OK Computer

It’s pretty hard to avoid the usual cliches when it comes to describing Radiohead’s third album. The band has polarised opinion with subsequent releases but, ‘OK Computer’ had arrived at a strange time - which, in my opinion, makes its success all the more remarkable. Seismic, even. The holy trinity of Britpop - Oasis, Blur, Pulp - had pretty much encapsulated the zeitgeist at that time. Perceived to be dour, downbeat and just outright morose, Radiohead could never fit in. Right?

OK Computer Recording Sessions 1996

They still didn’t fit in. But, not that they wanted to in particular. ‘OK Computer’ was a calculated risk. You could maybe have forgiven Radiohead for going all ‘stadium rock’ after ‘The Bends’, - an album itself so beautifully crafted and revered, it seemed almost impossible for such a feat to be followed up with any credibility, let alone commercial or critical success. 

It’s a record that hasn’t aged. It’s still way ahead even of the current time. And, it was released 23 years ago...

 Paranoid Android Released: 26 May 1997

At the time, and even now, it seems bizarre that the band would choose a six-and-a-half minute, latter-day ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ three-part epic as the lead single. But, that’s just Radiohead for you. Tales of distress, social and political unrest, paranoia, aliens and car accidents….it flew in the face of what Britpop was about. And, it all sounded so glorious. 

OK Computer Recording Sessions 1996

It was space-age prog-rock way before Muse took that concept to the stadiums. Thom Yorke’s fractured, but beautiful, voice can belie the often acerbic, dystopian lyrical content (“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly, kicking squealing Gucci little piggy….”, “god loves his children, yeah….”, “this is what you’ll get, when you mess with us….” ) which makes for brilliantly disconcerting listening. Jonny Greenwood’s virtuoso guitar and deft, atmospheric synth flourishes take the songs to a completely different, other-worldly level. The solid drum-beats from Phil Selway are a constant; nothing too flashy but always metronomic and absolutely essential in knitting the complexities of each song together. 

'OK Computer’ is simply one of the greatest records ever made. 

Jason Hastings, May 2020

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