EDGE Goes 90s: Radiohead – Ok Computer

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What is there to say about this album that hasn’t already been said?  Often hailed as one of, if not the greatest album of all time, Ok Computer was the masterstroke that not only firmly propelled Radiohead into superstardom but into the halls of musical history, sitting alongside the greats as one of the finest bands of all time. But while Ok Computer has been praised by near enough everyone being met with universal acclaim, is it really that good? Or was it simply just a breath of fresh air after Britpop was starting to go stale?

Radiohead began as a band with a very different sound to what they became acclaimed for;  Pablo Honey in 1993 and The Bends in 1995 both enjoyed moderate success but were somewhat passed over as Oasis, Blur and the other mid-nineties Britpop acts fought it out for dominance. Radiohead’s first two albums had a more grungy and mainstream rock sound to what they eventually became famous for, but I like to think that as you reach the last track on The Bends, the epic and beautifulStreet Spirit (Fade Out)’, this is a signal of the band’s evolution and sets out the path for what will be following it.

So 1997 came around and in June Ok Computer was released. The first song, ‘Airbag’, kicks in and you instantly know this is going to be something special.  This ambient yet melancholic piece sets the tone for the album; a collection of songs is laced with themes of desperation, alienation and foreboding social commentary. These themes are summed up perfectly in the violently shifting piece, ‘Paranoid Android’, constantly moving between slow and sombre to aggressive and fierce, a monument of sound. The flowing mood swings of the album then bring you back to its more peaceful and heavyhearted sound, with ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’, ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’, ‘Let Down’ and ‘Karma Police’; all of these tracks spectacularly moving and displaying exceptional musicianship and vocal ability. After a short break with the instrumental, ‘Fitter Happier’, the album’s tone shifts again to the violent and powerful ‘Electioneering’, a stand out track from the album that infuses some of the thrashing style of Radiohead’s earlier work with the class and precedent of musical elegance that the rest of the album has set. ‘Climbing Up the Walls’ follows and is a bizarre and morbid sounding track featuring Thom Yorke (vocals) masked with a heavy use of effects, but while it may be a strange listen it is still a powerful piece balancing electronic music with classical strings. For the last three tracks that bring the album to a close you have probably the most recognizable track to the mainstream audience, ‘No Surprises’, a more traditionally structured and sounding track, yet one with the themes and tone of the album throughout and some extremely powerful lyrics. The album is finally brought to a close with ‘Lucky’ and ‘The Tourist’, both of them keeping up with the precedent that the album has set.

Ok Computer is a journey of unrelenting intensity and features some of the greatest and most powerful pieces of music from the nineties; it consistently keeps up with its sheen of absolute top quality material, like a complete jigsaw, everything in its right place with no gaps leaving you wanting. Enchanting yet overwhelming, melancholic yet ferocious, it is an album that captures the emotions of the time yet is still relevant in today’s world – a diverse collection of sound that as one is a masterpiece.  Without a doubt Ok Computer definitely deserves all the acclaim it received then and still receives to this day. It has its place in musical history and is one of those albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Dark Side of the Moon that will forever be preserved in the minds of music lovers.

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