfectly. Again, the lazy vocals serve this piece well. The multiple guitars blend together in a masterful way, and combined with the bass and drums, create almost seven minutes of a musical high that fluctuates between both joy and sorrow (sometimes dipping into both simultaneously) in a way that few other pieces of music have been able to do. I am still shaking my head about the video though.

"Subterranean Homesick Alien" Paying tribute to the similarly-titled Bob Dylan number, this song has a wonderful guitar theme and some rather fluid effects. The refrain reminds me of U2, as Yorke even invokes Bono's gritty cry.

"Exit Music (For a Film)" One of the few films that bored me so stupidly I stopped it midway through was Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Julet, a modern version of the classic story (with guns, basically), so I did not know until many years later that this song was commissioned for the ending credits- hence the rather literal title. The song mainly features acoustic guitar and Mellotron in choir mode, and light, breathy vocals.

"Let Down" The subtle lead guitar makes this song for me, but that is not to say that the incredible vocal melody doesn't have something to do with how much I am drawn to this. The end of the music consists of 1980s ZX Spectrum Computers creating something of a non sequitur of an ending, and yet it fits perfectly.

"Karma Police" At the risk of sounding repetitive, yes, this is one of my favorite Radiohead songs. The ingredients are there: A mellow and pleasing vocal, dark but subdued instrumentation, and that peculiar state of being both memorable and elusive. Piano and acoustic guitar dominate this track, and I love how the drums cut out during the chorus, only to jump back in at the end of it. The guitarist fed his instrument through a digital delay machine to achieve that strange closing sound.

"Fitter Happier" One may be tempted to call this filler. It's less than two minutes long, it was performed by Yorke after a period of writer's block, and he recorded parts of it (at least the piano) while drunk. Yeah, it's filler. So what if the band used this track to introduce their live shows? Yet, keeping well in line with the aberrations that inexplicably make this album timeless for me, this short track tends to work in the overall tenor of the album, or in the very least, affording me an appropriate place to take a piss without hitting pause. The focal point of this track is a list of slogans (how apropos as the new year dawns!) from the 1990s that Yorke fed through a Macintosh SimpleText application.

"Electioneering" The heaviest song on the album has a couple of gritty guitars, cowbell, and a brisk bass line. It also is one of the few songs to feature a proper guitar solo. It is comparatively my least favorite song on the album.

"Climbing up the Walls" Utilizing eerie noises, synthesized bass, and metallic-sounding drums, this song is purportedly about the bogeyman in a manner of speaking, drawing on Yorke's brief experience as an orderly in a mental ward. Distorted and quaking vocals only add to the madness-inducing nature of the piece, but it's the petrifying strings that push the song over the edge of delirium.

"No Surprises" Almost a 180 compared to what came before, this delightful song has a calming feel, an easygoing and incredible melody, and delightful instrumentation including a whimsical glockenspiel. The vocals are at their laziest here- in fact, it is almost impossible to make out the lyrics without them right in front of one's face.

"Lucky" Another not-so-aggressive song, this one offers a strong tune with some great use of dominant seventh chords and multiple rhythm guitars.

"The Tourist" Some final songs are crafted and placed to serve as explosive finales meant to leave an imprint on the listener's mind, but not this one. Yet, again paradoxically, it serves as a robust conclusion because it is so spacious and beautiful. Yorke notes that it is about idiotic Americans in Paris moving as quickly as they can through the place to see as much as they can in short span of time without ever slowing down to actually take the sights in (yes, Americans- why else would the English Yorke say "feet?").

Epignosis | 4/5 |

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