Monday, April 17, 2006

#10- Radiohead's OK Computer

The year was 1997. The band was Radiohead. The album was OK Computer. Let's face it. This album is flawless. From start to finish, from every nook and cranny is filled with sonic gems that make it easily the greatest album of the late 90s. Produced by Nigel Godrich and Radiohead went into two unconventional places to record the album and this brought about some awesome elements of sound and using the new spaces to find and define the sound of the album. One of the locations was a mansion owned by actress Jane Seymour and they used various rooms to record seperate songs (my personal favorite of these being the drum track for "Exit Music (For A Film)" was recorded in a room filled with Teddy Bears!)

On to the songs. We all love them all and we enjoy trying to figure out what order of songs from our favorite to our least favorite. Yet, let's be honest, that is nearly impossible. Every song is awesome in its own right and every song is essential to the overall feel of the album.

"Airbag" seems to be the mission statement of the album with all the types of moods and sounds embodied in the four minute track about a car crash experience Thom York had. It clamours with all types of sounds from intense drum beats, sleigh bells and jangly guitars.

"Paranoid Android" is the bands epic and to the untrained ear, would easily seem like the best song and that everything after it seem not as amazing. It surely is breathtaking with its Floydian structure and ethereal and somewhat otherworldly feel. The "rain down" section has a chorus of voices that will shoot a sonic arrow deep into your spine.

"Subterranean Homesick Alien" proves that Radiohead isn't giving up on track two. For me, the finest song on the album, the song has some of the sickest guitar tones that give it an Alein feeling. The song surges back and forth from the clamour of the chorus and the simplicity of the verses that make it a strong song overall and one of my favorites of any song ever written.

"Exit Music (For a Film)" is one of the best melancholoy songs you'll ever hear. One of my favorite chord progressions to play on guitar, the song builds from a quiet Thom and Acoustic guitar into an explosion of fuzzed out bass, intense drumming and swelling of screaming vocals. Definitely a high point on the album.

"Let Down" gets harshed on by a lot of people as being their least favorite. This strikes me as bewildering. For all of the naysayers, it was not originally going to be used on the album. It was recorded live in a ballroom which you can tell by its echoey sound. They plopped it on the album because it was said to sound perfect after "Exit Music" and that it is. The song is beautiful.

"Karma Police" is one of the best singles of the 90s. Another fun song to play on guitar, this song is hard for me to express my love of it. It's kind of a release from the first few songs because although it has dark tones and such, it seems to be a sort of low-ground and midpoint on the album (actually, the mid point is the next track, but this is somewhat the calm before the storm again although it ends with a ridiculous tape loop feedback that sends us back into the maelstrom.) When ranking, this usually ends up near the bottom of the list of fav songs (GASP) but again, lets be honest, its still better than a LOT of songs out there.

"Fitter Happier" is NOT sung by Stephen Hawking. Yet it is not a throw away track like many people feel. Just listen to the things that are being said about society by that computer: "favours for favours, fond but not in love, charity standing orders, on sundays ring road supermarket." Regardless, this marks the second half of the album (which I believe gets overshadowed way to often.)

"Electioneering" is suprisingly Johnny Greenwood's least favorite song! I read that and was like "whaa?" This song contains some furious cowbell, but hearing the guitar player harsh on the song which also contains some furious guitar licks breaks my heart. Easily my second fav on the album, the song just straight up rocks out from start to finish. This is the most rocking you'll get on this album and for many albums to come from Radiohead.

"Climbing Up the Walls" seems to be the underdog fav on the album. Whenever this song comes on, I go... "oh shit! I forgot about this! YES!" It feels very Brian Eno-ey with sounds emenating from instruments that seem unatural.

"No Surprises" is sweet catharsis. After the insanity of the last three tracks, we get grounded on earth for a second and roll some 8mm home movies. Not really, but as Stev has pointed out many times, this music is perfect for that.

"Lucky" brings the feel of the album back in another personal fave. Probably the next most rocking song on the album with another amazing chord progression behind it. This one is damn fun to play and sing along with and the guitars sound so good and come out of the dense fog that the mid section songs made with the ridiculous sounds that they were eminating.

"The Tourist" is another one that gets harshed on, but it pretty much ties the entire album together perfectly. "Hey man, slow down" basically makes us try to slow down the world that the rest of the album has said is too fast paced and too hectic and mind numbingly Orwellian. The super slow pacing of the song and chord progression helps the listener ease into reality only to be ready for the fast paced world. It's a great song to end the album and perfection.

OK Computer is basically our generations Dark Side of the Moon. There are easy to point out correlations (guitar driven songs with progressive elements and dark overtones about existence.) It's a landmark album if there ever was one. I want lots of commenting from the peanut gallery with your thoughts on the album. It was a late find for me, surprisingly, because at the time it came out, I loved "Paranoid Android" (mainly the video and song) but I was listening to lots of Floyd then. I shut myself off from most new music around this point and for a good three years listening to Floyd, the Who and muich more classic rock. So rediscovering this album was kind of like Dr. Ryan Carey discovering Link to the Past late in the game. We know its amazing and I know it tops most of your lists, but I'll say it again that this top 10 is more of an amalgamation of my #1 album. It doesn't matter the order really, these are simply all the best.

3 comments:

j. leo said...

Who's harshing on these songs? I always liked the second half better. I don't think you can find a better closing trio to any album, ever, and I totally dig Electioneering and Tourist. Elec is the song that first got me into Radiohead, though I now think Subterranean is the best on there. But that and the last three sucked me in first.

Face of Spades said...

Way way back with the New South Wales Machine, we covered Karma Police once. I was in charge of the "eeeeeeooohs" at the end of the song.

I hope a certain album makes it onto this list, but with 9 to go, I have my doubts.

Lou said...

I knew this one had to be coming somewhere. Can't say I'm happy that it's bringing up the rear end of the top-10, but it isn't my list, so whatever. Good choice, though, as it's in my top 5 albums for sure.