By the time Radiohead got around to recording the kaleidoscopic OK Computer, they were a band bursting with the sweltering necessity to pull away from the morose pessimism of The Bends. There was a need within these Oxford lads’ very souls to purge. The lure to merely fall back on old trends was vigorously rejected, especially in terms of Thom Yorke’s lyrics. OK Computer became about new beginnings and new directions.
Left in the bleedin’ powder were any comparisons to Nirvana and the grunge movement, as The Bends had granted the quintet their own musical self. With “High and Dry,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” and others, Radiohead had become born again.
It stands to reason, then, that OK Computer took the pensive scraps of The Bends and transformed them into something even greater. Radiohead had to become born again…again. But how?
Part of the progression involved taking over production duties themselves. The band had wanted to record away from swarming London, where The Bends was put down. With the help of Nigel Godrich, engineer for their previous record, OK Computer was constructed on the foundation of avoiding replication and heading in a new direction.
As Yorke told NME's Andy Richardson in 1995, “The big thing for me is that we could really fall back on just doing another miserable, morbid and negative record lyrically, but I don't really want to, at all.”
Recording took place in the Canned Applesauce studio in Oxfordshire and at Jane Seymour’s St. Catherine’s Court near Bath.
Optimism appears to bleed through as soon as OK Computer starts to play. The initial brush of guitar and the DJ Shadow-inspired electronic drum beat serves notice on “Airbag.” The bass, deliberately meagre, is entrancing. As soon as Yorke begins singing about car crashes and instant death, the buoyancy tries to fade.
Thanks to these fucking fantastic Collector’s Editions, Radiohead’s first three records have come round again complete with B-sides, rarities, and other surprises. The OK Computer set, just like Pablo Honey and The Bends, has been reissued as a two CD edition and as a Special Collector’s Edition with both discs and a DVD.
Following “Airbag,” OK Computer spins into the multifaceted classic “Paranoid Android.” Extraordinary both for its irregular constitution and absolute capacity, the tune invokes a Douglas Adams character. Haunting, piercing, fierce, “Paranoid Android” stands as a brilliant example of how a joke can sometimes wind up being something really special.