"Shocking critics and cynics alike, Radiohead broke new ground with this 1994 follow-up to Pablo Honey
. Released during the heady days of Britpop, its asphyxiating sentiments and uncomfortable rhythms marked Radiohead as a unique voice in British rock music.
The Bends wallows in the recesses of unhappiness, amplified by crashing guitars and expansive vocals. The outward self-loathing of "Creep" here turns inward, voiced by Yorke's pained lyrics and the band's sonic schizophrenia. If you're tempted to dismiss Yorke as a middle-class whiner, the quiet and peculiar beauty of songs like "Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was" and "(Nice Dream)" will have you believing in Radiohead's claustrophobia.
It's not just Yorke's show: all five members play integral roles on this record -- cantankerous guitar numbers like "Just" or "My Iron Lung" switch paces in an instant and require a full ensemble effort. The coup de grace is "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," the sound of a summer rain shower growing into a devastating monsoon. The simple acoustic tension grows with every guitar strum, metronomic drum tap and otherworldly moan.
The Bends is a triumph of craft over contrivance, proving that there is more to great music than posing or shoe-gazing."
(from Ink Blot Magazine, summed up nicely my thoughts)
The Bends changed my life. I heard Radiohead first about a year ago, I think it was "Paranoid Android". I wasn't that impressed. I thought, ok, that's cool, it's really textural, it's alot like a Sonic-Youth esque art rock band.
Then a friend of mine recommended The Bends. I was blown away. The Bends isn't just a compilation of 12 great songs. It's undoubtably one the greatest single-flow albums since the king of that genre, Pink Floyd's 1973 masterpiece Dark Side Of The Moon
. The Bends creates an artistic statement similar to bands such as Sonic Youth, while still haveing multiple radio-friendly single-ready songs on the album. It works together to create a single textural look into the aspects of depression and claustrophobia, reoccuring themes in Yorke's lyrics. From "Planet Telex" to "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" The Bends is a masterpiece.
Track by track analysis:
01 - Planet Telex
This song is an ideal introduction. Heavy delay and chorus on the guitar, plenty of symbol hits, and Yorke's unique voice give this song plenty of depth. It's already climaxing the second it comes in, and it stays at that level. It has a feeling, an emotional depth. It feels
like depression. Or at least the early stages of it. Beginning a theme that is recurrent throughout The Bends, it is a heavy song, but it's extremely textural. It creates a mood, rather then a catchy meolody. It's very "chill" music, ideal for late night. Back to this song, it's definitely not one of the best on the album, but it's fairly flawless. "Why can't you forget", Yorke whines in the closing minute, with a catchy keyboard riff playing over the synth guitar.
The intro to the second song and title track sounds like just another Brit rock band, returning Radiohead to their roots revealed on Amnesiac
. However, as soon as the verse begins, you know you're in for something else. I personally love this song. It portrays sadness perfectally. Not deep depression, that's so prominent in fellow vocal genius Maynard's writing, but just desperate sadness. The verse climaxes into the chorus "Baby's got the Bends, we don't have any real friends"... which in turn breaks into the bridge, something that sounds Aphex Twin being molested by Oasis. Like the other songs on the Bends, it creates a mood. This song has a lot of personal relevance to me, i.e., it's the story of my life, so I'd give it a 11/10 if I could. It's an audio-mastertpiece, Yorke never quite being drowned out by Greenwood & co., his meaningful lyrics just rising above. This is the most "normal" song on the album, but it fits in perfectally.
High And Dry
This song begins with an acoustic-electiric guitar strumming a pretty basic progession. Then in comes Yorke's voice, sounding almost woman-like at first, then into his usual half-whine that sounds so perfect. The lyrics on this song are perhaps not the most deep on the album, although some intesteting points about the irony of youth suicide and depression are made. The chorus, "Don't leave me high, don't leave me dry", is soft. This song is a slight comedown from the sonic fury of "The Bends". It's a truly pretty song, and contributes to the overall mood, although it's definitely not the best song on the album.
Fake Plastic Trees
If you've listened to adult prog radio in the last 9 years, you've heard this song. Although I recognize it's compositional skill, it's my least favorite song on the album. I see it as more of a filler, it transitions from the more furious songs in the beginning into what will eventually climax in "Street Spirit". That being said, it's a really nice song, stand alone, and continues the clean tone trend started by "High And Dry". Yorke's range particularly shines on this one. A good song.
God I love this song. Very similar to "Planet Telex" in that Greenwood uses the same combination of chorus and delay on his guitar. Yorke explores the lower range of his voice on this song, sounding almost like Mark Lannegan at points. The chorus explores the very high of his range, and returns to the distorted fury explored fully on "The Bends". Even though this song sounds like it'd be more uplifitng, it's no. It contributes to the overall picture painted by The Bends
: one of sadness, a grey day. It's not desperation or suicidal tendicies as much as sadness. This is also the shortest song on the album.
The intro almost sounds like "Dogs" by Pink Floyd for a second, and that always throws me off. Musicially there isn't much you can say about this song. It paints more of a picture than a musicial endeavor. It's a perfect song to go after
"Bones" and before "Just" but it's really nothing special. It's perfect for the development of the album as a whole however.
More brit rock. I love this song. Fairly similar to "The Bends". I would call this song comopstional genius. It's brit rock meets the blues meets prog meets indie. It's great. It's perfect for the mood.
My Iron Lung
I thought Yorke was a genius until I heard this song. Then I knew
it. With the exception of "Streen Spirit", it's the album's greatest song. compositionally, it's genius. The lyrics are also great. The parts just all go together. Once again perfect for the mood.
Bullet Proof...I wish I was
This song is about Panic Attacks, something that once again has personal relevance to me. It's a very mellow song, with Yorke exploring his full range. It's not as compositionally genius as "My Iron Lung" or "Just" but it's a really great song. Finger style guitar and synth. Explores the mood even further. A really sad song.
This song fades in with a riff similar to the opening of "The Bends". Yorke comes in soon, using something that sounds like a pitch-shifter but is just really his impressive vocal skill. I love the chorus, with the guitar working over the melody. Once again, it's absolutely perfect for the mood.
The most Kid-A esque song on the album. Synthesiser and a single guitar lick open it up. This song is just deeper into the journey, but you can feel it's coming to a close now. Great lyrics. "You're so pretty when you're on your knees." Definitely a sulky song. Once again words cannot describe.
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
My vote for best Radiohead song. Words can't describe it. I could write a review of it 1000 times and nothing would come close. Yorke & Co. truly trimuph. Every finger picked note and supressed rimshot build tension in an completely unprecidented way. Yorke's vocals are haunting and moving all in the same. This song is absolute sonic trimuph. A truly winning conclusion to an amazing album.
Although each song on The Bends is not amazing, the Bends does something other have not. The only album I can compare it to is Sonic Youth's 1988 masterpiece Daydream Nation
. The Bends is truly akin to entering a dream. It takes the emotion that Yorke is feeling and communicates it so clearly it can't be misunderstood. This album is a sonic tapestry, and a true musical journey. When it's over, you'll wonder why the real world lacks emotional depth.
It's a great art-rock album.
It's a great indie rock album.
It's a great rock album.
It's a great album.
Words simply cannot describe The Bends.
It's a completely genius sonic journey.