Casting back to 1995, Radiohead were just your bog standard post-grunge alternative band fronted by a scrawny fella with a dodgy eye, entirely unremarkable, that is until they released The Bends. They had given you a nibble with ‘Creep’ from 1993’s Pablo Honey, but now Thom and co. served up a twelve-course banquet, each dish better than the last. In the space of these dozen songs, the world saw Thom Yorke morph from a creepy little weirdo with one massive hit into an unquestionable musical deity. Not only is The Bends the most convincing debunking of the second album syndrome myth to date, but it also acted as the stepping stone for Radiohead to grow into the most influential and most progressive band of the 21st century.
Lyrical and instrumental talent was undoubtedly coursing through every vein, every capillary of the Oxfordshire five-piece before the release of their second studio album, bulging at the skin waiting to be acknowledged. The Bends was the release: a gash in a Radiohead artery to allow a cascade of pain and whimsy to spurt out in full unrelenting force. A beautiful shower a sheer audio class, intricacy and emotion.
Opening with the bold confidence of ‘Planet Telex’, Jonny Greenwood makes his presence felt immediately displaying his ability on both guitar and keyboard. The distinction of Thom Yorke’s unparalleled falsetto is in full swing from the offset, and is at its most haunting and brooding on the hook of ‘High and Dry’. Draped over a backdrop of acoustic guitar, this is the track that is perhaps the least Radiohead-like if there is such a thing, emotive and stripped down the song has become one of the band’s most recognisable hits. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ follows with a near five-minute extended metaphor as the band walk us through a synthetic landscape filled with longing and hopelessness. Radiohead cynics will call it mopey depressing drivel, but never has mopey sounded so profound, so original, and so intrinsically moving. The Bends is full to the brim with songs of the highest calibre, the titular track and ‘My Iron Lung’ maintain a grungy punctuation to the band’s sound. However, undoubtedly the standout moment is the bluesy psychedelics of ‘Just’. Greenwood is at his best here, tearing through an ever-changing structure the song is an anthem, a true modern masterpiece.
The Bends has become world-renowned and critically acclaimed as one of the best albums of all time, however, perhaps, more importantly, it was the shift that began to define Radiohead as the band we know them to be today. Arguably, OK Computer is the band’s best work to date, but along with the heroics of Kid A, it would have been possible if it weren’t for The Bends, a modern classic that is always worth a revisit.
The Bends was released on March 13th 1995 via Parlophone