Review Summary: OK Computer marks another stage in Radiohead's unprecedented legacy, combining the rock of its predecessor with sonic experimentation and ambition.
If you are like me, the ideas of George Orwell's 1984 scared the living hell out of you. What could be worse than totalitarian fascism? I never thought that those themes could be successfully converted into an absolute masterpiece of an album. Boy, was I wrong! OK Computer, Radiohead's critically acclaimed third LP, is easily one of the finest albums of the 1990s.
OK Computer took all the best ideas from The Bends and supplemented them with electronic textures, sonic distortion, and haunting melodies. This is an album that sticks with you for the rest of your life. Taking the Orwellian themes and using them to craft a mysterious and intriguing concept, Radiohead takes the listener on a frightening, twisted, and, at the same time, beautiful journey. Something is happening here, but I still don't know what exactly it is. That is the reason I love it so much.
Conceptually, OK Computer brings together feelings of insecurity and suspicion to present a particular persona that does not fit in with the erratic surroundings. This album will have the listener looking over his or her shoulder, as it paints of picture of a world on the brink of collapse. The impending force casts an enduring shadow from the album's inception to its conclusion. However, Radiohead slips in moments of brightness and wonder that form in the most unexpected places. Every aspect of OK Computer collaborates in splendid ways, from Thom Yorke's vocals to the lively and sometimes nefarious bass lines to the delicate additions of unconventional instrumentation that proliferate as the album grows organically.
The album's strongest track has to be "Paranoid Android", taking all the elements that make Radiohead great and constructing an opus that holds up even today as one of the best songs those fellows ever wrote. The song begins with a hypnotic beat as Thom Yorke sets the scene of tension and hostility. I can't help but point out one of my favorite lines in a Radiohead song, "When I am king, you will be first against the wall." The lyrics are so creepy and threatening that they add to the grim atmosphere of the song. Once the song builds up to its climax, there is no turning back. The elegance of Yorke's voice radiates toward the end of the song, as the pace is temporarily slowed. As a whole, OK Computer leaves quite an impression as a poignant piece of musical dexterity as well as a haunting image of a rather dreary domain.
The flow of the album is seamless with each track building of the other. OK Computer gets off to a great start with the heavy opener, "Airbag". There are so many layers to this song, each conveying a different idea. "Lucky" is another highlight, containing one of Radiohead's strongest choruses. The album really comes to life through recurring surges of fear and isolation. Thus, the interplay between the guitars and electronics becomes nothing short of riveting as the listener quickly gets the sense that this visionary ambience is slowly crumbling. In addition, the eerie "Climbing Up the Walls" manages to capture the album's paranoia and keeps the listener guessing, culminating in an intense cacophony of sounds.
However, the line between agitation and beauty is consistently blurred on this album. Radiohead manage to surreptitiously reveal shimmers of light in overwhelmingly dark places. "No Surprises" is one of those pretty glimmers. Its exterior is a fairly gentle and welcoming one, while its lyrical essence is relatively dark and disturbing. The parallel between sleep and death is ambiguous on this track, but Yorke approaches the music in a serene manner. Furthermore, "Exit Music (For a Film)" evokes thoughts of running away in the midst of a cruel and unforgiving world. Radiohead prove themselves to be a multifaceted band, never taking a straightforward route with their tone. "Let Down" exhibits the tender side of the band, while "Karma Police" displays the more aggressive and almost devious side of Radiohead.
Overall, OK Computer delivers an incredibly unique experience. This album touches you in a different way than most albums do. You may not know what just hit you, but that is what makes it so interesting. OK Computer takes the listener down a long and winding road, a road that the listener will want to revisit again and again.
Climbing Up the Walls