Still wild and weird two decades on

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC REVIEWS - TONY CLAY­TON-LEA

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

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