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Radiohead - OK Computer CD (album) cover

OK COMPUTER

Radiohead

 

Crossover Prog

4.01 | 695 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars This is what you get.... Open up your skull

"Ok Computer" caught my attention as one of the top ten albums on a best album's TV show, and I had not known really what to expect. I always viewed Radiohead as depressing laid back stoner alt rock. They were never truly progressive in style but there is enough on here to satiate any listener into experimental and alternative rock. The vocal style never settled well with me, but I was very surprised with this album. It is full of innovation and ambition. A sprawling project from beginning to end, every song screams of techno paranoia suburbia and drug fuelled insecurity.

Of course this album boasts two of the quintessential singles, namely the powerful 'Paranoid Android', a title derived from Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"'s metal depressed ton of bolts, a classic character that is unforgettable. The song here is equally unforgettable with a terrific ending with the very familiar "Rain down, rain down, Come on rain down on me, From a great height". Yorke sings about being haunted by the "unborn chicken noises" in his head and then explains cryptically "When I am king, you will be first against the wall, With your opinion which is of no consequence at all." Interestingly the line "first against the wall" refers to the line in Adams' novel that states the androids were a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came, rather than their ad campaign 'your plastic pal who is fun to be with'. It is interesting too that this song sounds upbeat, though lyrically is despairing.

The other treasure on this is of course 'Karma Police' and when Thom Yorke bemoans, "this is what you get when you mess with us", we believe him. He always sound appropriately downbeat on this album as always, and injects a real sense of hopelessness that resonates with many listeners no doubt. The imagery is downright hypnotically conveyed with Yorke's slow measured delivery, "he talks in maths, he buzzes like a fridge", and "her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill". Eventually Yorke cries out "I lost myself" and there is a real atmosphere of isolation and alienation in a faceless violent society of control. The song has a lot to say about the fear of police control, and the rise of power in techno society.

The opening songs drip down the speakers like honey, very slow and crawling patiently and inexorably to the images of airbag's, homesick aliens, and exit music. The creepy feeling of what it is like to be trapped is conveyed in 'Let Down', with tantalising visions of utter frailty; "crushed like a bug in the ground, shell smashed, juices flowing, wings twitch legs are going". The song evokes the emptiness inside the protagonist and his coke fuelled excesses, bleak to be sure but so powerfully executed.

The lyrics are pervasive and unsettling throughout the album. The space rock of 'Subterranean Homesick Alien', a title mimicking Dylan's blues classic, screams out anxiety nausea, "Of all these weird creatures, Who lock up their spirits, Drill holes in themselves, And live for their secrets." The song is about the desire to escape the world and all it's hardships, to figuratively allow an alien to abduct him in to the ship to be taken away forever. Those great lyrics are an incredible stab at fractured society and the lack of belonging "I wish that they'd swoop down in a country lane, Late at night when I'm driving, Take me on board their beautiful ship, Show me the world as I'd love to see it." There is even a ray of hope in these lyrics, that there is a way out of the turmoil, even if it means alien abduction. This hard line of cynicism threads throughout the whole album.

Yorke attacks everything from bogus business deals, 'Electioneering', to the cupboard monster 'Climbing Up The Walls'. The monster within the cupboard is of course the childhood nightmare, that impacts adult life in the form of paranoia and fractured personalities. The verses are desperate and a cry from the very heart of a damaged life, "I am the key to the lock in your house, That keeps your toys in the basement. And if you get too far inside, You'll only see my reflection."

The music is dynamic and sprinkled with ambience and hard blasts of heavy atmospheres. Glockenspiel blocks on blocks are heard on 'No Surprises', Pink Floyd's spacy nuances are featured on the final two tracks, and throughout, an almost subliminal droning guitar sound that is at times unearthly and sonically ethereal is heard. White noise competes with beauty and delicate embellishments of keyboard. The music is never allowed to drown out the vocals which are perhaps the best that Yorke has performed.

The booklet is a real master touch, totally cryptic and compelling; it seems to convey the dark shadows of madness and the blurry undefined decay of social corruption, and is totally open to interpretation. The album rightfully is heralded as the pinnacle of Radiohead, it will be found at the top of all time album lists, and will forever be etched into 1997 as one of the albums of the year.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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