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Radiohead - OK Computer CD (album) cover

OK COMPUTER

Radiohead

 

Crossover Prog

4.01 | 695 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Years after this album's initial release, I find the "classic rock updated for the 90's!!1!" praise often heaped upon the album somewhat odd, and I certainly don't fully get why this album made so many people look to Radiohead as the potential "saviors of rock." My best guess is that people just really wanted to hear a relatively successful mainstream, "normal" rock band consciously change itself into something "artsier," and OK Computer definitely satisfies that requirement. Plus, the general lyrical theme (essentially a late 90's version of "I'm a 20th century man but I don't want to be here") was fairly timely (and the lyrical approach tends much more towards the abstract than the anthemic mope rock of The Bends), and when combined with a higher level of instrumental diversity (not only in the guitars, but in the various keyboard sounds), the album was seemingly a ready- made classic from day one.

Personally, I don't think this comes close to an all-time great album (and it didn't save anything in rock music, that's for sure), but I sure don't buy into the inevitable anti-hype either. My main problem with the album comes not from the excessive praise it's received over the years, or the fact that its originality is largely overstated by many of the band's fans, but rather from a stretch in the middle that I enjoy less with each listen. Unless one has a heavy emotional investment in the concept of the album, and views the track as the album's keystone, I don't see how "Fitter, Happier" can be considered anything but a stupefying waste of two minutes. The Stephen Hawking imitation voice, listing all of the various good things to do to keep healthy and sane, always annoys me within fifteen seconds, and the album would be seriously improved without it. The next two tracks aren't much better, either. "Electioneering" is a go-nowhere piece of dissonant boogie rock, and "Climbing Up the Walls" just strikes me as deeply unpleasant and ugly (that it's one of the longer songs on the album doesn't help either). So that's almost a full quarter of the album down the drain right there.

I really like the rest of the album, though. I don't feel the kind of reverence towards the songs that many feel, and I don't find myself going out of my way to listen to them very often, but it would be hard for me not to enjoy and respect a bunch of songs this well arranged, produced and written. My two favorites are "Let Down" and "No Surprises," which do the dreamy guitar pop lullaby genre (if such a genre exists outside this album) proud with fantastic melodies, vocal parts that nobody else could do justice, and, in the former, some effective subtle rhythmic unrest. I'm also quite fond of "Subterranean Homesick Alien," whose guitars create one of the more beautifully bizarre atmospheres I've ever heard.

The more intense side of the band is effectively demonstrated in "Paranoid Android," which effortlessly moves from a quiet driving mix of acoustic and electric guitars (all pinned down by subtle percussion that always makes the acoustic parts sound Spanish to me, even though I have no idea why) to a more obviously powerful electric section with a fantastic riff and some good over-the-top soloing. And, of course, it then moves into the amazing "rain down" section, led by some great atmospheric vocals from Yorke, before going back in the heavier direction.

Some of the other songs don't thrill me as much as I'd like, but they have their nice attributes all the same. "Exit Music (for a Film)" is most notable to me for its heavy use of a mellotron (if it's not a mellotron, then it's something that sounds really close to it), and while I don't think it's anywhere near as beautiful or moving as lots of people think, I still find it kinda pretty in its own sad way. I think it would be far exceeded, though, by "How to Disappear Completely," on the next album. "Karma Police" is a little bit boring, but the piano part in the chorus more or less saves it. And finally, "Lucky" is almost nothing but mood and wailing Gilmour-esque guitar parts, but it does well in both of these aspects, so it's a keeper.

Finally, I want to say something about the opening and closing tracks. "Airbag," as many people like to point out, actually feels like a musical interpretation of a car crash, or rather the hallucinogenic experience of the person within the car during and after it (the actual car crashing would sound more like Metal Machine Music, I'm sure). What should stand out most in the song, though, is not so much the music, and also not the main expository line of the song, "I'm amazed that I survived, an airbag saved my life." No, what's most important is the creeped out feeling of elation that comes from it, expressed in the "in an interstellar burst, I'm back to save the universe" line. From surviving this accident comes a momentary feeling of invincibility, a newly found superpower, if you will, and the feeling that this second chance at life suddenly brings with it all sorts of meaning.

"The Tourist," then, brings the album full circle; I am very skeptical of the idea that the tourist in question is somehow not involved in the car accident that prompts "Airbag." The anthemic calls of "hey...man..sloooow down...," underpinned by a fantastic set of chord sequences, create an extremely vivid, almost cinematic set of imagery for me, and that impresses the hell out of me. Maybe the song is actually a call to the listener to slow down the pace of one's life in this busy hectic world, but my interpretation is the one that's going to make me care about the song.

So, while I may not fall in line with the general consensus that says this is one of the best albums ever, I still think it's a really nice album. Cut out the tracks I really don't like, and this could even be a weak *****. And, of course, it's still a necessity for any decent collection of rock music, no matter the era one mainly focuses on.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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