Throughout this series, I will be taking a look back on classic albums, while simultaneously analyzing their brilliance.
“Maybe a lot of other people feel the same way, but I’m not about to run up and down the street asking everybody if they’re as lonely as I am,” lead singer of Radiohead Thom Yorke explained in an interview by Rolling Stone in 1995.
Through these feelings of isolation, Yorke and his band members were able to create an album that will stand the test of time. They produced a new tone that mainstream music has never come across. On May 28, 1997, Radiohead’s dark and twisted masterpiece “OK Computer” was born. Hopefully, this exposure will encourage more people to check this out during 2019.
“OK Computer” has sold up to 4.5 million copies since its release, according to Pitchfork. Due to the album’s financial and critical success, the band became more than the artists behind “Creep” – they became cult superstars. The piece encapsulated a tone that was not typically heard on the radio otherwise, including themes of suicide, mental illness and the changing of the world. However, songs such as “Karma Police,” “No Surprises” and “Paranoid Android” became some of rock’s most listened to songs in the 1990s. Going through this album generally would be a disservice to its brilliance. Going track by track and analyzing each and every one is the only way the true brilliance of the album can be revealed.
Track 1: “Airbag”
The track opens up with some very rockin’ guitars you would hear off of the Radiohead’s earlier work, almost as if the band is welcoming their old fans by bringing back their rock roots. The track also has some very optimistic lyrics, describing a feeling of what it’s like to be alive. “The airbag saved my life,” Yorke sings with a sense of relief. The song is dance-worthy, as it almost moves forward as a funk song. It’s also one of the only times you can really appreciate Colin Greenwood’s bass playing. Towards the end of the track, you can hear his bass line clearly, which really adds to the dance vibe the song has. With great experiments, a catchy groove, and meaningful lyrics, “Airbag” is the perfect way to open this album.
Track 2: “Paranoid Android”
The second and longest track on the album, clocking in around 6 minutes, is widely considered to be Radiohead’s greatest achievement. It is strange that this was released as a single because of how long it is. However, this song is perfect in its current state, as no edits would have made it better or worse. To add, it is a layered song that takes many forms throughout it’s runtime. It goes from this cold and calculated Latin song, to a heavy rock song, before it switches gears and becomes a ballad. It’s a song that will always leave the listener guessing on where it’s going to go next because of its many twists and turns in tempo and style. All in all, “Paranoid Android” is a great example of how epic Radiohead’s music can be.
Track 3: “Subterranean Homesick Alien”
This is quite possibly the most underrated song out of all the tracks listed. With its space-like guitars and unbelievable vocal range by Yorke, it’s an unforgettable track from beginning to end. The song tells the story of a man who hates his earth life and wants to be taken away by aliens to see what’s out there. “Take me onboard their beautiful ship. Show me the world as I’d love to see it,” Yorke sings. Instead of focusing on the fear of the aliens, it describes how it could be a chance to escape the monotony of Earth life. This song takes something scary and makes it into something bittersweet, giving it massive charm.
Track 4: “Exit Music (For a Film)”
After the beautiful tone of the last track, “Exit Music (For a Film)” was quite possibly the group’s most somber track at the time. It was actually written for Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of “Romeo + Juliet”, with lyrics describing the plot of the story. With its incredible emotion, amazing production, and tear-jerking lyrics, it’s an unforgettable track. “Now we are one in everlasting peace. We hope that you choke,” Yorke cries at the end of the song. That lyric will never fail to make me start to tear up, due to the fact you can almost hear Yorke start to genuinely weep as well.
Track 5: “Let Down”
Even though this song almost sounds like a happy lullaby, don’t let that fool you. This is one of Radiohead’s most depressing songs, topped off with powerful vocals by Yorke. “Let Down” reaches an emotional climax that hits you so hard, you will cry for a week after hearing it. It’s a beautiful track with very clean and pretty guitar work.
Track 6: “Karma Police”
Mostly because of the video, this song became Radiohead’s biggest single since their song “Creep”. Using interesting camerawork and great symbolism, it has become an iconic music video. The visual isn’t the only thing about the song, however, with the track itself being absolutely brilliant. The reverb (echo) on all of the instruments gives a feeling of loneliness that not a lot of hit singles provide. The repeated lyrics of the song are sung by an almost frustrated sounding Yorke. It’s almost as if he’s desperately calling out to someone who can’t hear him. “For a minute there, I lost myself. I lost myself,” Yorke yells in anger.
Track 7: “Fitter Happier”
I usually hate pretentious and purposeless interludes on albums. This one, however, fits the album so well! The song uses a text-to-speech program as it talks about the hopelessness of getting better as a person and the loss of humanity. It represents the band’s ideology of people living the same day, every day, with nothing changing. “Fitter. Happier. More productive. Comfortable. Not drinking too much. Regular exercise at the gym ”, says the robot. It is a brilliant midway point of the album that keeps the cold and computerized mood kicking and alive.
Track 8: “Electioneering”
The album’s energy flies through the roof with this pure rock and roll bliss. It’s the closest Radiohead has ever gotten to writing metal music, and I am perfectly OK with that. Jonny Greenwood’s guitar solo at the end of this track will leave you speechless. It makes me want to pump my fist in the air and yell in excitement. The lyrics make you want to scream along with them because of how catchy they are! “I go forwards! You go backwards,” Yorke screams in the chorus. With its pumping rhythm and anthem-like rock inspirations, this is a great and well-needed departure for the band’s low energy.
Track 9: “Climbing Up the Walls”
This is quite possibly one of the scariest songs ever written. This song represents paranoia and anxiety with a brilliant metaphor, comparing it to this looming figure that is right around the corner to jump out and scare you. Even the drums have a rhythm alike to someone walking towards you. The end of the song goes nuts with creepy guitar tones, screaming, and punk-like distortion. The track is just a great representation of mental illness.
Track 10: “No Surprises”
Another single off the album, with another iconic music video that is always shown. I was always surprised by this song’s popularity, due to it being one of the most depressing songs in it’s the subject matter. I’ve interpreted it as either about a person who blocks everything out of his life due to his social anxiety, or about suicide. It’s a track with many meanings, which is why it still holds up almost 20 years later. The discussion will never end to the actual meaning of the track. To continue, the song sounds like the band played it together live, giving off a more up close and personal feel that none of the other songs really had. All in all, a terrific track that will never leave my mind.
Track 11: “Lucky”
Another fan favorite, “Lucky” is a track with an incredible emotional climax. The crescendo in the verses leading up to the choruses make me want to look up into the sky with a sense of being alive. Yorke’s vocals really shine here, as the instrumentation takes a step back. While it follows a simple chord progression, the true beauty of the song comes from the high-pitched wails of Yorke. Not many bands can make a song emotional just by the vocals, making this one very unique. Yorke yelling the words “glorious day,” will never fail to send chills down my spine.
Track 12: “The Tourist”
The last track of the album may just be the weakest. It is an amazing song for sure, but the most forgettable. It’s empty in its sound and it doesn’t have a distinct personality like the other songs have. Nevertheless, that is saying a lot, because this song is still brilliant. It is a call to action to the listener, giving them some great advice. “Hey man, slow down,” Yorke sings. There is so much to life, so don’t waste it away, take your time, and take every good moment in. The brilliance of this song doesn’t come from the song itself, it comes from its message. From all the sadness that came before, “OK Computer” ends on a surprisingly optimistic note.
All in all, “OK Computer” is an album that will never be forgotten by time. From beginning to end, it shows how creativity and effort can make something truly amazing and unique. This is something that mainstream music desperately needs, as there is not a lot of popular music out right now as ambitious as this.