MORE THAN OK
One of the most critically acclaimed albums in rock history, OK Computer was lauded in Hot Press upon its initial release. We here present George Byrne’s original review, published in June 1997. In the two years since Radiohead secured their place among the enigmatic elite with The Bends, a strange situation has emerged. The more withdrawn, individual and doggedly determined, if not downright difficult their approach has become, the bigger the audience they’ve attracted.
But for OK Computer Radiohead have largely ditched the blinding rage of The Bends- triggered in the main by the claustrophobic craziness which ensued post ‘Creep’- and retreated inwards, paradoxically taking themselves further away from what any band in a similar position would regard as a sensible base.
Self-produced in an Elizabethan mansion outside Bath, what Radiohead have created here is one of the first truly psychedelic records of the decade, and no, I’m not talking about the biryani n’ Buddha bollocks being peddled by K*** S ***** . Listening to
OK Computer is virtually a hallucinatory experience (this is a doper’s delight and no mistake), like gate-crashing the band’s collective dream… occasionally very nice indeed and then jarringly unsettling.
The opening ‘Airbag’ is an evolved offspring of ‘My Iron Lung’ and ‘Planet Telex’ which finds Yorke declaring: “In the next World
War/In a jacknifed juggernaut/I am born again”, so that time he spent in Dublin obviously did him a world of good then.
The first indication that things have been bent out of all recognisable shape comes with the single ‘Paranoid Android’, a stitched together, six minute plus mini suite of malice (“When I am king you will be first against the wall”) and mangled guitars, with some spooky chanting thrown into the middle for bad measure. The three songs which follow typify the spaced out beauty which lies at the record’s core.
‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’, ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ and ‘Let Down’ track themes of abandon and escape- of the physical, mental chemical and, er, extra-terrestrial kind- over music of quite staggering breadth and subtly applied strength. Johnny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Yorke have long been capable of wringing the necks of their guitars to produce often violent bursts of noise but they use that tactic sparingly here. In fact, Greenwood spends as much time tinkering with electric pianos and mellotrans as he does savaging his strings. ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’ features ghostly chorales a la For Your Pleasure- period Roxy Music, while ‘Let Down’ has a wondrous, cyclical melody and virtually chanted vocals which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain… if you’re going to go back and borrow, go back to the best.
Delicate yet resolutely edgy, initially difficult yet ultimately rewarding, with OK Computer Radiohead have made a fabulously disorientating record, an album which very few bands in their position (read: none) would have even dared contemplate. Whether it’s that legendarily “difficult” third album is entirely up to you, because it seems to me, that for Radiohead, making this masterpiece was a piece of piss.