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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Radiohead: OK Computer (IAS #001)

The "Important Album" series of reviews is not published here on the OS blog, but is available on the old OS site. However, every update in the series will also be announced here, and you can also leave your comments on the review under this announcement if you wish (I will not be manually adding comments to the regular HTML site).

Anyway, this week's "Important Album" is... drumroll!...

Radiohead: OK Computer



  1. This is something I've been waiting for for a good long while; in fact, this is my first comment on either of your sites! Despite the fact that you typically run hot and cold on post-70s music, I appreciate that you gave this record its due accolades. I am puzzled by what constitutes "weak melody" to some. Perhaps you could elaborate? On first listen to OKC, I readily recognized the structure and repetition within each song, which the band doesn't toy with much. Perhaps you instead mean that these particular melodies just don't appeal to you much?

    1. Perhaps I do. There is no pretending to objectivity here. What I mean is that the structures and repetitions just aren't particularly hooky, inspiring, or even innovative on their own - it's all much more about tones, overdubs, effects, production, general atmospheres. For meat-and-potatoes songwriting, "The Bends" has always seemed a much stronger proposition to me.

  2. Good writing as ever - but way too many bells & whistles for me..

  3. This great albums series is a great idea !
    As far as OKC is concerned, I always considered it far less interseting than the amazing albums Radiohead released after it. To my ears it's maybe the best 90's indie rock album ever, but it'still 90s indie rock, a genre that I always found vastly overrated and quite boring. While after this album Radiohead created a whole new universe that sounded lime nothing else at the time. But maybe I should listen to it again ... Anyway, thanks for the review !

  4. Definitely in agreement about Thom Yorke's voice and The Bends being Radiohead's best album, after all it has "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" on it, how could it not be? I guess the only parts of OK Computer I ever took to much were Electioneering and the latter parts of Paranoid Android and Karma Police, but it's certainly a way better album then a lot of the 00s indie/pseudo-indie albums it'd inspire (hey, just like Nevermind). My Dad also really likes it, if that helps (my Mum, not so much).

    Apparently, when OK Computer came out Nick Seymour rang Neil Finn up and said it was exactly what Crowded House's then-cancelled fifth album should've sounded like, which is odd since I can think of only a couple of Crowded House songs that sound anything close to Radiohead (Nails In My Feet?) and vice-versa (even if Radiohead are CH fans from what I'm told). Thought that'd be a fun piece of trivia.

    "It is not the greatest album of the Nineties (but what is?)"

    I'm guessing you'd probably pick Ween's The Mollusk, it being the highest-rated 90s album on your old site anyway. For me, the first album that sprang to mind while thinking about this was R.E.M.'s Automatic For The People, even if "Everybody Hurts" is a bit questionable I'd say the rest of the album sure isn't.

    Other contenders I could think of include:
    * The Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin
    * Suede's Dog Man Star (even if it's a little too ballad-heavy)
    * Morrissey's Vauxhall & I (also ballad-centric, but by far the album where all of Morrissey's glumness is most justified. Was going to say Bona Drag but I figured suggesting a singles compilation was cheating)
    * Pulp's His'n'Hers (haven't gotten around to listening to Different Class yet)
    * Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes (okay, this one I know we'd definitely disagree on)
    * Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (if one can overlook its fanbase)
    * Malice Mizer's Merveilles (if one can handle a little bit of melodrama and it being a bit too saccharine in spots).

    1. Okay, after giving OK Computer another listen, I have to take back my "only parts I ever took much to were Electioneering and the latter parts of Paranoid Android and Karma Police". Most of the album is actually alright, even if as you said this is probably more due to the sound and production than the actual songwriting.
      I guess this is why lo-fi holds such appeal for certain people, because when a lo-fi song is good, you know it's due to the song and not due to any studio polish (the counter-argument to this is that a lo-fi song better be good, because otherwise it's got nothing else to fall back on).
      But re-listening to OK Computer also reconfirmed for me that Thom Yorke's voice is by far the worst thing about the album, and knowing his voice inspired dozens of imitators only adds salt to the wound. At least the likes of Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello had genuine passion and lyrical ability to make their voices easier pills to swallow (not that OK Computer's lyrics are bad... when you can make them out anyway).

      Also, being The Beatles fan you are, I'm surprised you didn't mention the Karma Police-Sexy Sadie controversy, or how The Tourist stars out sounding like something off Abbey Road.
      Typing that just reminded of how The Beatles could still find room for a bunch of silly novelty songs (and I say that affectionately) on even their biggest, most important records, could you ever imagine something like "I'm Only Sleeping", "When I'm 64" or "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" ever appearing on a Radiohead album (or an Arcade Fire album, you have to admit)? At least the late 90s still had the Ben Folds Five and of Montreal for lighter, sillier stuff mixed in with deeper, sadder stuff.

      Another bit of trivia (not that the world had any way of knowing this back in '97), but did you know that the songs on OK Computer are supposed to be slotted together with the songs from In Rainbows to form this big omni-album called 0110? Makes it kinda impressive in retrospect that Radiohead managed to get so many "Greatest Album Ever" praises on what would later be revealed to be only half an album.

  5. A great start to your "other" series. This is one of those albums I've held off on covering, mostly because I don't know the rest of the oeuvre so well. Looking forward to (every) next installment!


  6. Is Kid A going to get the same treatment, or will you be limiting this to one album per band?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I had replied earlier without checking the chart rank for Kid A. I know better now :-)

  7. Thanks for the section. Honestly lately I became less and less interested with your blog, cause the performers you were covering alphabetically were noones for me. Mind you, I am not saying that they are bad or anything. It is just that I don't know them and have no time to explore. I'm so glad you transended the ABC's conventions you locked yourself in six years ago.
    As for OCK I identify myself fully with your 'For the prosecution' part. I like the album enough to give it a spin once in a rare while, but not nearly enough to consider it the best 90's piece of music.
    Looking forward to future important albums entries. Thanks again for what you are doing.

  8. It's an ok album. "Paranoid Android" and "No Surprises" are great, and I enjoy a few other tracks, but the songs as a whole are much stronger on the Bends, and anything "artsy" about this album is done better on Kid A/Amnesiac. At least that's how I feel.

  9. "OK Computer has very little in common with Yes or Genesis."
    Hm - we Dutch teenagers use to call Yes, Genesis, ELP and Rush (though rather a cross over) symphonic rock. "Progressive" had a wider meaning.
    Though I'll no way defend OK Computer I perfectly can see (or rather hear) why I would have called it progressive but not symphonic in the 1970's.

  10. So does this mean you're gonna run down the list of RYM's top albums for this series?

  11. I listened to OK C with more focus than I had before and noticed a lot more spectacular moments from the guitarist. I'm glad I checked it over again. However, that White Album moment on Karma Police just annoys me.
    I predict that Mr. Starostin will be reviewing Slint's Spiderland in the near future. He hadn't covered it before on either site and this album is said to have made a major impact on the harsh emotional rock of the nineties.

  12. I can't wait to read reviews of:
    5. Radiohead - Kid A
    9. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
    36. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation
    42. Sigur Ros - Agaetis byrjun
    43. Metallica - Master of Puppets
    96. Nirvana - In Utero - That's like, almost 2 years from now!

  13. This was like The Wall for me, I was just the right age to really plug into into its brand of miserabilism and i soo dig the po-mo puzzle box aspect of Radiohead too, i love cryptic. I think there's also a lot of merit to what you said about being past the age of valuing plain spokeness though, that feels very true at the same time.

    I always thought of Kid A, Amnesiac and to a lesser extent OK Computer, Hail to the Thief as being like the soundtrack to a paranoid schizo's head-space, trying to communicate but getting it all fractured and wrong, too stuck in your head to do a good heart-to-heart. Its like HTTT's album cover, compartmentalized to all hell and trying to give voice to that. Being close to the kind of mentally ill manic weirdness myself I can really identify there but i see more and more nowadays with more insight into myself how it really puts folk off wtf is he talking about? Embarrassing, annoying, pretentious. Yay art rock!