Review Summary: Ambitious and goal-setting.
By the time OK Computer was released, Radiohead had already made the far left turn with The Bends that would send them off the highway and into a forest of"Fake Plastic Trees" where the only impedance to their sound would be their own creative limitations. It wouldn't be until Kid A and Amnesiac that the band and world would discover where that creative landscape ended: a cliff and a drop-off into musically induced mental illness. OK Computer though does start to give the passengers in this speeding sedan a hint that something is askew. It takes that discovered focus, the identity that The Bends helped Radiohead find for themselves, and steps on the accelerator slowly until it meets the floor. As synthetic saplings continue to fold under the dented bumper, concern for well-being is rapidly fading. Musical dementia sets in. Digitized, computative logic is coalescing with irrational human emotion and the result, clearly, is narrowing further the line between genius and madness.
The opening track “Airbag” is fitting in this metaphor as it’s the last time (until Hail to the Thief many years later) that we’ll hear anything safe from Radiohead. “Airbag” is there as a protective escape should you want to go no further and slam the car into a manufactured Redwood. Once “Paranoid Android” begins, so does the reconstruction of the listener’s understanding of the human and cybernetic relationship. Thom Yorke’s vocals, the only link back to purely organic Man, waver and pitch through the record as they become more instrument than narrator; more environment than guide. Again, as OK Computer is a transitional album, the band does look back intermittently at the consciousness we’re leaving behind. “Karma Police” and “Subterranean Homesick Alien”, though they resemble more typical and comfortable composition, really only aid as a contrast to the digitized prophecies in “Paranoid Android”, the foreboding interlude “Fitter Happier”, and the coma inducing “Climbing Up the Walls”. By the time “Climbing Up the Walls”has ended you’ve been happily lulled into hyper sleep. Left now are the final three songs on the album that are simple dreams and memories of humanity forsaken. When you wake, it will be in the electronic double helix strands of Kid A.
Transition albums are often times my favorite. As I demand at least a modicum of progression and growth from bands, these albums often times provide the most exhilarating songs. New avenues are explored that may never be traveled again but it’s an exploration nonetheless and can be satisfyingly intriguing. What has always made Radiohead special is, not only their unique abstract offerings, but the wonderment of a band sharing that same obscure vision. So while OK Computer is a transition album, it doesn’t feel or sound at all like a band trying to find its next direction. Conversely, it represents itself as a very intentional bridge between the sound they inhabited previously and the instrumental experiment that lay across a wide, artistic canyon. Without OK Computer, the leap to Kid A would be even more jarring than it is and many Radiohead fans would have been left without the means to follow the band there. And that is what makes OK Computer special.
(I still prefer Amnesiac over this, god damn it)
4.5 / 5