Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
Most people experience The Most Important Year Of Their Lives between ages 16 and 22. They fall in love with someone. They discover a hobby. There's a devastating death in their family or circle of friends. They frequently trace their life's path to an event that falls in this age range.
For me, the end of 1997 until the summer of 1998 was my Most Important Year. So, the music that came out at that time looms larger than any other year. Pretty much any rock album that kept me from having to listen to Boy Bands caught my attention. I listened to The Verve's Urban Hymns and Semisonic's Feeling Strangely Fine ad nauseum. My favorite Madonna album, Ray Of Light exceeded all my expectations for a pop album. And, of course, Ok Computer hit.
I was working in a record store at the time, so I had early access to this album, as well as REM's New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Pearl Jam's No Code, Soundgarden's Down On The Upside, and The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. All of these were albums I was super excited for, and came to love (New Adventures In Hi-Fi took me a few years to appreciate, but the rest I loved instantly).
Putting together an improved version of Ok Computer was super easy for me. I've reordered the album several times over the year for various reasons.
In 2009ish, a DJ friend told me about the 0110 album theory that Ok Computer and In Rainbows, which was released ten years later, are complementary albums, where you're meant to alternate tracks to create a Super Radiohead album. While I do enjoy that Super Album, it requires no work from me, and exists on several other websites, you can totally check them out. I don't enjoy all of the In Rainbows tracks, so I've pooled them with Hail To The Thief to make that a rounder album. OK Computer doesn't need the fleshing out. I also haven't added any B-sides or any of the songs that have accompanied OKNOTOK. While rearranged, this is still Very Much just the original album. I just don't think it needs the upgrade the way their other albums do.
I also prefer it isolated from In Rainbows because I see this as complementary to The Bends, a manic sounding album about depression, with this being a depressing sounding album about being manic.
I imagine Lucky rising out of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" from The Bends. This character spent that whole album trying to figure out some way that his despair isn't his own fault, but ends up giving up. But out of his acceptance (not resolve, nothing was resolved with the last album, but there does seem to be a bit of acceptance), comes the feeling of being pulled out of the aircrash and the lake and becoming likable to the world around him.
Electioneering has the newly reborn character determined to move forwards in the proper way in order to earn your trust. Mr. Yorke, and Mr.s Greenwood, Selway, and O'Brien, you have my vote. I'll take depressed dudes worried about technology over an over-confident blowhard too stupid to tie his shoes or shut his mouth any day of the century. But something is definitely off about their smile.
In Climbing Up The Walls, a nearly falsetto monotone start that builds into the frantic primal growl that The Bends never gave us. We are being watched by everyone all the time. Watched by technology every time we leave the house. It's tough to keep the smiling facade without seeming ... oh, this isn't contentedness or acceptance at all. This is mania.
Karma Police spins my favorite part of The Bends on its head. The protagonist is having a full-on breakdown and desperately searching for someone besides himself to blame. At the end of the track, he's apologizing for having "lost himself" and is pretty sure he has everything under control.
Airbag suggests otherwise. It's a false moment of control and safety. A belief in immortality that isn't supported by reason. If the most recent breakdown didn't kill him, then surely nothing can.
The original album's fade from "Airbag" into Paranoid Android really shouldn't be fucked with. It's a great transition from the repetitive prattling about being immortal to the high cry/wine vocals begging the world around him to shut up. In the background, Marvin The Paranoid Android from Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide quintology keeps introducing himself. The operatic changes over the course of the song are super reminiscent of Queen, although Thom Yorke is no Freddy Mercury (who is?). I have probably spent over a full day of my life listening to this song. Maybe more.
I think this is a solid break in the narrative. And it's about at the halfway point for a two-sided album.
Apart from Marvin The Paranoid Android, the only guest artist on the album is Fred, the voice of 1990s Macintosh's SimpleText program, who does lead vocals for Fitter, Happier, a depressing cycle of 20th century self-help sloganeering. It's a great restart to the story. I envision the narrator having come out of some sort of rehab between Side A and Side B and this is the only glimpse we ever get of their time being treated.
The Tourist is the closing track on the original album, and I understand why. It's quiet, and feels more isolated from the chaos of the rest of the album. But, like The Bends, I don't see this album as being resolvable. I prefer this song as a moment of introspection where, as he exits the rehabilitation center, the singer freezes while the world speeds around him. He shouts Idiot / Slow down to no avail. It's the bipolar moment where someone who's been manic, realizes that they need to contain themself (sometimes I get overcharged / that's when you see sparks) to start processing their environment.
This feeling continues into No Surprises as Yorke does a lower version of the near-monotone from the "Climbing Up The Walls". But this time, instead of building up to a growl, he's winding down to calm. This is my final bellyache, Yorke declares. And that's true of this version of the album. There are two tracks to go, and they take us to a different place.
Even when you've been successful, be it as a rock band, or a person battling depression, it's sometimes tough not to wonder how other people work, what makes them so cruel, or happy, or aloof, or unhinged, whatever attribute they have that weirds you out. Subterranean Alien Homesick Blues is a perfect late twentieth century reimagining of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" where, instead of being able to talk to your counter-culture friends about how wrong the world feels, you have to keep it locked up inside or else risk that they'd shut you away.
Of course not trusting your friends and peers to enough to share your feelings would be a Let Down. But you stay hanging out with them because you fear there aren't any other options for you. The world moves around you while you feel hysterical and useless.
Like "Paranoid Android", Exit Music (For A Film) is one of my favorite Radiohead songs. Yorke says it's the Romeo & Juliet story he wanted. The night after the two teens consummate their relationship they decide "Fuck it. Our families are terrible. Let's get out of here." I love that idea. For the narrative of this album, though, there is no love interest, so I view it as the narrator's mania speaking to his depression, and figuring out how to get himself together enough to leave this (house / relationship / town / planet) where he doesn't feel comfortable or supported. The way the song jangles out is actually a perfect blend into "The Bends", the first track from the reimagined The Bends making for a terribly cyclical storyline about being bipolar.