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Radiohead – OK Computer Review

Towering over with this expectation of brilliance, through online discourse and word of mouth, OK Computer has been placed atop an almost unimaginably high pedestal. Radiohead has not done much better than this piece, but the fear is always present. Chatter and expectation conjure up this impossibly high bar for an album that follows on from The Bends. Three albums in and this is what comes of it. An absolute and demanding recording where much of it was pieced together in live takes, where Thom Yorke and company rallied against the world around them and rightly so. They signalled the end of Britpop and most followed suit. Expectations are met with extraordinary defiance throughout OK Computer, an obvious beast of a record. 

Yet that beastly appeal comes through thick and fast. It ebbs after a time, but not before the chilling noise rock beats of opening track Airbag are through with their sonic force. Cold yet welcoming considerations on the world around them that, for much of the British music scene of the time, still apply now. Paranoid Android is still just that, a flickering, paranoid slide guitar-like tone taken on the back and forth between that acoustic guitar and Yorke’s isolated vocals. Voices in his head, but always considered and building. Radiohead hit on one of their best works here and key to the praise OK Computer has already received is the continuation of that tone and style. It guides much of the rest of the album and rightly so. It is a brief change in pace to Airbag that soon becomes permanent. 

That continuation, brushing through Subterranean Homesick Alien, a recognisable titan and an expectedly gorgeous and overly lush track, maintains a steady course for OK Computer. From the Shakespeare-inspired Exit Music (for a Film) to the obvious karma woes of Karma Police. Its Abbey Road string mixing is stunning and as powerful as can be. Wailing away and climbing up the walls, Yorke relies on the instrumental powerhouses that are now defined and immortalised. Those opening touches of No Surprises still feel ruthlessly stripped from Eels but the crooning horrors that come through give it a rewarding space on the latter half of OK Computer. For a track that sees Jonny Greenwood steady himself into a quieter position and Philip Selway take control of the momentum, it is quite the steady and surprising album. 

All of that comes down to how well Yorke and company handle tone. Scattered and noisy openings soon ebb away and, in its place, comes a reawakening. Lucky marks a lighter, tighter, guitar-driven track that showcase the surreal power Radiohead has. Nothing short of incredible. From track to track a real intensity is shown, one that has lit a fire under those that find themselves terminally online, convincing everyone OK Computer and Radiohead are the finest form music can take. Maybe so, but railing against those on the fence is no way to go about it. OK Computer speaks for itself, but for those who have found themselves face to face with a Radiohead enthusiast, joy for such a stunning, sparkling album may quickly diminish. Bad experiences should not detract from great works but they certainly do at times. OK Computer has withstood that so far.   

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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