Review Summary: of course "lighten up, squirt" is a Radiohead lyricOK Computer
is a tricky one. Half of it is the sound of Radiohead racing forward musically at the speed of light, outpacing all their peers, ironically dreading all the while every technological advance; haunted by dreams of a 'city of the future'. The other half sounds like holdovers from The Bends
, a throwback to the straight-laced English schoolboy Radiohead of "High and Dry", the Radiohead where cheesy guitar ballads and rifftacular rock songs go hand in hand, but there's little room for anything else. In other words, OK Computer
is and always has been a hot mess, held together largely by Thom's paranoia about the new millennium and an overwhelming distaste for fridges. Considering this distrust of the new, is it not incredibly fitting for the band to scour the vaults for old songs and deep cuts never heard before? Update 'em with a beefy remaster, repackage with two fancy new music videos, repeat for all of time and that's it – who needs to look to the future ever again?
Of course, a big part of excavating the past is digging through the layers of *** to get to the gold. A feeling that never once accompanied my listens of the Amnesiac
or Hail to the Thief
b-sides washed over me when listening to OKNOTOK
: some of the stuff Radiohead leave off their albums is, hear me out here, just not very good
. "Pearly*" and "Palo Alto" are the biggest offenders, grungey riffy homunculi that sound like Pablo Honey
offcuts recorded with a larger budget. "Lull" and "A Reminder" are halfway on the road to being something great, but the repetitive melodies and arrangements betray their good intentions. At their best, as even the album art suggests, these b-sides are fascinating as blueprints of the album proper. "Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)"'s ballsy dynamic change is an early roadmap for the schizophrenia of "Paranoid Android", and one listen to "I Promise" demonstrates a simplistic hit-making formula that you can hardly bedgrudge the band for following to a T on "No Surprises" and "Karma Police".
will be of little interest to a passerby in a record store; its main value even for the die-hardiest of Radiohead fans is that little peek behind the curtain, a crack of light closer to understanding the way one of the most elusive bands in the world works. Radiohead could easily have leaned further into the fuzzed out Massive Attack worship – put "Meeting in the Aisle" and "Polyethylene" on the tracklist, and all of a sudden "Climbing Up the Walls" doesn't feel so alone – or they could have stuck by "Lift" and "I Promise" and delivered a real 90s record, a true followup to The Bends
: an alt-rock masterpiece of massive choruses and massive complacency. Instead they compromised, giving us the truly split personality record we know today as OK Computer
. Opinions will vary as to whether they made the right choice for probably as long as Radiohead meme pages exist (so forever), but for better or worse one thing's for sure: this would be the last time Radiohead ever compromised on their sound.