Radiohead "OK Computer" - Retrospective Review
In July of 1996 Radiohead took on the seriously daunting task when they began recording OK Computer, their third studio album and the follow-up to their universally acclaimed second studio album The Bends. Finding a way to top their previous record was no easy task as The Bends had some of the finest alternative rock songs of the 90's with Fake Plastic Trees and Just. The product they were left with in March of 1997 was what I would call the finest alternative rock album of the 90's, and even broader, the finest album of the decade. OK Computer was universally acclaimed and changed the world of rock with its ominous presence, top tier musicianship, and studio mix years ahead of its time. The level of surround sound, studio effects, and most importantly, the clear and high-volume low end was YEARS ahead of what we all thought the technology of the time was capable of. The record was and still is about as hyped up as could be and deserved every bit of it. This was the Dark Side of the Moon of the 90's.
Oddly enough, the low-pitched vocals, general low tempo, and sounds of longing and anxiety that come with the album are almost reminiscent of a hangover, but in a way that pulls you in surrounds you. Thom Yorke has a very unique sound which is heard no better than on OK Computer, with a sense of confusion, grief, and disappointment in all the best ways. The overall authentic sense of longing heard especially on tracks like Lucky and Exit Music (For a Film), are second to none. That feeling of longing, and anxiety are heard crystal clear to the listener capturing them. It's almost like you can take all of your worry, and shortcomings and just sink into your chair present of your worry, but no longer bothered. Perhaps one of the most emotional albums of the genre equally as it was one of the most musically intricate. Every sound heard on the 53-minute record has its place exactly where it is, no filler, and the collection of noise makes up a symphony of alternative rock gold.
Paranoid Android is the most complex song on the record with its tasteful time-signature changes, clean and loud bass guitar and keyboard and studio androidlike sounds heard throughout. The guitar/bass dialogue is as pleasing as could be to the ear while still having that sense of anxiety, yet resolution. Songs like these produced groovy basslines which cut through the mix so well, and did so before it was cool, as bass just generally just could not cut through a mix that well at the time. This and more makes Paranoid Android one of the finest rock songs of all time. More guitar-driven and sonically powerful songs like Electioneering (which is perhaps the most underrated song on the album) have aggressively political lyrics to the feel of Rage Against the Machine, while by no means being alienating. The anxious and computer speaking track Fitter Happier was the perfect track to put before Electioneering and the static transition between the two into the guitar riff which begins Electioneering is breathtaking. You can just tell by listening that guitar lines like that made a sizeable impact on later bands of the genre like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand.
Karma Police finds itself the track before Fitter Happier and plays with the anxiety heard throughout the record with its dark lyrics before building up to the climax of the album, the guitar crescendo that dissolves into thin air before being turned into the static and feedback starting Fitter Happier. When you listen to albums like this from cover to cover, it is always interesting to see how the singles hold up to record as a whole, and where they fall chronologically in the allegory of music that is the album. In this case, Karma Police is a great single on its own, but is so much more when heard on the record, in order, when it was supposed to be heard. The same can be said about No Suprises.
This is a perfect album; I really can't seem to find any flaws. It's impact on rock and especially alternative rock are legendary. The amount of influence OK Computer had really cannot be stated without doing it an injustice. Fantastic, dark, and emotional, this is Radiohead's peak. As good as the later albums were, objectively speaking, there really is no way to top this. OK Computer is worth the listen every time and as strange as it may sound, it is its own animal when you may not be in your best headspace. Great music can connect with listeners and this album goes even a step further as it can leave the listener speechless. A masterpiece from the overture that is Airbag to the triangle that ends The Tourist. With the band realizing just how big this album had become, they deserve some credit with their follow-up Kid A, as by knowing they could not top this, why not release an album that is as different as could possibly be, and with no singles.