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20 Years On: Radiohead's OK Computer - The Last Great Rock Album?

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
I was listening to The Watch's podcast on Radiohead's OK Computer this week and it suddenly hit me that it's been twenty years since that album's release (which accounts for the amount of articles being written about it both in print and online). I hadn't listened to most of the tracks in anywhere between two to ten years (as I tend to cherry-pick when it comes to albums) but, last night, I played it in its entirety and it sounded as fresh as it did the first time I listened to it. 
 
One of the hosts on The Watch suggested it may be the last great rock album simply because of  the scale of its cultural impact, and because that impact endures today. OK Computer is very much a challenge to the listener and I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I didn't warm to the record on my first exposure to it. As with most people, I spent a lot of time wondering "Do I like this?" before realizing I loved it. The fact that so much of the world - in a time when online social networking didn't exist as it does today - accepted that same challenge is quite a feat.
 
What's especially wonderful about OK Computer is that people are still discovering new things about it. A few years ago, one website discovered that interweaving tracks from OK Computer and In Rainbows resulted in seamless transitions between the songs which complimented each other perfectly. If you've not heard of this, Google "Radiohead's 0110 album".
 
The title of this thread is deliberately provocative, in the hope of encouraging discussion about a great album. From Tom Yorke declaring he was back to save the universe on "Airbag" through to "The Tourist" reminding us to "slow down, slow down" and observe what's happening around us rather than rushing on through, OK Computer rightfully retains its place as one of history's great albums twenty years later. 
 

 

 


Edited by MrSaxon - 3/30/17 at 11:17am
post #2 of 46

Definitely a key album in my development as a music fan, if not as a person in general. Probably my gateway drug from the world of straightforward mid-90's britpop to... basically everything else.

 

At first it was weird and alienating compared to The Bends, but once it clicked it was probably the first album I was truly obsessed with, that I knew inside out. The attention to detail in the arrangements and the shimmery icy textures that still aren't quite like anything else.

 

It was also the first album to teach me how you can burn out on a record, which is why I doubt I've played it more than a couple of times in the last decade if not longer.

 

Last great rock album? To be honest I wouldn't even call it the last great Radiohead album. Whether it's the burnout or changing tastes, I tend to prefer the colour and variety and quirkiness of their 00's stuff these days, even if OKC will always be a fantastic record.

post #3 of 46
Thread Starter 

It was actually the last Radiohead album I truly loved. I know a lot of people who not only loved Kid A but actually think it's the better album, but I never really fell in love with any of the songs from that album in the same way I did with the likes of "Paranoid Android" or "Let Down". I haven't really followed them since that point but maybe I should give them another opportunity. Sometimes albums simply come along at the wrong time in your life.

post #4 of 46

You're not alone on that. On OK Computer they were starting to get a bit artsy and weird but it was all based on solid rock songwriting in a way they kind of lost interested in afterwards. You can hand someone a guitar and ask them to play Exit Music no problem, but hand them a guitar and ask them to play Bloom and they're screwed.

 

But the appeal of the later stuff, for me anyway, is how there's no formula at all. Instead of having guitar, bass, drums, verse chorus middle 8 etc every time, the songs have these weird winding structures and switch up sounds all the time. It's pretty cool once you get a taste for it.

post #5 of 46

THE BENDS >>> OK COMPUTER.

 

Come at me.

post #6 of 46
Thread Starter 

I like the The Bends as much as anybody (well, anybody not named Judas) but it really feels like an album attempting to replicate the musical trends of the day rather than create something new. That said, I'll always have a soft spot for "Street Spirit". I probably wore that part of the CD out when I first got hold of that album.

post #7 of 46

It legitimately makes me feel old that this album (and Trainspotting for that matter) are 20 years old.  I didn't have as much distance from it because I got into vinyl last year and I felt like that was one of the first albums I needed to own so I've listened to it all the way through a couple times in the last year or so.  What truly impressed me about that experience and Kid A too for that manner is that you go your whole life listening to those albums on CD or digitally and you never realize how perfect the track listing is for the breaks on a record.  Even in a time when that format was pretty much dead they were planning their albums around that.  Them and Discovery by Daft Punk are the only albums from the late 90's/early aughts that I've bought and became even more impressed listening to them in that format.  

post #8 of 46

OK COMPUTER is the last Radiohead album that I liked.  They changed gears too dramatically for me with all subsequent albums and I simply couldn't get into them.  So...if you want to say that OK COMPUTER is the last great Radiohead rock album, I'm on your side.

 

To outright dismiss every rock album that's come out since is, quite frankly, absurd and arrogant.  I can think of 3 albums off of the top of my head right now that I'd say are 'great'.

 

Is Radiohead a great band?  Even though I don't care for anything post OK COMPUTER, I'd say yes.  They have talent and musical skill, and that puts them in the top 5% right there.  To be so dismissive of 20 years of rock output is ridiculous.

post #9 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Moonrocket View Post
 

What truly impressed me about that experience and Kid A too for that manner is that you go your whole life listening to those albums on CD or digitally and you never realize how perfect the track listing is for the breaks on a record.  Even in a time when that format was pretty much dead they were planning their albums around that.

 

Legend has it they were so obsessive over the tracklisting of Kid A they almost broke up over it. Story goes that Thom was dead set on having weirdo b-side Kinetic where Idioteque is now, as if that's not one of the best songs on the album, and guitar guy Ed was the one who talked him out of it.

 

The sequencing on that album is excellent but part of me still thinks they should've found a place for Pyramid Song on there at least. Amnesiac is a cool album as well but definitely has an odds and ends quality to it.

 

Personally I'd rank Radiohead in the top 0.1% of all time. Though admittedly the teenage fanboy in me never quite went away.

post #10 of 46

While I think OK computer is a good album, my two favorite radiohead tracks come from their later stuff.

 

post #11 of 46

OK Computer was the album that got me into Radiohead.  I first heard of them when Pablo Honey came out.  There was a commercial that would play on Comedy Central all the time when that album came out (we watched a lot of stand up and Kids in the Hall back then).  It would show the video for Creep, and there woudl be this voiceover that would just keep saying "RADIOHEAD. CREEP." randomly through the commercial.  It didn't help that I didn't like the song at all, and the repeated playing of the commercial just turned me off completely.  Also this was way back when I was heavy into my punk phase, and if it was on a major label it must be crap.  Also I just wan't (and am still not) a huge fan of Brit Pop. 

 

Somehow I completely missed The Bends even coming out.  I think I saw a video for Just somewhere, and was like "Holy shit!  Cool video!"  But that was no internet for you.  By the time OK Computer came out, my music hard headedness had died down a bit.  I was working in a book store running magazines, so I was aware of all the coverage of it coming out.  Paranoid Android was playing quite often, and it was kind of an amazing song.  I finally bought the album (I broke after reading so many magazines proclaim it as the greatest album ever of all time!!!) and while it wasn't something that instantly blew me away, it was one I couldn't stop listening to, and just got better with each listen.

 

By the time Kid A came out, I was a bonafide Radiohead fan.  Now they are easily in my top 5 all time.  Having said that, I still don't listen to Pablo Honey, and was hugely disappointed with King of Limbs.  Everything else I still find amazing when I listen to. And while OK Computer may not be my favorite Radiohead album, I can still put it on at any time (like I have right now) and remember how it realized these guys were doing something special.

 

Full disclosure: I usually skip Paranoid Android now.  That is one song that just got overplayed with me.

post #12 of 46

I was managing a record store when THE BENDS came out.  The reviews were really good for it so he opened it up and played it, and THAT is how I discovered Radiohead.  We sold quite a few copies of that CD, something that I was always proud of.  

 

Anyways...front to back, that album is incredibly listenable without being overly commercial.  Love it to death.

post #13 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Judas Booth View Post
 

I was managing a record store when THE BENDS came out.  The reviews were really good for it so he opened it up and played it, and THAT is how I discovered Radiohead.  We sold quite a few copies of that CD, something that I was always proud of.  

 

Anyways...front to back, that album is incredibly listenable without being overly commercial.  Love it to death.

Oh yeah, The Bends is great.  Catching up on that one after living in OK Computer for a while was like having a nice, bonus Radiohead album until Kid A came out.  Though I always skip Fake Plastic Trees.  Man, that song just does absolutely nothing for me.

post #14 of 46

I remember trying to listen to KID A and AMNESIAC and being completely and utterly lost.  They just didn't connect with me at all and all attempts to make those albums (and everything that came afterwards) work for  me have simply failed.  As such, I'm 'stuck' with two great Radiohead albums, one mediocre album (PABLO HONEY), and a bunch of stuff that simply isn't for me.

post #15 of 46

It's weird to me that Judas is so into 70's prog rock weirdness, but so indifferent to the 00's versions.

post #16 of 46

Kid A clicked right away for me.  No question.  And to this day, some song that used to be one of the not as great songs will turn around and bite me on the ass and be like "Hey, bitch!  Listen to me again, but fucking listen" and then be my new favorite song.

 

Amnesiac, on the other hand....  Right off, I loved Pyramid Song.  Loved it.  Gave me chills every time loved it.  Bought the album and like stated earlier, it just felt like a B-Sides album.  The first two songs were great, then Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors brought the whole thing to a screeching halt (I still skip that song to this day).  And the album never gained any momentum after that.  I think it took me another year or so until I got over that.  I think a large part of that was watching "You and Who's Army?" live (which is the song right after Pulk/Pull), which somehow gave the song a new life for me, and it was like a weird gate opened up and the rest of the album just fell into place.  So as long as I skip track 3, the album is fucking fantastic.  Like Spinning Plates is now just as beautiful to me as Pyramid Song.

post #17 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schwartz View Post
 

It's weird to me that Judas is so into 70's prog rock weirdness, but so indifferent to the 00's versions.

 

Not all-encompassing 70s prog rock weirdness.  I was heavily into Rush, Yes, and ELP, but that was about it.  I like the heavy, metal oriented prog stuff, which is why I got so heavily into Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and similar bands.

post #18 of 46

In terms of live versions changing my perspective on a song, the album version of "I Might Be Wrong" had never blown me away, but the version that they titled their 2001 live release after hits like a goddamn freight train.

post #19 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schwartz View Post
 

In terms of live versions changing my perspective on a song, the album version of "I Might Be Wrong" had never blown me away, but the version that they titled their 2001 live release after hits like a goddamn freight train.

 

It's cool when a live version of a song absolutely destroys the studio version.

 

Cheap Trick: 'I Want You to Want Me'

Kiss: 'I Wanna Rock n Roll All Night'

U2: 'Electric Company'

post #20 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schwartz View Post
 

In terms of live versions changing my perspective on a song, the album version of "I Might Be Wrong" had never blown me away, but the version that they titled their 2001 live release after hits like a goddamn freight train.

The version of "Like Spinning Plates" on that live album is goddamn beautiful.  And "True Love Waits" is still better on that album than on Moon Shaped Pool.

post #21 of 46

Re: improved live versions, I had this bootleg way back in 2000 which was my first introduction to a lot of Kid A/Amnesiac songs, I listened to it so much it actually took me a long time to fully adjust to the studio versions.

 

It has an amazing rockier take on Kid A that they never did again (their live versions these days sound a lot more like the studio version, with vocoder vocals etc). A lot of the versions are probably more accessible to people who find the studio versions too... studioy.


Edited by Paul C - 3/30/17 at 11:55am
post #22 of 46
I'd loved The Bends so when OK Computer came out I played it more or less on repeat for a few weeks and regularly revisited for the next couple of years.

That more expansive, exploratory vibe was right up my alley so I loved a lot of the artsy weirdness in the instrumentation and arrangements of much of it, but Thom turning the mope up to 11 made it tough to really fall for it as completely as I wanted to. It's not that the mope was an energy I couldn't connect with, it's that it was an energy I didn't like connecting with. It's also not that The Bends didn't have its mopey moments, but I was still young and mostly angry, so I preferred Thom on The Bends, when he was younger and mostly seemed angrier.

That's why Electioneering is still my favourite song on this album - because Thom sounds pissed in it, a far more riveting state-of-affairs than sorry-feeling (although I can never admit that one's my #1 because it's also probably the straightest arrangement and most trad bunch of riffs/beats on the album, so it'd make me look like a boring normy, and I can't have that, so just forget this whole sentence ever happened). Climbing Up the Walls is the one where Thom's vocal works best and is my #2 from the record, because it's backed by that driving beat/groove so the track as a whole doesn't sound like it's disappearing up its own mope. The rest of the vocal performances I can take or leave for the most part, although I still enjoy a bunch of the lyrics and am a fan of a good deal of what the band is doing behind Thom.

ETA: I even like most of his melodies, it's the delivery that frequently loses me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MrSaxon View Post

... The fact that so much of the world - in a time when online social networking didn't exist as it does today - accepted that same challenge is quite a feat ...

A fair comment to be sure Mr Saxon, although it could just as easily be argued that in the 90s, with the music media infinitely less fractured than today, the tastemakers had infinitely more sway than they do today.

Back then all it took was Q, Rolling Stone, NME, maybe Spin (maybe Mojo and/or Kerrang if you rolled those ways) and you had pretty much all of rock music fandom covered.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Judas Booth View Post

I can think of 3 albums off of the top of my head right now that I'd say are 'great'.

JB you damn tease, you name them right mothereffing now!


-
Edited by Bucho - 3/30/17 at 2:21pm
post #23 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bucho View Post

JB you damn tease, you name them right mothereffing now!

 

Off the top of my head, here are some amazing albums that have come out since OK COMPUTER:

 

The Strokes: 'Is This Is?'

Office of Strategic Influence:

- Self Titled

- 'Free'

Dream Theater: 

- 'Scenes from a Memory'

- 'Black Clouds and Silver Linings'

Muse: 'Absolution'

post #24 of 46

I was going to list off a shit tonne of great rock albums of the last twenty years but then simply decided to say;

 - The entire White Stripes discography

 

post #25 of 46

Ugh.  Pick that mic back up.

post #26 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dalyn View Post
 

Ugh.  Pick that mic back up.

 

This was always going to be a fun thread considering a persons taste in music is only rivalled in subjectivity by a persons sense of humor - and no sir I will not. I will not!

post #27 of 46

If I ask nicely?  We're kind of past the 5 second rule, and it's getting more germs on it the longer it stays down there.

post #28 of 46

Alright fine. Let me continue then...

 

 - The first three Kings Of Leon albums

 

 - Queens Of The Stone Age "Songs For The Deaf"

 

 - Gomez - "Bring It ON" & "Liquid Skin"

 

 - Wolfmothers debut album

 

 - The Strokes "Is This It"

 

 - Eddy Current Suppression Ring "Primary Colours"

 

I'll stop there.

post #29 of 46

I like that QOTSA album a lot.

 

You have to forgive me and my knee jerk reaction to your White Stripes post.  I don't know why still at the age of almost 43 I still get snooty, uppity, and reactionary when it comes to people's tastes in music.  That has always been a personality flaw of mine.  Not just music either.  Movies.  TV.  Books.  Man, I was bad in my teens and 20's.  Started getting better in my 30's.  Now I just bug my co-workers about it, but sometimes the old attitude comes back.   And my tastes are usually off from most peoples tastes (especially in here), so I just wind up coming off as that weird, conceited asshole that nobody likes.  I am working on it, though.

post #30 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Rain Dog View Post
 

Alright fine. Let me continue then...

 

 - The first three Kings Of Leon albums

 

 - Queens Of The Stone Age "Songs For The Deaf"

 

 - Gomez - "Bring It ON" & "Liquid Skin"

 

 - Wolfmothers debut album

 

 - The Strokes "Is This It"

 

 - Eddy Current Suppression Ring "Primary Colours"

 

I'll stop there.

 

I already cited that album by the Strokes.  So there.

 

I dig that first Wolfmother album as well.  Great fun.

post #31 of 46
The assorted projects of Josh Homme and Omar Rodriquez + Cedric Bixler are the high watermark of 21st century rock IMO.

And that's limiting it to your proper rock rock. If by 'rock' you basically mean popular music with degree of talent and brains there's loads more.
post #32 of 46

Also - At The Drive-In & The Mars Volta. Just in general.

I love OK Computer - it along with The Bends are two of my desert island disks - but come on, to say that history ended in 1996 is simply crazy talk.

post #33 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul C View Post

The assorted projects of Josh Homme and Omar Rodriquez + Cedric Bixler are the high watermark of 21st century rock IMO.

This takes me back to why I first fell SO much in love with you Paul C.


Quote:
Originally Posted by The Rain Dog View Post

Alright fine. Let me continue then...

Yes, continue!

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Rain Dog View Post

 - The first three Kings Of Leon albums

 - Queens Of The Stone Age "Songs For The Deaf"

 - Gomez - "Bring It ON" & "Liquid Skin"

 - Wolfmothers debut album

 - The Strokes "Is This It"

 - Eddy Current Suppression Ring "Primary Colours"

I'll stop there.

No, don't stop there!

Especially, how do you like ...Like Clockwork though? I don't love Songs for the Deaf any less these days, which is to say I love the heck out of it still, but, miraculously, ...Like Clockwork moved into my QOTSA #1 spot in 2014 and has never relinquished it. I never thought they'd do anything that'd float my boat as much as Songs for the Deaf did/does, but dagnabbit they sure did. It's as close to a perfect 21st century rock album as I can think of.
post #34 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dalyn View Post

I like that QOTSA album a lot.

You have to forgive me and my knee jerk reaction to your White Stripes post.  I don't know why still at the age of almost 43 I still get snooty, uppity, and reactionary when it comes to people's tastes in music.  That has always been a personality flaw of mine.  Not just music either.  Movies.  TV.  Books.  Man, I was bad in my teens and 20's.  Started getting better in my 30's.  Now I just bug my co-workers about it, but sometimes the old attitude comes back.   And my tastes are usually off from most peoples tastes (especially in here), so I just wind up coming off as that weird, conceited asshole that nobody likes.  I am working on it, though.

I like you Dalyn.

And that counts for A LOT.
post #35 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bucho View Post

This takes me back to why I first fell SO much in love with you Paul C.

 

You needed reminding??

 

Re: Like Clockwork, it took a while to warm to it believe it or not, but these days I agree it's well up there. Just really really well written songs, that get better and smarter the more you hear them.

 

Era Vulgaris can be a bit ramshackle and the debut is a bit basic, but the rest of their records are all top shelf IMO. Not least Lullabies which often gets overlooked but I think is just sublime.

post #36 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul C View Post

The assorted projects of Josh Homme and Omar Rodriquez + Cedric Bixler are the high watermark of 21st century rock IMO.

And that's limiting it to your proper rock rock. If by 'rock' you basically mean popular music with degree of talent and brains there's loads more.

 

The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute is electrifying, it does to tend to waffle but the opening and closing tracks are tremendous.

 

OK Computer is the gateway drug for me where Radiohead is concerned, I never much cared for The Bends but it's a good album. I think In Rainbows get's overlooked, it's a tight, focused, back to basics rock album, there's so much energy on that record. 

post #37 of 46

WAIT! Radiohead released more material after OK Computer? I had no idea. 

post #38 of 46
Much of their best work in fact! This is your lucky day my friend.
post #39 of 46

Massive anniversary boxset and rerelease:

 

http://www.oknotok.co.uk

 

A studio version of Lift at long last!

post #40 of 46
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul C View Post

Much of their best work in fact! This is your lucky day my friend.

 

I respectfully disagree. Other than some random tracks here and there over the years, they effectively ended for me after 1997.

post #41 of 46

...and I'll take the other view. I enjoy all of their material but find the latest stuff just mesmerizing (I think "King of Limbs" is near perfect from beginning to end!)

post #42 of 46

The 20th anniversary set is out today including three 'new' tracks, one of which being Lift, a song I've loved for years and years and years! As it turns out, the studio version is almost identical to the live bootleg that's been floating around forever, but it's nice to finally have it.

 

I always like a bonus disc that's sequenced like a proper album and that's what they've done here. It's basically like a lost 90's Radiohead record, though emphasis on "90's" - while the songs on OKC are timeless, some of the bonus tracks really smack of mid-90's alternative rock, the track Palo Alto especially.

 

I'm happy they've done it like this, though there's a reason why I've never listened to their b-sides that much. They've always been good at saving their A-grade material for the albums, most of this stuff obviously hasn't been slaved over to the same extent.

 

As for the album proper, I gave it a proper listen for the first time in some years and while it's too familiar to have the impact it once did, Let Down on good headphones is as close to audio heaven as I'll ever find.

 

Apparently the box-set version has a cassette with demos and even more rare stuff on it. Roll on that and the Kid A reissue I say...

post #43 of 46
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the notification. Hadn't realized they'd be releasing new(ish) tracks for the 20th anniversary set. Will have to pick it up.

post #44 of 46

Yeah, they've even put out pretty cool videos for two of them:

 

 

post #45 of 46
On a related note, Radiohead absolutely killed it at Glastonbury last night. It's on iplayer for those who can get it. Might be on YouTube too.
post #46 of 46

Yeah, I'm an easy mark for this band but I thought it was superb. All credit to the BBC as well, they put together live DVD-quality recordings of all this stuff on the fly like it's nothing.

 

The setlist was about as crowd pleasing as you could get while also showing off all sides of the band (the one time I saw them it was a notoriously 'deep cuts' show). It's hard to imagine even the strictest 90's-era fans being too disappointed what with Creep and that brilliant version of Fake Plastic Trees.

 

Good times to be a fan!

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