“OK Computer” by Radiohead (No. 37)

OK Computer by Radiohead album coverI don’t consider myself a big Radiohead fan, but OK Computer is just too damn good not to make the list.

OK Computer popped up on my radar sometime after I started aggressively looking for “new” music in the mid-2000s. At some point I realized that I wasn’t buying or listening to new music. New as in “new to me,” whether it was released yesterday, ten years ago, or sixty years ago. The problem was stagnation. I recognized some of OK Computer from college radio, of course – but I hadn’t given the entire thing a play through.

If you follow any of the music mags, you’ll know that OK Computer was widely hailed as the best thing since sliced bread, and then a backlash set in when lots of critics agreed it was overrated. I’m of the opinion they were mostly right the first time.

From the first notes of “Airbag,” I’m hooked. Admittedly, without looking up the lyrics, I’ll be damned if I know what Thom Yorke is singing. I just know that this is some next-level shit musically, that somehow manages to be hard and spacey at the same time, with a driving beat to boot.

The lyrics are clearer on “Paranoid Android,” especially “when I am king, you will be first against the wall \ with your opinion which is of no consequence at all.” Plus, any song that’s titled after Marvin in the Hitchhiker’s Guide books has my attention. The almost metronome-like percussion, acoustic guitar, and… just everything. Radiohead, I hear, don’t love comparisons to Pink Floyd, but I do feel like there are some similarities here. Not that “Paranoid Android” sounds like Floyd, but that it has a lot in common with Roger Waters’ heavy reliance on dynamics in later Floyd albums. Soft, soft, WHAM, soft again, and then complete batshit that almost – but not quite – devolves into chaos.

“Subterranean Homesick Alien” starts out as an ethereal composition, and then builds to a peak wall of sound, and then back down to dreamy keyboards. The piano-drenched, dreamy “Karma Police” is another song that gets stuck in my head for days just about ever time I listen to it.

“Electioneering” is my favorite cut on the album. This one is just straight-up, balls-out, rocking. Look, it even has cowbell! But it’s the guitar hook that and chorus that drive it home.

The only song I go back and forth on is “Fitter Happier” which is a sonic pastiche of computer-read phrases. Sometimes when I put on OK Computer I feel like it fits, but more often than not I end up skipping to the next track. Actually, I usually just delete it from the playlist when I’m adding tracks to my media player.

But one bum track doesn’t derail the entire album for me. (See also, “Revolution No. 9” and The Beatles.) OK Computer is hands down my favorite Radiohead album, and one of my favorites in general.

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