There and Back Again #4: Radiohead's OK Computer

radiohead-ok_computer-frontalThis column just keeps getting more and more embarrassing.  I’m not sure how I got here.  A music-loving young person, a professional in the music biz, and I’ve never listened to what almost everyone would put in the top five albums of the nineties (Or not.  Let’s debate!).  My friend and bandmate gaped at me in amazement when I reluctantly admitted I’d never heard OK Computer before.  When I said that I was going to be writing this column on it, he rightly pointed out to me that I wasn’t going to be able to say anything new about the album.  That everything had already been said.  He’s completely correct, but that isn’t my intent with these musings on “classic” records.  I’m just trying to either help newbies realize they don’t need to be worried they haven’t listened to certain records yet, or bring up some fun discussion points for everyone else.

I think this begs the question, then, how did I miss the most popular album from one of the most popular alternative bands of my generation?  It makes a little sense, if you think about it.  (Maybe I’m just making excuses here, but bear with me.)  OK Computer came out in 1997.  I was eleven years old and in the sixth grade.  I had Hanson in my locker and asked for the N*Sync holiday album for Christmas.  Radiohead just wasn’t on my radar yet.  Luckily for me, my brother and sister saved me from teeny-bopper fandom and a life of top 40 radio, gifting me with important albums at every major gift-giving event throughout middle school (and to this day, for that matter).  By the time I was a freshman in high school at the ripe old age of fourteen, I had my own radio show and was spinning mostly Beatles, Velvet Underground, and anything else that happened to catch my fancy.  My father was a saint and would take me record shopping every weekend.  He’d let me pick out whatever I wanted without guidance, which often resulted in a strange mixture of albums.  I distinctly remember buying some sort of terrible new Elton John release along with my very first Bright Eyes album, Lifted.  Totally bizarre.  Anyways, that year, 2000, I happened across a cool looking cd with some mountains on the cover and a really catchy name.  Kid A.  

Boy did I love that album.  I had never, ever heard anything like that before.  It was weird.  I miss that feeling.  Putting something on and thinking how you’d never heard anything so totally bizarre in your life.  At this point in my listening career, I’ve heard a lot of really strange stuff, and I wonder if I’ll ever have that sensation again.  I hope so.  I played Thom Yorke’s yowling crawl of a vocal “Everything…in its right place…” incessantly on my weekly radio show.  I thought I was pretty cutting edge.  Oh, poor little high school Madalyn.  At any rate, my musical tastes were so schizophrenic at the time, I didn’t really stick with Radiohead, let alone any band.  There was too much to discover, and the internet wasn’t available in the same way it would be a few years later to classify and rank every album for me.

When Hail to the Thief came out in 2003, I knew I was supposed to listen to it, but at that point Radiohead seemed pretty mainstream to me, as far as I could tell.  I was also in that arrogant “politics are stupid” phase senior year of high school, and I knew the album was supposed to be about our current President.  It just didn’t sound that interesting to me at the time.  I did listen to In Rainbows (I in fact bought it for two pounds on-line) and thought it was good, but didn’t really have a context for it, as I’d pretty much missed out on Radiohead.  So that’s why Radiohead isn’t really an important band for me.  I see now that they’ve had a ton of influence on modern music, especially where merging rock and electronic is concerned (could Coldplay be a worse rip off of this band, or what?).  I was just never in the right time or place to appreciate this before.

Now that I’m done writing that explanation I realize it’s most likely incredibly boring to anyone but myself.  Discovering one album shouldn’t be such a process, and probably isn’t that exciting to most people.  I’d like to live in a world where that’s not true, though.  I suppose I should say a few words on my reaction to Ok Computer itself, now that I’ve given it several thorough listens.

Wow, I guess is what I have to say.  I don’t think I’ve heard any recent album that is so very ambitious.  I have no qualms with it being consistently ranked as one of the best albums of all time.  It’s seriously good.  The way that acoustic guitar riff keeps coming back in “Paranoid Android” is fucking brilliant songwriting, and the cohesive mood and message of the album are staggering.  The computer generated voice in “Fitter Happier” and throughout the whole album is a genius reminder of the time in which the album was made, and also just sounds really difficult.  How did they get that computer voice to sound so much like music?  What is there to say really?  It’s great.

That said, I don’t really like the album.  It is not pleasant to listen to, and it totally creeps me out.  Especially “Climbing Up The Walls.”  How creepy is that song?  Whoa, it makes me so uncomfortable.  It’s a little bit like Nabokov.  Lolita is a beautiful book, but couldn’t he have written about something other than a child molester?  Couldn’t Thom Yorke have been obsessed with anything other than the terrifying realization of technology in the modern world?  Okay, obviously it’s actually a brilliant theme, and while I recognize its brilliance, it makes me feel so, so uncomfortable (perhaps another mark of a great album).  I don’t think I’d listen to this album a ton, and I definitely wouldn’t have in high school.  Well, that’s it from here I suppose.  I’m off to go listen to The Bends.

MP3: “Exit Music (For  A Film)” (Radiohead) – Vampire Weekend

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6 Responses to There and Back Again #4: Radiohead's OK Computer

  1. Someone says:

    if you missed ok computer in 97 you should def check out spiritualized – ladies & gentlemen we are floating in space
    in my opinion a better album (less whinging…)

  2. New York Rock Market says:

    sweet, thank you! i’ll definitely check it out.

  3. theanchovist says:

    this is rather interesting, I get your view of the album being sort of creepy, but for me it’s one – if not THE One – Radiohead album that I like to listen to because I just.. love it and think it’s beautiful. ah well..

    p.s. nice theme :)

  4. Eduardo says:

    Kid A is THE ONE Radiohead album. This is a pretty amazing record though. Probably #2 or #3 (vs The Bends)

  5. Music Feind says:

    theanchovist- “if not THE One – Radiohead album that I like to listen to because I just.. love it and think it’s beautiful. ah well..”

    –Haha. I can’t agree with you more about how beautiful Ok Computer is. It is the most beautiful piece of music ever created and puts me in an entirely different world. I have listened to this album from start to finish over 236 times and it never gets old. It only gets better every time! I know every note, every word, every harmony and rhythm and it is the most beautiful peice of music ever created. I don’t believe it is creep if you understand it and give it over 20 listens. This album is an absolute must to listen to over 15 times to truly understand it and warm up to it. After that you will realize that the hands of God himself touched these musicians as they were composing this masterpiece. This is the most amazingly orchestrated album that you will ever hear in your lifetime and is the closest thing to heaven. If it wasn’t for this album, I never would have started listening to rock, and it would have put me on perpetual and infinite search for a piece of music mastery as Godly as Ok Computer. If you haven’t listened to it. Do it. I don’t care how old you are or what you listen to. This album will change your life forever if you just give it a chance and give it enough listens to truly and fully absorb it. Do not skip tracks. If you do, you will truly be robbing yourself of a glance at Gods reflection!!!

  6. New York Rock Market says:

    Wow. I don’t know that I’ve felt quite that way about any album ever. I really don’t think that any rock music I’ve heard has made me feel closer to any sort of God. However, when I’m listening to Separation Sunday, it makes me feel connected to every other person on the planet, and makes me feel like I understand why people are alive. The same reaction, perhaps? I do believe that rock and roll is basically its own religion (Bruce Springsteen shows, anyone?). Anyways, I’ve listened to OK Computer more than 20 times, and it’s still not my favorite. A truly brilliant album, but still too cold for my taste.