Still wild and weird two decades on
RADIOHEAD OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997-2017 XL
In 1992, Oxford’s Radiohead were one of the most least-likely-to bands around, but within six years they were the exact opposite. Underperforming 1993 debut album Pablo
Honey was followed in 1995 by The Bends, and if the former was a reasonable calling card indebted to Pixies and Dinosaur Jr, the latter outlined a stirring anti-Britpop template that directly influenced future generations of copyists.
Road-tested whilst on a US tour opening for Alanis Morissette, the songs on OK
Computer were fashioned from (as lead singer Thom Yorke recalled) “listening to Ennio Morricone and Can, and lots of stuff where they’re abusing the recording process . . .” From such a base, Radiohead’s third album took shape. While four songs ( No Surprises, Electioneering, The Tourist, Subterranean Homesick Alien) had already been written, the album’s direction held fast with Exit Music (for a Film) – a song that Radiohead had written for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet – and exposure to Miles Davis’s 1970 experimental jazz album, Bitches Brew.
At the core of such an ambitious work – not a concept album, despite its title and an Apple Mac-generated voice as used in Fitter, Happier – is a suite of threaded songs that address conjectural images of politics, technology, mental health, death and anti-capitalism. It’s a heady mix of topics inspired by Yorke’s reading of books written by (among others) Noam Chomsky and Philip K Dick, but the exploratory nature of the music delivers a glorious blend of airy beauty (No Surprises, Let Down, Lucky), innovation (Airbag) and sheer dread (Climbing up the Walls, a pivotal track featuring an atonal string section, written by Jonny Greenwood, inspired by Krzysztof Penderecki).
Walking a thin line between glistening art-pop and pretentious risk-taking, OK Computer still sounds tremendously (if by now familiarly) wild and weird, a textbook composite of “abusing the recording process” and creating textured, enduring, downcast music.
Online, vinyl and CD versions – original album, three previously unreleased tracks, eight B-sides, all remastered – out today; boxed edition available from July from the website oknotok.co.uk r