There are many albums of the nineties that had a profound impact on the way I listen to music. Sadly, I could only choose one to review this month. So, the more I listened to them the past couple of months, one album stood out more and more. Not alone for the content, but also because how in many ways it foretold the future. That album is Radiohead’s 1997 classic, OK Computer.
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard this album – it was in my friend Mary’s car, heading out to ‘the Quarry’ in Toledo, Ohio to watch the July 4th fireworks. I was sixteen, so estactic to be sitting in traffic, in a car, with someone else other than my parents driving me around, that this perfected the soundtrack of my life.
My life had become, in many ways, as Thom Yorke said, “… the outside world became all there was… I’m just taking Polaroids of things around me moving too fast”.
1997 was the beginning of the end of an era for record companies as well, as this album was one of the last of the great albums you would have to buy – Napster and the mp3 revolution was around the corner. By the time I was a naïve freshman at Ohio State in 1999 – I could download, “just the songs that I liked” in seconds from my dorm room’s T1 line. I could now have my Proclaimers “I’m gonna be (500 miles)” blared from the 10th floor of Smith Hall whenever I liked without having to sort through the other crap on Sunshine on Leith.
That naivity lasted entirely too long and like many people, I began to judge an artist for their ability to produce a single and forget what it was to like to listen to and appreciate an entire album. Maybe Lars Ulrich was right in, “wanting to control everything that had to do with METALLICA.” Including composing of an album instead of a collection of singles. However, he may have just wanted his “gold-plated shark tank bar beside the pool”.
OK Computer also marked a shift for the band from their previous albums, and ironically they embraced and used the technology that booming around them, while ironically secluding themselves in shed outside of London, in Didcot, England.
The opening track sets the tune for all of this, Airbag, features a sampled drum beat inspired from DJ Shadow, followed by the stories of Paranoid Android and Homesick Subterranean Alien. You can feel the isolation inspired by Romeo and Juliet of the next track, Exit Music (For a Film). The next track, Let Down, leads you to the hit of the album, Karma Police. The band, may have taken the technology too far, as in the middle the album, Fitter Happier, the lyrics are not sung by Yorke, but rather recited by a Macintosh SimpleText application and is a major blemish on this album.
Almost as if they became lost making Fitter Happier, the following political-minded Electioneering, reverts back to an earlier Radiohead style heard on The Bends.
The album rounds out with four songs that in a beautiful, melancholy way integrates, “all the textures and the sounds and the atmospheres we (the band) were trying to create:” Climbing Up The Walls, No Surprises, Lucky and The Tourist.
After completion of the album, the record company’s first reaction was, more or less, ‘commercial suicide’, not critical praise and multi-platinum sales. Afterall, keep in mind that this was the band that opened for Alanis Morrissette during her North American Tour that summer.
If you haven’t listened to the album, or listened to it in a long while, I suggest that you should (while skipping through Fitter Happier). It takes you on a journey of a band stretching the limits of technology and themselves. It takes time to listen to, I suggest putting it on while going on a road-trip. The more you listen to the album unfold, it becomes almost cinematic in nature. One can sum it up as quinesstial aural enlightenment.
Ten years after this was released, Radiohead, in many ways completed the circle. OK Computer is universally accepted as a classic, mp3’s are here to stay, Lars Ulrich is swimming with sharks, and they did something unheard of: they released their newest album, In Rainbows, in digital download format for the price of whatever you could donate.
They continue to push the envelope and I convinced that this would have happened if they did not do so when recording one of my favorite albums, OK Computer.
Rob Klever – November 2008
If you like this check out: Mogwai’s Young Team, REM’s Automatic for the People and Jeff Buckley’s Grace
If you hate this check out: Dr. Dre’s The Chronic Pearl Jam’s Ten;; The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse; Stankonia by OutKast, Beck’s Odelay and Things Fall Apart by The Roots.
New Stuff: Passion Pit
All comments, suggestions for future months, and praise can be heaped to: email@example.com