“The Bends”(entry at amazon.com) is fast becoming my favorite Radiohead album. This is the second time that a place I have been hanging out at that has played it over their sound system. (In case you are wondering, I am using another wireless Internet hotspot. Ah, the wonders of technology. Right now, I’m listening to the tail end of “Fake Plastic Trees”(lyrics) one of Radiohead’s more mainstream tracks off this album, the other being “High and Dry.”(lyrics)
I owe ER for introducing me to Radiohead in junior year in high school with, ironically, “Pablo Honey”(entry at amazon.com) (Many Radiohead fans consider this album, their first, as being anomalous.) The song in particular was “Thinking About You”(lyrics) which ER liked because, one, it described the mood (though not the specific details) of his relationship with SL at the time (ah memories), and, two, it has a guitar rhythm that evokes the sound of a car zooming down the I-5 at 80 mph. I have since appropriated both evokations of this song (applying it to my own trials and tribulations regarding women who don’t feel about me the same way that I feel about them, and to my love affair with the road trip.)
Now, hands down, the best Radiohead album is “OK Computer”(entry at amazon.com) (This album got me through a lot of my last year in college.) But I would argue that “The Bends” is Radiohead’s best underrated album. People always seem to forget about this one, for some reason, or at least, they never manage to give it the props that it deserves. Certainly, it is the most accesible of the last five albums, as they have not yet moved into their heavily experimental phase. (Although, if you ever have enough time and wherewithal to listen to all of their six albums in a row, you can easily see the evolution. Even “Pablo Honey” has a few tracks that wouldn’t be completely out of place juxtaposed against “Kid A”(entry on amazon.com)—for example, “You”(lyrics)) But mostly, what gets me the most is the number of heart-string pullers on this CD. Now, admittedly, both “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” are definitely radio-friendly tracks, and capture the particular angst that was very common in the era this album came out, when grunge was king and the reign of Generation X in terms of being a target demographic was at its peak. But the tracks that absolutely totally kill me are “Bulletproof… I Wish I Was” [lyrics] (which is playing right now as I type) and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” [lyrics]. These two tracks, particularly if I am particularly depressed or spectacularly drunk, can make me sob uncontrollably.
Now, as an aside, “Hail to the Thief”(entry on amazon.com) is a pretty good album, too. It haven’t listened to it as many times as I have the other five, so I feel like any opinion I have right now is purely preliminary, but right now, it strikes me as an excellent hybrid of their new experimental, electronic style embodied by “Kid A” and “Amnesiac”(entry on amazon.com) with the more accessible, purer teenage-angst-filled rock-and-roll style embodied by “The Bends” (I can’t figure out how “OK Computer” adds to this genealogy, mostly because I’ve been used to thinking about it as being a class apart, although, as I mentioned, listening to the six albums chronologically shows that the evolution is very much gradual.) The thing that I find really awesome is that it is a bald-faced indictment of George W Bush and the sorry world that he has created. Wisely, the neocons have not taken to bashing this album, probably because they are too stupid to understand it, but also maybe because they can’t deny the truth embodied in this work.
A little more on Radiohead’s political dabblings: I think Radiohead predicted the fall of the American Republic way back when “Kid A” was released. The most obvious of their songs is “Idioteque”(lyrics), hearkening back to the Cold War era and the fears of nuclear annihilation (and to some absurd neocon fantasy world), but also eerily mimicking the propagandistic incitement of fear by the present-day Department of Homeland Security. (“We’re not scaremongering/This is really happening,” indeed.) It also touches upon the vulture-like manner which W, Cheney, and their gang of associated thugs have jumped upon the carcass of Iraq (not to mention California), captured simply in the line “Take the money and run.” Oh, they are doing so, indeed. Then there is “National Anthem”, reeking of the destructive irony of nationalism and capturing in its rhythm the perverse swagger and smirk that so characterizes the fearless leader of the “Free” World. Then there are the payloads mentioned in “Optimistic”, and “the big fish eating the little ones”, “the vultures circling my bed.” I first listened to this album around the time of the 2000 election debacle. Here was Cassandra’s voice embodied by Thom Yorke. And of course, as usual, no one listened. The freakiest thing was that special edition of “Kid A” which had this phrase emblazoned on the cover:
WE WILL NOT HESITATE TO CARRY OUT WHAT HAS BEEN THREATENED
THIS IS NOT OVER UNTIL ABSOLUTE UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER
AND COMPLETE MEETING OF ALL DEMANDS
THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER WARNING WHATSOEVER
AIRSTRIKES ARE IMMINENT
I picked this special edition up that July I was in NYC less than 2 months from September 11, and in retrospect, I found it again disturbingly prophetic.
But yeah, in summary, Thom Yorke et al are the bomb. I heart Radiohead.
(Oh, and check out at ease, your one-stop information shop for all things Radiohead. This is where all those links to lyrics point to.)