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Radiohead - The Bends CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.82 | 655 ratings

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4 stars Radiohead saw some major success with their first full album "Pablo Honey" and the major hit "Creep". However, they weren't about to release another album like that one, and they didn't want to be a "One Hit Wonder" band, which there were plenty of them out there. So, they re-worked their sound in order to retain interest. At first, their next album "The Bends" didn't do so well and dropped quickly off the charts. However, they opened for bands like "R.E.M" and this helped them regain their popularity, and over the years, this album has gotten the publicity and fame that it deserved.

For this album, Radiohead moved away from the grungy sound of "Pablo Honey" and even away from the alt-pop music of their previous incarnations "On a Friday" and "Manic Hedgehog". Their lyrics got more cryptic, their music became harder to define as they became more experimental, they started using more keyboards and the guitar more atmospheric and harsh. This resulted in their next step towards a more progressive sound, and you can hear the steps taken throughout this album towards that style. Many have even considered "The Bends" along with "OK Computer" as some of the best albums ever recorded.

"Planet Telex" opens the album and it has the distinction of being the only song not written before recording of the album began. It was written after a night of drinking and Thom Yorke made the vocal track while lying on the floor. The song has a much more electronic sound than most of the other songs on the album, and as such, is a foreshadowing of the direction the band would take on the next album "OK Computer". The overall sound has a warbling feeling to it. Even with the electronic processing, the music is heavy and dark and driven by guitars and a recurring piano riff.

The next track is the title track "The Bends". It is another heavy song about becoming famous and how everyone wants to be your friend, but will they be with you when you come out on the other side. This one is a bit louder than the previous one overall. "High and Dry" was the first single of the album. It is driven by a strummed riff and more calm than the previous 2 tracks. It is also written in more of a standard format. Even so, it is a nice track that grows on you easily.

"Fake Plastic Trees" is one of Radiohead's most famous tracks, and rightfully so. It is a beautiful track that even Yorke admitted that it made him cry. It is a statement against over-capitalism and how it can make everything colorless and lifeless and everyone wants to become plastic. I am sure most everyone has heard this one, but if you haven't, then you need to, it's absolutely beautiful and heartfelt, one of my all time favorite songs.

"Bones" begins with a processed echoing guitar and soon gets moving with a heavy bass line. This song is about the fear of aging. The verses are soft with a guitar-heavy chorus and Yorke starts to use his falsetto voice more effectively at this point. "(Nice Dream)" is a softer sound with strummed guitars and a lilting rhythm. There is a nice violin added to instrumental foundation. The middle section is a very exciting change of pace for the song as a wild guitar riff is introduced and things get more chaotic, then it returns to the original softness again.

"Just" is another great song about narcissism, or as Thom explains, a certain friend. It starts as a single guitar strum and then explodes into a somewhat noisy riff and immediately calms for the verse, while it is loud during the chorus. The returning ascending guitar riff keeps returning and ends up finishing the song off as it keeps ascending until it holds a screeching note and then falls apart to the single strumming riff again. This one is another favorite.

"My Iron Lung" refers to and is about the song "Creep" that basically kept the band alive before this album. They had that fear of being a One Hit Wonder. This has a great processed guitar riff that has a cool shaky feel to it. The song is also one of those that sticks with you. The noisy sections in the song allude to the loud sections in "Creep". "(I Wish I Was) Bulletproof" has a more experimental vibe to it and also acts to foreshadow the direction of the band. Yorke's vocals are on the mumbly side, but it really works well for this pensive track. There is a lot more electronic effects throughout this song, but it still retains it's melodic side, so it's not a complete turn to the experimental side yet. Thom's vocals as he sustains the word "bulletproof" are simply beautiful.

"Black Star" reminds me more of a track from "Pablo Honey", but it does have a better usage of dynamics. The lyrics deal with relationship problems and the things you can blame the problems on. "Sulk" was written in response to massacre at Hungerford, Berkshire, England where 17 people were shot. The original lyrics were changed by Yorke so that people wouldn't think it had to do with Kurt Cobain's death around the time the album was released. The album ends fittingly with one of Radiohead's darkest songs "Street Spirit (Fade Out)". Yorke considers it very dark and the band usually plays it at the end of their set list in concert because of it's darkness. However, it is still a beautiful and lush song.

So, "The Bends" might not have much to lend itself to being progressive, but it was a huge step in that direction. As far as the Prog Archives site goes, I have to at least consider it an excellent album, meaning it deserves at least 4 stars, but in a non- progressive world, it is easily a 5 star album. It is above the bar set for most alternative music in that it is more heartfelt and unique than most, and as such, it sets the bar high for an amazing and talented band.

TCat | 4/5 |


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