Radiohead's OK Computer is one of the most important and influential albums of the 90's. Few bands have released a record that had so much impact on all genres from progressive rock to pop to electronic, and Radiohead is definitely one of them. This album is their definitive masterpiece in the way that it is exceptionally written, recorded and produced.
It's hard to review the music on this album, as it's packed with so many creative ideas and subtleties that even after years of playing it I can discover new things. I will be the first to agree OK Computer is not an easy listen, and may bore some listeners quite a bit, but if given its deserved plays, it turns out to be one of the most rewarding and musically complete records to come out in the 90's, if not in the last two decades. The band's densely atmospheric undertone and detailed production have yielded powerful songs that range from heavy to slow and multi-segmented to complex. The acoustic guitars and slightly electronica-tinged beats along with real drums on "Airbag" all unite in order to emphasize Thom Yorke's unique vocals, which I agree are an acquired taste. While Yorke's vocals may not be as powerful and technical as some prog vocalists', the sincerity and warmth in his tone make up for any technical deficiencies he may possess. Aside from that, I find Yorke one of the most diverse and expressive singers ever, as he can go from hynotic low registers to snarling high screams with absolute ease. "Airbag" is highlighted by a distinct Floydian psychedelia in its minimal expression, and it's laced with ambient passages, dramatic vocals, and an effect-laden outro section.
The album's radio hit "Paranoid Android" begins with beautiful acoustic guitars and employs spacey keyboards before introducing its infectious chorus (that goes "When I am king you will be first against the wall") with a great bass drive. The piece concludes delving into a full-fledged rock anthem with great vocal harmonies and interspersed acoustic breaks. On "Subterranean Homesick Alien", they launch into a dreamy and peaceful cut, while they further explore the depths of ambience on "Exit Music (For A Film)", utilising ethereal programming and sound effects, dark acoustic notes, and Yorke's nasal voice fits the song perfectly, soaring powerfully at the end.
Without doubt, "Let Down" is their superb hook-laden pop number, littered with a majestic arrangement and catchy melodies, not to mention the emotive singing that gets really intense towards the finale. The great piano ballad "Karma Police" segues into the weird and experimental spoken track "Fitter Happier" before the band taps into the hard-rocking "Electioneering" and the dark and gloomy yet tremendously atmospheric "Climbing Up the Walls". The last three tracks are some of the finest on the album, climaxing at the most unexpected moments, thanks to slowly-building, textural guitars that are both innovative and ground-breaking in terms of the limits of the instrument. With three guitarists, Radiohead proves so much more is possible with basic guitar playing if you do it right. That said, the lead solo on "Lucky" should appeal to fans of both melodic and complex music, as the song is made up of cascading guitar riffs and emotive vocal shifts. So dense and moving is everything that it would be impossible to sit still while hearing this track or its counterpart "The Tourist", equally accomplished and masterful.
So many bands have been influenced by Radiohead's OK Computer, either musically or by the way they produced the album. And I'm not just referring to newer bands that picked up on some amazing Radiohead characteristics, but also older bands, such as Marillion (give Marbles a listen!) or Dream Theater (circa Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence) or even more commercial artists including Bjork and Sigur Ros; or the more progressive and artsy bands such as Porcupine Tree and The Gathering (Souvenirs anyone?). I firmly believe that those who have heard some of these bands and dissed them are bound the enjoy their works a lot more if they give OK Computer a careful listen.
Whether people like it or not, OK Computer is a masterpiece that has basically redefined the recording and production techniques of progressive music, introducing the wall-of-sound arrangements and multiple layering with wild dynamics. If you don't like their music, at least respect them for being so eclectic and fearlessly experimental, still managing to find mass appeal. Kudos to them.
- Paranoid Android
- Subterranean Homesick Alien
- Exit Music (For A Film)
- Let Down
- Karma Police
- Fitter Happier
- Climbing Up the Walls
- No Surprises
- The Tourist