Review Summary: The Bends showcases a seminal band finally discovering their sound, while crafting a beautiful and rocking album.
Classic is a word that is often tossed around inadvertently. How do we classify an album as "classic"? In my experience, an album that sets the stage for the musical legacy of a lifetime is certainly worth that title. "The Bends" is the perfect example of an utter classic, a strong and promising LP that has aged gracefully since its glorious release in 1995. Many critics cite Radiohead as the greatest band of our generation. The question is: how did they reach that conclusion? And at what point did people say, "Holy ***! This band is incredible!"? At what point did I figure out that Radiohead would become my favorite band of all time? For me, The Bends was that gateway.
The Bends completely shifted the direction of Radiohead's music. Many people will point to OK Computer as their breakthrough, yet The Bends is the true starting point for the band we now know today. Pablo Honey, despite its sweetness and innocence, was a fairly underwhelming introduction to the musical entity that is Radiohead. However, The Bends blows its predecessor out of the water and hits the listener over the head with passion and energy. The Bends was, without a doubt, the album that got me hooked on the band.
The Bends is full of graceful instrumentation, innovative experimentation, heartfelt lyrics, and perhaps most importantly, sadness. Emotion is the keystone of this album, embedded in both the song structures and Thom Yorke's vocals. Listening to the Bends is like looking into the mind of someone who is lonely, abandoned, and forgotten; however, that person has plenty of love to give. On the beloved ballad, "Fake Plastic Trees", Yorke takes a stab at the lack of authenticity in our society. He just wants to be loved. Don't we all?
This album is a perfect mix of strong, anthemic, guitar-driven songs and soft, introspective ballads. The end result is the band's most accessible album in their discography. My favorite track, "The Bends", showcases the brilliant guitar-work of Mr. Greenwood in a truly loud and rocking sound that the band would never quite return to. Encapsulated between screaming guitars and Yorke's amusing lyrics is the simple concept of not knowing who your real friends are. The hidden gem, "Black Star" is one of the rare love songs in the band's catalogue. Beautiful and stylish, this tune's opening fades slowly into an animated rocker that is easy on the ears. The superb production on this album only lends itself more to an already expansive sound, filled with a subtle medley of grandiose guitar and more amicable guitar. Nonetheless, Radiohead shows their tactful musicianship on both ends of this spectrum. "Just" contains one of the best guitar solos in history and was the song that convinced me to look into Radiohead.
Furthermore, the quirkiness that often characterizes Radiohead comes to a head on this album. The ambient and "spacey" sound that permeates the underrated "Planet Telex" sets the template for further experimentation that would occur on OK Computer. "High and Dry" is a more minimalistic but equally pleasant song that allows the listener to cool down from the fire lit by the preceding two tracks. As the album goes on, the audience is dropped deeper and deeper into the emotional chasm that makes each song so memorable. Thom Yorke genuinely opens up to his audience on the pretty "Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was". He reveals his personal weakness and struggles with his emotions, something we all deal with. Not only does Yorke relate to the listener, but he also invites them to enter his own world, where no one is who they say they are and things are constantly changing.
The album comes to an epic close with the dark and foreboding "Street Spirit (Fade Out)". This tune signals the seamless transition into OK Computer and a mature sound that Pablo Honey failed to establish. The Bends is as much an aggressive response to the commercial success of "Creep" as it is a group of musicians finding themselves. These young men are bursting with sensitivity and their volatility on The Bends makes the experience both unpredictable and magnetic.
In addition, The Bends is simply a great rock album. This is Radiohead at their most raw. If you are trying to get into Radiohead, The Bends is the perfect starting point. If you are wondering why everyone obsesses so much over this band, check this album out. Not only is this an LP with perceptive variety, but it also is one that effortlessly displays discomfort and dejection on a massive scale. The Bends is the album where Radiohead's potential radiantly shines. Classic? No doubt.
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Fake Plastic Trees