Has Radiohead been dissected to death yet? OK Computer is 15
|OK Computer is even older than Willow Smith.|
Fifteen years ago on Saturday, Radiohead released a follow-up to The Bends -- which two years earlier had essentially cemented them as the new leaders of Brit Pop. Called OK Computer, the album almost single-handedly destroyed the Brit styling as we knew it. (The Spice Girls helped too.) The Bends was a leap forward from their 1992 debut, Pablo Honey, which successfully fused Brit Pop and grunge at times, and was at turns outright boring. But there was a marathon's-worth of steps between The Bends and OK Computer. Does all of this rhetoric sound familiar?
Even if you have -- however improbably -- never listened to even one note of their music, you know Radiohead exists. Even if you despise them, their influence over the past nearly two decades is undeniable. But that question remains: Have they been talked about, picked apart, viewed under a microscope so frequently that it's hardly worth doing any longer? If you're still reading this, the answer is likely "no."
OK Computer was nothing short of astonishing. The lyrics moved away from angst-filled introspection into abstract malaise territory, but somehow felt infinitely more human than anything lead singer Thom Yorke had written prior. The songs took sharp, organ-rearranging turns that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up and coaxed smile all at once. The ideas contained within its 53 minutes were sometimes dangerous because they were wholly new. It's often said that new ideas are simply the combination of old ideas in a way that hasn't been done before, that was true of OK Computer but in certain places ("Fitter Happier," "Climbing Up the Walls") Radiohead managed to generate new ideas from whole cloth. This was the last revolutionary album the world has seen.
I was in college in a small town in southern Minnesota then and much of what I was listening to at the time (Korn, Deftones, etc.) had little in common with this weird album everyone in my art classes was suddenly talking non-stop about that fall when we returned to school. I had largely avoided Radiohead up until that point, though I thought their video for "Just" from The Bends was nothing short of brilliant. I bought it one day not long after classes began and I didn't really know what to make of it but, oddly, "Fitter Happier" was the song that won me over.
This album has never been far from my reach (or, honestly, my thoughts) since. It made my mind race and I listened to it often when I was painting something awful or coming up with some goofy sculpture and writing out an equally goofy line of BS to justify said sculpture's existence at a critique. Eventually, while wrestling with chicken wire and plaster-coated cheesecloth one Saturday afternoon, it dawned on me that I liked writing out the defense of my piece more than creating the actual piece. I had "Exit Music (For a Film)" in my ears when it dawned on me -- this is not poetic license, that actually happened: I decided to become a writer while listening to this album and I remember it like it happened five minutes ago. This album has become a touchstone, of sorts, in my life.