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Radiohead - The Bends CD (album) cover

THE BENDS

Radiohead

 

Crossover Prog

3.80 | 405 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars I can definitely agree with the general consensus that this album is a major improvement over Pablo Honey; just how major of an improvement is another matter. This is very often regarded, by hardcore Radiohead fans and otherwise, as one of the best albums of the 90's, one of the best "guitar rock" albums ever and even one of the greatest albums of all time. No matter how many times I listen to this album, though, I just can't come around to that way of thinking. Half of the album sounds great to me, but the other half has never struck me as much more than okayish, and I don't think I'm going ever going to change my mind about that.

Indeed, as hard as I try, I cannot get excited about the two tracks after the album's opening (and superb) quartet, or about the four tracks between "Just" and the closing "Street Spirit (Fade Out)." I don't see what's so special about "Bones" (despite all of the guitar effects) or "Nice Dream" (a low key number with an okayish melody but which I keep feeling should have more going for it than it does), and slogging through the four tracks after Just is something I never really enjoy. "My Iron Lung" has a pretty nice quiet guitar line in the beginning and throughout, but the other song elements, particularly the noisy section about half way through, don't make me very happy. "Bullet Proof ... I Wish I Was" has some neat effects like what I'd expect from early Pink Floyd, but as pleasant as the song is, it largely passes me by each time (it's probably the best of the album's weaker half, anyway). "Black Star" is the kind of song I could easily see somebody loving, as it has all sorts of strong anthemic elements, but it's never moved me much at all, and the melody isn't that enjoyable to me. And as for "Sulk," well, the only thing I ever remember about it is that I want to start singing "Fireplace" by R.E.M. when I hear the opening measures. So on the whole, these tracks just evoke a strong "meh" and shrug of my shoulders, and that's not something that I can square with the notion of an all-time great album.

The other six tracks are terrific, though, and if the rest had been able to keep pace with these tracks, I'd definitely rate this much higher. Pretty much the only thing I can say bad about them is that they don't mean much to me, even if I can see how they could mean a lot to other people. This isn't to say I don't feel anything while listening to them, but rather that those feelings don't stick around very long past the end of the song/album, and that I don't really feel like they're an essential part of my musical diet.

Otherwise, they're pretty great on the whole. If I had to pick one as noticeably weaker than the others, I'd probably go with the title track, but it's still got some very nice guitar lines and a good enough delivery from Thom. "Planet Telex," which comes before it, is much better, from the effect-laden introduction to the good vocal melody to the various neat guitar textures, ESPECIALLY in the "Everything is broken ..." section. The two ballads (sort of) that come after the title track are also fantastic. "High and Dry" has a marvelous vocal melody in both the verses and the chorus, and "Fake Plastic Trees," as clear an imitation of classic U2 it might be, combines some great moving chord sequences with some really tender singing once again from Thom.

My two favorites, though, are "Just" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)." I couldn't care less about the lyrical message in "Just," but the way Thom sings "you do it to yourself, you do" is one of the strongest hooks on the album, and the band's approach to heaviness in the guitar parts (which are like a mad scientist's take on typical grunge lines, and I mean that in a good way) makes the song one that I keep coming back to. And finally, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" features a fascinating rolling guitar line and an interesting layering of arrangements, but more importantly to me it has a very strong atmosphere of darkness that the band hadn't really shown to this point. Obviously the band probably didn't intend this at the time, but this is the track the most strongly points the way to the band's future; a dark, depressing world and sound that far transcends conventional angst. For this reason, I actually think it sounds a little out of place on the album, but it's better for it.

I really think that part of this album's appeal lies in the fact that it follows the classic Who's Next formula: start and end strong, and stuff all the weaker songs into the middle. Unfortunately, the weaker songs really bug me, and the better songs aren't spectacular enough to cover up that impression, so the album's rating suffers. Still, it's quite a nice album, and it's worth picking up.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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