Radiohead’s seminal OK Computer turns 20

Radiohead - Ok Computer_GettyImages.com
By Jesse Goodwin, Staff Writer

Nearly twenty years after its initial release, Radiohead’s seminal album, OK Computer, is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time.

The likes of TIME and Rolling Stone have placed it on their lists of the all-time greatest albums, and it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2015.

The album’s prescient lyrics, which express anti-globalization, anti-capitalist themes and pessimism towards modern technology, have gained relevance since the album’s release.
In 1997, the Internet was new and the band’s native Britain was optimistic about the recent election victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour government.

More recently, technological alienation and disillusionment with globalization and free-market capitalism have contributed to seismic changes in the political landscape, such as last year’s Brexit referendum vote and President Donald Trump’s election victory.

As Pitchfork writer Stuart Berman noted, “OK Computer is really more like the first draft for a never-filmed pilot episode of [the Netflix series] Black Mirror,” which also examines the effects of modern technology.

OK Computer is also an album of contrasts. It consists of both gentle, guitar-driven ballads such as “Lucky” and harsh, electronic songs such as “Climbing Up the Walls.”
The album’s sound demonstrates considerable progress from their earlier, poppier work, such as their hit single “Creep” and breakthrough second album, The Bends.
“Paranoid Android,” which has become one of the band’s best-known songs and a staple of their live performances, is perhaps the album’s most lyrically observant song, touching on many of its overarching themes.

Cryptic lines such as “The crackle of pigskin / The dust and the screaming / The yuppies networking / The panic, the vomit” express pre-millennial technological alienation and the band’s critiques of capitalism, which are developed in songs heard later in the album.
The lyrics were inspired by an incident he witnessed at a bar, in which a woman became violent after someone spilled a drink on her.

“There was a look in this woman’s eyes that I’d never seen before anywhere,” he once said. “Couldn’t sleep that night because of it.”

Musically, the song is defined by singer Thom Yorke’s wailing falsetto and lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s distorted riffs. Its structure, which consists of four distinct sections, was inspired by the Beatles.

According to Yorke, the song “really started out as three separate songs and we didn’t know what to do with them. Then we thought of ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’—which was obviously three different bits that John Lennon put together—and said ‘Why don’t we try that?’”

Despite the innovations of individual songs such as “Paranoid Android,” the album spawned no hit singles; each of its songs forms part of a cohesive whole, and it is best heard uninterrupted from beginning to end.

Its intricacies, including non-standard time signatures and hidden syncopations, reveal themselves through repeated listening.

Simply put, the album transcended guitar rock, establishing Radiohead as one of the most innovative rock bands of the era, and perhaps of all time.

Rumor has it that the band will play a special set to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the album at Glastonbury 2017.

The annual event, held in June, will also mark the twentieth anniversary of their legendary set at Glastonbury 1997, which is regarded as one of the best of all time.

Photo courtesy: gettyimages.com

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