Radiohead
The Bends


4.0
excellent

Review

by Med57 EMERITUS
February 18th, 2006 | 1594 replies | 80,847 views


Release Date: 1995 | Tracklist


"The Bends is like Star Wars - a neat, separate entity with lots of explosions but not much plot. And OK Computer is The Empire Strikes Back, more ambitious, more complex, with more loose ends, but ultimately much better". After several years of Radiohead listening, I've found some interesting levels of misconception surrounding the band. Misconception #1 is that Thom Yorke somehow rules supreme over the group, acting as the band's creative linchpin, and almost single-handedly being responsible for the albums. While the fact that his voice is one of the most distinctive in music is often cited as evidence of this, it's lacking. Jonny Greenwood, the band's lead guitarist, has arguably had more of an impact on the band's last three albums than Yorke himself has done, and in terms of the band's "signature moments", you'll find his fingerprints all over them. However attributing the group's success simply to Yorke and Greenwood is the second misconception, albeit a forgivable one. Mr Selway, Mr Greenwood (senior) and Mr O'Brien all play a critical role in the music, as shown most clearly in their live shows, but also in frankly making the band even remotely marketable. While Ed O'Brien often ends up as the band's designated spokesman, the quote at the beginning of this review is taken from Phil Selway, doing one of the endless post-OK Computer interviews. While the argument about what the best Radiohead album has gone on for years, and is realistically going to end up rivalling the best Beatles album topic as a matter for pub bores around the world, I'm quite tempted to award Mr. Selway the gold medal for that comment. It's got it all you see, the vaguely geeky reference beloved of serious music fans, the fresh way of looking at the argument, and, above all, a clear truth behind it. Oh yeah, and like everything else Radiohead are ever going to do, OK Computer is used as a point of comparison.

I'll get my personal bias out of the way now, so hopefully I don't mention it again after the end of this paragraph. Like millions of people around the world, particularly white students in the UK, OK Computer is, and quite possibly always will be, my favourite album of all time. I can't even begin to imagine the pressures on Radiohead whenever they seek to make a new album, since no matter what they do, no matter how different their sound is, their new album will always be compared to it, almost certainly negatively. Hell, that even happened to Kid A, which ranks up there with the best albums of the decade so far. What's great about The Bends is that it takes us back to a time when life for the band was so much simpler. With the benefit of hindsight it's very easy to see the kind of music on the album that would provide the basis for the type of band Radiohead would go onto become (My Iron Lung could easily be seen as a precursor to Paranoid Android, Bulletproof�I Wish I Was having a distinct similarity to Subterranean Homesick Alien), but listening to The Bends as a stand-alone album, there seems to be a naivety to it that more than anything else sums up the entire album. That's not to say that the album's undeveloped, in fact some of the band's most remarkable music is contained within these twelve tracks. But while Thom Yorke's voice has always made you feel uneasily like there's something completely crucial to your life missing, but you can't quite think what it is, it has never been more pronounced that it has been on The Bends. The most obvious example, and probably the song that gets cited the most as representing the moment when Radiohead stepped up and started becoming something more than a little bit special is Fake Plastic Trees. According to Radiohead legend, Yorke's vocals were recorded after returning from a Jeff Buckley gig and subsequent to recording the singer broke down in tears. It says something about the song that such a description of how it was recorded doesn't sound in the slightest bit incongruous, given how emotionally compelling it is. The music for the song more than backs up Yorke's performance, with a softly strummed beginning turning into a dramatic bridge midway through before everything slowly fades away, leaving Yorke virtually whispering "If I could be who you wanted" as you sense the tears beginning to come. Dramatic? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Fake Plastic Trees is probably the most overtly emotive song on the album, but it's run close by the two songs at the heart of The Bends, namely Just and My Iron Lung. As songs they're among the heaviest, most self-loathing that Radiohead have ever made, with Just culminating in Yorke screeching "You do it to yourself" while all hell breaks loose behind him, and My Iron Lung representing the band's equivalent of shock therapy, as well as their final farewell to Creep, which dogged them throughout their early years. Unlike Just, My Iron Lung actually opens sounding surprisingly calm before at around 2 minutes in the dual-guitar assault team unleashes pure hell through their amplifiers. The message of the song could hardly be clearer. Lyrics such as,

This, this is our new song, just like the last one, a total waste of time, my iron lung

make it blindingly obvious that the band are being entirely serious about their music, accounting for why the song itself is so heavy hitting. Interestingly it also sounds like the one time in the album that the band completely lose control. Even through Just, what makes it so compelling is how it sounds as if there's a faint sense that the band are holding back for something bigger. That's also particularly notable in (Nice Dream) and High & Dry, where it sounds as if the band are simply cruising through two perfectly enjoyable songs that could probably be dated to within three years when music historians in the 25th century look back at the history of British music. High & Dry in particular is a reminder of where Radiohead could have gone after releasing Pablo Honey, namely making a Britpop album that would have beaten the competition into the ground, without changing the arena altogether as they eventually did with this album.

Although The Bends undoubtedly as moments of sheer brilliance on it, what drags its rating down, and makes it the equivalent to Star Wars Episode IV is the fact that some of Radiohead's worst songs of their entire career are on here. Bones is a song that would simply be forgettable were it not for Yorke's falsetto in the chorus. Yorke's seemingly innate knowledge of what sort of tone to aspire to with his voice makes it all the more remarkable as to how the band could misjudge the song quite so spectacularly, but no matter: they most certainly do. In a way the penultimate song on here, Sulk, is even worse, with there simply being nothing memorable about it on any level. The music drones in a way that's uncharacteristically simplistic, and more so than on any other song I've heard by the band, Yorke's vocals sound strained, as if he's not really sure what he's trying to do with the lyrics. Those two songs aren't just bad by Radiohead standards, they're bad and really sound out of place on the album. There are other weak tracks on here, most notably Planet Telex, which opens in an electronic shimmer that immediately signifies the band�s change of direction and then descends into mediocrity, but the effect of Sulk and Bones is such that they can leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Bulletproof...I Wish I Was and Black Star are both nice enough songs that meander along, showing how good the band can be when they sit back and let the music guide them, rather than trying to force everything to happen themselves, but there's no question as to what the standout song out of the last few on the album is. Street Spirit (Fade Out) is a truly remarkable piece of music on a great many levels, with possibly the best description of it belonging to Thom Yorke, who once said that it was like "fighting with the devil and losing every time". It's hard to know whether his claim that he can only play it at the end of shows because of the effect it has on him is true or not, but it says something about the song that people are even prepared to consider it as a possibility. Built entirely around guitar arpeggios, Yorke's stream of consciousness lyrics are delivered in such a way that the song conjures an incredibly bleak vision of a long and interminable road leading straight to hell and, unlike a lot of other Radiohead songs, you'd better believe that there's no hope anywhere along the way. I've never seen a description that even comes close to explaining the power of the song, so I'll leave the final word with Yorke again. "I wish that song hadn't picked us as its catalysts, and so I don't claim it. It asks too much." It may be a work of art, but I wouldn't want to claim it either.

Where does that leave us in the general scheme of things? The Bends can be viewed as three albums. The conventional view of it is that was the moment when Radiohead started stretching their talons, discovering how good they really could be, and that it leads inexorably onto OK Computer and everything that followed from it. Such an argument only makes sense with the benefit of hindsight, not to mention the fact that you�d somehow have to believe that OK Computer was inevitable, which it obviously wasn't. Option number 2 is that it's Radiohead's album in which they broke away from the Britpop beginnings of Pablo Honey, progressing slightly further than it but still having undeniable traces of their roots. This makes a bit more sense, but still doesn�t tell the whole story. Personally I prefer to look at The Bends as a standalone album, and seeing what you get. You've undoubtedly got glimpses of the band collectively realising that they had something that most of us don't. You've got the band not so much shrugging off the legacy of Creep as slinging it into a wall, beating it to death and then burning the remains, but you've also got a lot of insights into the kind of insecurity that their experiences to this point had left them with. Finally, you've got that sense of innocence that I referred to earlier. This was the last time that Radiohead were ever able to make an album without the weight of the expectation of millions weighing them down, and for that reason it's easily their most accessible, and, dare I say it, their most simply enjoyable album. Regardless of whatever else they may have achieved, that isn't a bad title to have.



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user ratings (4218)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Hatshepsut
February 18th 2006



1997 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very good stuff, Med, another great review. Agree with the rating too.

pulseczar
February 18th 2006



2385 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Well there goes my Bends review :p great work Med. I agree with you on that there are a lot of great songs, but there's also many bad or forgettable ones.

Zebra
Moderator
February 18th 2006



2647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I agree with almost everything that you said however I don't really see the similarity between Paranoid Android and My Iron Lung.

Aeaon
February 18th 2006



188 Comments


What the hell are you smoking?! Every song on this Cd is fantastic.

Knoxvillelives
February 18th 2006



342 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I love this album so much. It's perfect IMO, I like Bones and all the other ones you put in a lesser category.
Some real classics on here, it's got to be a five. But I do prefer Computer

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
February 18th 2006



2806 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I agree with almost everything that you said however I don't really see the similarity between Paranoid Android and My Iron Lung.


I think he's referring to the drastic changes in the song.

innerdark
February 18th 2006



749 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

you just HAD to submit this after i done it didn't you


good review though

Med57
Moderator
February 18th 2006



1001 Comments


I think he's referring to the drastic changes in the song.


Yep. It's definitely the most schizophrenic Radiohead song up till Paranoid Android, and that's where I'd say the real similarities between the two are. I've always seen the one as a precursor to the other, anyway.


you just HAD to submit this after i done it didn't you


Heh, you inspired me to finish the review in a way. I'd written the introduction and conclusion ages ago but had never bothered doing the rest. :-/


tom79
February 18th 2006



3362 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Took me a while to get into, but it is a great album. Definatly my favorite Radiohead album, followed by OK Computer

Digging: Braid - No Coast

Zebra
Moderator
February 18th 2006



2647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

If you have heard the first five tracks than you will most likely enjoy the rest of the album. This Message Edited On 02.18.06

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 19th 2006



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Dammit I was gonna reeview this too! WTF!!!???!

Digging: A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Sea When Absent

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 20th 2006



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is a very smashing review. I must say, you definitely have a talent for this stuff that many on this site (myself included) strive for but lack. Excellent stuff.

I disagree with you on one point, however. Sulk is one of my favorites off this album. Such a relaxed 6/8 song. It's the perfect setup to Street Spirit. I agree with your rating however, a 4 is totally appropriate.

ktstein
February 20th 2006



438 Comments


The Bends, Black Star, Street Spirit, and Just...awesome songs. Head and shoulders above anything else on here. This album is Radiohead trying to be Nirvana...they dont quite pull that off, but its really good nonetheless.

innerdark
February 20th 2006



749 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Heh, you inspired me to finish the review in a way. I'd written the introduction and conclusion ages ago but had never bothered doing the rest. :-/


well, could you not have let mine gather a bit more steam :angry::upset:



i disagree with sulk and bones being bad, but i suppose that's personal preference



TooFarGone
February 23rd 2006



1 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sweet review. This is the album that got me to being the Radiohead fan that I am.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 23rd 2006



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

My opinion of this album is pretty simple. Not as good as OK Computer (sorry to bring it up). But better than Pablo Honey. A transistion album really, with a couple smashing moments, but some forgettable tracks.

The Jungler
February 23rd 2006



4827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think music official's description is pretty much on the money. When I first listened to it, it seemed better then OK, but now I can see the error in that.
My Iron Lung is awesome.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 23rd 2006



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

My Iron Lung is cool, but the hard rock part gets difficult to take. Too much distortion takes away from a fine musical song.

The Jungler
February 23rd 2006



4827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yea, they certainly could have left that part out. The solo sounds like a really scratched up Hendrix record.
Great reveiw btw
As far as Star Wars goes I was always partial to Return of the Jedi, Would that be Kid A?

FistfulOfSteel
March 15th 2006



894 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Listening to this right now. I love it. Maybe even as much as OK Computer. Not a weak song on here, AT ALL. Radiohead kicks a$$.



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