OK Computer - Radiohead
Radiohead’s third studio album was released in 1997, and after the critical and commercial success of their previous albums, (Pablo Honeyand The Bends) the band decided to break away from the norm and compose something they truly cared for. Their first self-produced album meant no limits, whatsoever, and the British band grabbed this opportunity with both hands to create a passionately apathetic cacophony of discordant noise, nonchalant views on society, and sarcastic lyrics packed with oceans of meaning.
After the first album, Pablo Honey, Thom Yorke (lead singer of the band) was left in somewhat of a wreck. He had put his heart and soul into the music he’d created and come out on the other side with his band known as ‘The CreepBand’ (their most famous song, Creep, was and still is a hugely successful track). After a break of depression and wanting to disband, he composed himself and also their second album, The Bends. After this was wildly successful worldwide, his faith in his fanbase and the consumers of his music was restored, and he decided to give them a piece of what he truly thought.
With haunting guitar played by Jonny Greenwood floating like a thick fog throughout the album, Yorke’s lilting lyrics swimming through your soul, and the low thud of the bassline, the songs hit you like fingers brushing across your heart and penetrating your mind. To add to this, this deep and pressurising music, the lyrics on such controversial topics as politics, death, consumerism and insanity attack your thoughts. Yorke’s views seep through the song like carbon monoxide, secretly polluting you and filling you until you finally cave in to the truth.
Songs like Paranoid Android, Karma Policeand No Surprisesbecame cult favourites among Radiohead fans, and catered to a wider audience, with their appealing sound. But they also snaked in some deeper meanings (in Paranoid Android, the lyrics ‘kicking and screaming, Gucci little piggy’ are a nod to the constant greed and dissatisfaction of what Yorke called ‘rampant consumerism’) and darker topics (No Surprisesdepicts the suicide of a person who tries hard to keep it together but simply fails under the pressure of the modern world) so the band’s snickering spark of stubborn views snakes its way through.
One of the most deeply controversial ‘songs’ on the album is the musique concreté Fitter Happier. Using typical slogans and thoughts of modern society in a robotic, synthesised voice, it snarls at the artificial and sterile world, saying in a nutshell that we all believe we are free but really, we are ‘pigs in cages on antibiotics.’ Yorke described it as ‘the most upsetting thing I’d ever written’, and he was not exaggerating. The words drill into you, making you feel like a slave to society and its twisted morals.
The songs ‘Lucky’ and ‘Airbag’ are both related to Yorke’s anxiety around transportation. The morbid idea that every journey you take could be your last, and that you are never truly safe; trapped in a metal box. Luckydepicts a man surviving a plane crash, and the song was written around the time of the Bosnia conflicts. ‘The Head of State has called for me by name/but I don’t have time for him’ implies that nothing can direct his attention from the dire situation he is in. Contrary to this, Airbagis about the false sense of security that transit puts you in. ‘In a fast German car/I’m amazed that I survived/An airbag saved my life’ describes the vulnerability of the protagonist, and how he feels in that car, and the wonder that if a tiny little detail had faltered, he could have been dead.
Overall, OK Computeris awash with morbid imagery, and a simultaneously lighthearted and deadly serious look at our world as it is today. The album booms with home truths and Yorke’s acerbic wit stands prominently throughout. It is effortlessly cool, clever and catchy, but also acts as a snippet of the thoughts of citizens during a particular time-frame, leading it to be deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ by the US Library of Congress, and also selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry. Overall, Radiohead took us all by storm with an incredible album, as well as an incredible look into the mindset of society.