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Radiohead - The Bends CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.82 | 655 ratings

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4 stars I would not consider myself as a massive Radiohead fan, but I recognise the importance of the band and their influence on modern music and prog. I have all their albums, and like each one to a degree, but can never pin their sound down to one particular style. Consequently any review I write on their albums is mainly about the music itself rather than how great it may or may not be. Each album seems to be different in approach and this album is perhaps their most pop oriented with dark overtones and very catchy melodies. 'The Bends' is a much celebrated Radiohead album that features some of their most recognisable material.

'Planet Telex' begins with a spacey effect and a fractured keyboard and guitar over crashing drums. Yorke's incongruous vocals break in with a strong melody sung with passion. The enigmatic song title is enhanced as we hear how "you can crush it". A definite successful album opener. One of the quintessential Radiohead tracks.

'The Bends'. Crashing guitars drive the track headlong and Yorke wails over top till the track changes gears into a quiet riff. "Where do we go from here.. the words are coming out all weird.... Baby's got the bends..." It rocks along and takes a few detours but never really moves completely away from the main beat and structure. The guitar rhythms are consistent and sharp as are the lead motifs.

'High and Dry' is acoustically driven and a melodic verse is sung, another accessible track that may appeal to the Porcupine Tree fan as the style is similar. There are hints of prog in the time signature but it is more subtle. "Don't leave me High, don't leave me dry..." Yorke pleads. This is a comfortable incarnation of Radiohead in comparison to the alienated tracks previous. The guitar solo is pleasant and does not threaten to break out of the mould. The verse chorus verse lead break verse chorus structure is not expected from this band but it stands out as a result.

'Fake Plastic Trees' is one of the recognisable Radiohead singles. There is a definite melody and an intriguing organ sound. The lyrics are psychedelic in a sense but as usual the theme centres on the loss of love and alienation in a lonely world. "Fake Plastic Love... I could float through the ceiling... and it wears me out, it wears me out, it wears me out, it wears me out..." It is not uplifting but thought provoking none the less.

'Bones' begins with a phased contorted guitar that twangs during the track giving an unsettling ambience. Once again Yorke's vocals enhance the atmospherics. The vocal performance is bitter but on this track he belts out these feelings rather than adopting the lazy style of quieter tracks. This may well be one of the heaviest tracks of the band. It delivers the goods and gets out quick.

'(Nice Dream)' is about sunshine dreams and lost love, or the search for happiness. The melody is catchy and easy to sing to, which is not relative to the material the band will produce on subsequent albums. The repeated line can get on the nerves but it captures the hypnotic style the band exudes. The track breaks into an angular guitar riff and one of the best heavy passages on the album. It is soon over and the acoustic guitar strums away over a wailing sound and soft howls and spiralling effects.

'Just' begins with a loud guitar riff. "Can't get the stink off, it's been hanging round for days..." Yorke warns us and sings of "Holy cow" and "forget my sympathy, hanging out at the 15th floor...." Is he musing on suicide? You be the judge. It is more upbeat and more accessible than other material. There is an interesting chaotic guitar line and some competent guitar strumming especially in the solo section which takes a series of twists and turns, although there is a definite melody that is maintained throughout. "You do it to Yourself, just you, you and no one else" Yorke sings, and we believe his sincerity. The guitar is the highlight though and there are many solos for a change. It is one of the most guitar heavy tracks from the group and a welcome change in this instance.

'My Iron Lung' features a catchy guitar hook that propels the track, till it fades and Yorke's soft vocals merge into the soundscape, almost like another instrument. The guitars pick up the melody, over a drone that is off kilter and strange. Then it crunches in to a rocker with an angular guitar and phased vocals, that are aggressive and powerful. It reprises back to the main melody but threatens to get louder. Then the aggressive style returns with a dirty sounding guitar. "If you're frightened you can be frightened..." then the bizarre lead break begins and takes the song off balance, almost an industrial feel is achieved. This is enough to scare the neighbours.

'Bullet Proof... I Wish I was'. A strange swirling effect, ghostly and creepy, is heard and Yorke sounds lost in thought. He is patient with his vocal delivery, not putting any emphasis or meaning into the almost lethargic delivery, but he knows how to croon in high falsetto. This is the type of track that has put Radiohead into the 'hard to categorise' basket. An angelic vocal style with dark ominous music.

'Black Star' fades in with a melodic verse from Yorke, very quiet and sleepy, the chorus builds to the type of style that would typify Muse, perhaps they were influenced. There are unusual time sigs on this particularly in the guitar passages that use 6/8 time sigs and others.

'Sulk'. A four chord guitar progression drives the intro and there is louder chorus that builds. Intriguing helicopter sounding guitar effects enhance the quality of the track. There are experimental tendencies but the Indie rock feel is still there, alternative rock but with a dark razer edge. 'Street Spirit (fade Out)' is lulling and compelling, Yorke's voice sounds a little like Muse singer but unmistakably Radiohead. 'Fade Out Again' is mesmirising with an excellent soft guitar motif that carries the song along on a crest of a wave of ethereal atmospherics. It feels melancholy as Radiohead can get but at the same time uplifting in structure. One of the highlights on the album.

"The Bends" album grows on you with each listen and seems to capture the essence of Radiohead, moments of dark reflective melancholy merging with a pop oriented style with some inspired vocal and guitar work. It is saturated with quiet, serene moments and sudden bursts of grumbling guitar. Like an angry wasp that searches for an elusive flower and gives up to go on a stinging spree, the music jolts from soft passages of beauty to aggressive flashes of anger. It is powerful and accessible, rather than conceptual and progressive, and the album paved the way for the prog masterwork of "OK Computer", that was difficult to understand but has stood the test of time, now hailed as a prog masterpiece. "The Bends" was the beginning of the greatness yet to come.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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