Monday, March 21, 2011

OK Computer revisited

This blog entry is going to be Captain Obvious for a lot of people so please forgive me and move on. Over the weekend, I was doing some work and listened to OK Computer in it's entirety on my headphones. I used to be a huge Radiohead fan but somewhere they became less important to me - probably around the time of Hail to the Thief. I've bought everything they've put out but the giddy heights of my fandom (OK Computer and Kid A) are far behind me. I still listen to them pretty regularly but they are so familiar, I can't say I take the time to listen to them that closely. So I was wholly surprised at how amazing and strangely fresh OK Computer sounds. Here are my thoughts on it from the weekend.

1. The production is gorgeous and somehow timeless. When I say timeless, I don't mean like classic rock but if they'd released this album in 1980 or 2010, I think it wouldn't have sound out of place. The production is incredibly dense - things like hidden backing vocals and percussion pervade the album but are so intricately bound into the texture of the music that they're easy to miss.

2. On the timeless thing, I was watching Lost in Translation recently and there was a lot of action that revolved around faxes which is indicative of the time. A lot of popular culture from about 1995-2004 became immediately dated by the rapid progress of technology and the internet. Think brick phones in Heat or any music video using special effects at this time. Thematically, sonically and visually, there is nothing to betray the time OK Computer was made.

3. One thing Radiohead get right more than any other band is the track order. OK Computer is an unbelievably fluid listening experience based on it's running order.

4. Speaking of running order, I always thought Electioneering was OK Computer's version of Ignoreland. If you don't know Ignoreland, it's the one rock track on REM's Automatic for the People which sticks out like dog's balls on a wedding cake making a perfect album near perfect. I always thought Electioneering was the weakest track on the album and more of a strong b-side. Re-listening, I stand corrected and now think it is marvelous triple threat of jangle, calamity and attack. Good stuff.

5. I know this accusation is often leveled at the band but the back end of OK Computer (No Surprises, Luck and The Tourist) has the marijuana tinged smell of Pink Floyd. I don't mean this is in a pejorative sense because if you weren't a glum teenager listening to Comfortably Numb over and over again while writing bad poetry then I don't think you're a real music fan. Anyhow, when I say Pink Floyd I'm thinking density, darkness and guitar sounds that sparkle like stars in a slowly darkening sky.

So, if you have a free day, I'd recommend giving OK Computer another listen through some good headphones because it really is as great as we all thought it was at the time. Kid A has long been my favourite Radiohead album but it was always closely followed by OK. I think the gap may be getting smaller.



  1. Such an insightful blog post, JH.
    I especially take your point about the timelessness of the album - it is probably dated only by the fact when people our age listen to it we are immediately transported back to our uni days. But like you said, if you picked it up off the shelf today and listened to it with virgin ears it would absolutely stand up.

    I love that Climbing the Walls track. I think it is my favourite on the album. OK Computer pushed the envelope for popular/alternative music at the time and since then all their music has blurred for me too.

    On the whole, though, I would have to say I have very little emotional reaction when I listen to Radiohead. I have a theory this band is one people appreciate on a technical level, not an emotional one. It's not a band I ever feel compelled to listen to, probably for that reason.

    Still, I am really glad they exist. If only so the "defining band of our time" title doesn't go to U2.

    x K

  2. Hey Katie, the strange thing for me is that OK Computer was very much an album defined by a relationship I was in at the time. After a pretty bad break up, it reminded me of this girl so it was painful to listen to. In the end I had to reclaim the album in its own right and totally divorce it from period of time I first discovered it. Strange, now, it hardly reminds me of that time at all now.

    However, I have been thinking a few days about the emotional connection thing. I definitely felt moved by this music (Climbing Up the Wall was always my fave too) but your words have been swirling around my head all week as I grapple with their new album. I think the problem I have with it is there is zero emotional connection there. Anyhow, I'm finishing a review of that now so you can see what I'm thinking. Poor Bono, he just wants to be loved.

    How's NY?

    Jon x

  3. Bands/albums can totally be defined or destroyed by relationships can't they? I have quite a few bands it has taken a while to reclaim, unfortunately. Even now there are still flashbacks when I hear the albums but I can just repress them better.

    I think Climbing the Walls is probably the only one that I had an emotional reaction to which made it such a standout track.

    GREAT review of latest album though. It takes boldness to declare an album's blandness. Kudos to you.

    NY is f'king wonderful. I wish I could be here always! Today's Awesome of the Day included walking past Radio City Music Hall and realising Explosions in the Sky are playing there in 2 weeks AND there were still good seats!! Week has been officially made. (RCMH will hopefully serve the band better than The Manning Bar where I saw them last time. Terrible venue, annihilates every band that performs there). So yes, all good here. Although my plan to pretend to be a writer keeps getting sidetracked by food, colour and movement.

    x K