Album Review: Radiohead's 'OK Computer,' Two Decades Later

Album Review: Radiohead's 'OK Computer,' Two Decades Later

From "Nirvana Lite" to "Paranoid Android."
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Looking back 20 years later, several things should come to mind from 1997, stirring modern emotions. The death of Princess Diana, The Heaven's Gate mass suicide, and the rising influence of Microsoft are only a few highlights. These events all caused a sense of paranoia and subtle fear for the turn of the century, but no public soul had been bold enough to voice this disturbance — until a formerly obscure band decided to embody these emotions in a modern giant of an album.

Along with the more pressing matters of the year, it became so blatantly evident that the alternative rock algorithm made so successful by grunge and Britpop had begun to sour, and every band surfacing in this stagnant era sounded so miserably like the other one. Radiohead, a band dubbed “Nirvana lite” at this time, was no anomaly to this pattern in their early years. Their debut album, “Pablo Honey,” was indistinguishable from the pile of manufactured grunge and Britpop albums at the time, and the band behaving as insincere and uncouth as their contemporaries. This stigma was rather replaced than broken with their sophomore effort “The Bends,” a rather formative and more mature album, but one filled with cheap sob-songs and sentimental milking.


This only makes it harder to explain how Radiohead, a joke of a band at the time, managed to speak to the philosophers and music connoisseurs of the era, yet they did. After 2 years of heavily tapping into more unconventional influences like Miles Davis, DJ Shadow, and the later, more experimental work of The Beatles, Radiohead set out to find a "dense, terrifying sound" unlike any other. Lead singer Thom Yorke's lyrics became more abstract, pulling from slogans, social critique and an area of his conscience he previously chose to keep tucked away, and lead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood set out to arrange music in more obscure styles and for a more diverse array of instrument. They didn't only achieve their goal in writing their 3rd album, "OK Computer," they also revolutionized the music scene and the minds of their listeners alike.

Though their previous albums were heavily flawed, one thing was made apparent: Radiohead always knew how to successfully open an album, setting the bar far too high on "Pablo Honey" with the fiery "You" and smoothly opening "The Bends" with the atmospheric, synth-driven "Planet Telex." "Airbag" wiped the floor with the two aforementioned songs, both foreshadowing and exhibiting the musical ingenuity that would make up "OK Computer."

Dealing abstractly with the ecstasy of surviving a car accident and claiming another day of life, "Airbag" is a burst of energy from every perspective. This feeling of profound joy bleeds from the fingertips of each members' finger, leading to a stellar performance from the entire band ranging from a looped drum track punctuated by a scarce bass riff to the lush guitars that cushion Yorke's vocals. From the rejuvenating guitar riff that opens the song to the sighs of relief that bring it to a close, "Airbag" breathes life into OK Computer.

The otherworldly tone of "Airbag" quickly turns more introspective, sarcastic and obscure with the album's leading single and second track, "Paranoid Android." Taking influence from the lacing together of several small songs on The Beatle's "Happiness is a Warm Gun," and Yorke's observations of uncouth people acting up in public bars, the song fashions itself as a triple-sectioned journey through the mind of a disturbed, delusional Thom Yorke and the ramblings of a pissed-off supercomputer.

The song begins with a vibrant, suspenseful acoustic guitar accompanied by Jonny Greenwood's flanger pedal, setting a satirical mood as Yorke rambles on about the "unborn chicken voices" in his head, and later threatens obnoxious listeners with execution before the song breaks down into its progressive middle section. After a few clam measures of acoustic guitar and further taunting lyrics, the song brings itself to an abrupt halt as Yorke sneer's "Off with his head, man!" Jonny Greenwood then cuts through with a tremolo guitar riff that staggers, gains speed and promptly brings the section to an end. The final section of the song slowly descends through a solitary acoustic guitar and choral mellotron, before one final stanza of Yorke's cynical imagery ends with a mocking promise that "God loves his children," and the song erupts into one last guitar-driven explosion.

While the opening tracks showcase Radiohead's ability to make colorful tracks rich with volume and liveliness, the two songs following "Paranoid Android," among a handful of others throughout the album, prove to be equally innovative and impactful. Inspired by Bob Dylan's storytelling and the refined chaos of Mile Davis' "Bitches Brew," tracks like "Subterranean Homesick Alien" and "The Tourist" see Yorke at a point of social isolation atop Greenwood's slowly-perspirating guitar work.

"Exit Music (For a Film)" starts just as calm as the aforementioned songs, as Yorke mumbles over a few soft chords, but a droning mellotron warns the listener that something much bigger is soon to come. The second verse of "Exit Music" brings the song to a brutal climax as Thom slides up to his high register and wails over a distorted wall of synthesizers. A very important moment of silence follows this track, one that serves as a pallet cleanser in between a song so sinister and the most elegant, tear-inducing track Radiohead has ever written.

In theory, "Let Down" shouldn't work as a song. The vocal melody is repetitive and sluggish, and the song features a rather stagnant bridge. It's a simple number on paper, but the beauty in the composition of "Let Down" is found both in Greenwood's lush, shimmering guitar arpeggios that surround the rambling's of a very disappointed and, for lack of a better term, let down Thom Yorke. The lead guitar system plays infinitely through the song, as the added harmonies and layered guitars only add a tenderness to Thom's disenchanted lamentation. Though the lyrics maintain that "Let Down" isn't sentimental song, it's hard not to shed a tear as Thom's glistening, double-tracked harmonies cause the once grounded track to take flight in a triumphant, heart-wrenching manner.

"Karma Police" is another song, like "Let Down," that exceeds the expectations of the listener when they choose to look closer. Though it should read as a simple song, the pulling between two different chord sequences in the first verse, the lack of a distinct chorus, and Jonny Greenwood's piano playing only the skeleton of a melody all give "Karma Police" a more nuanced, ghastly tone. The lyrics, stemming from an inside joke between the members of Radiohead, depict a comical representation Yorke's social commentary in relation to a fictional police force, tasked with enforcing the laws of Karma. Yorke taps into a more sinister delivery in the second verse of the song, and the piano melody counters this with a delicate sampling of the Beatles' "Sexy Sadie." Furthermore, "Karma Police" demonstrates the ability something as simple as a sarcastic phrase and mold it into such an eerie, thought-provoking piece of music.

As manipulated feedback quite literally melts Karma Police to an end, the album enters its second half, beginning with "Fitter Happier," a computer-generated rambling of slogans that suggests either the ramblings of a frantic Thom Yorke or a malfunctioning computer. "Fitter Happier" sets the mood for a much darker second half of "OK Computer," with the exception of the spunky, tongue-in-cheek rock song, "Electioneering." What's left after these two tracks are among the most brooding and misanthropic.

"Climbing Up the Walls" embodies this newfound bleakness, drawing influence from avant-garde string arrangements and Thom Yorke's former job in a mental institutions. The murky verses of "Climbing Up the Walls" see Yorke's malicious confessions through a quivering falsetto, as a bass synth, radio transmission and atonal strings all alternate swelling beneath the hollow rhythm. This disturbing structure shatters, giving way to a terrifying symphony of pure noise, as Jonny Greenwood's strings crescendo and screech, Yorke lets out a bloodcurdling scream, and an ethereal, yet piercing sound is heard from above, not unlike the ones martinet, an instrument Greenwood would later master. The darkness turns more emotionally trying going into "No Surprises," an anomaly of a song that expresses the monotonous routine of the typical, 9-to-5 working individual through a drowsy, baroque-pop lullaby lead by Jonny Greenwood's glockenspiel composition.

Sitting at the tail-end of "OK Computer" is the song responsible for Radiohead's initial shift in creativity, and perhaps just as powerful as the more eccentric tracks preceding it. Years before the band had written for "OK Computer," "Lucky" was recorded spontaneously for the collaborative "Help Album" charity, and the band agreed that it was the best piece of music they had written at that point. "Lucky" still stands out on "OK Computer" as a grating, sarcastic anti-ballad rich with raked, manipulated guitar chords, droning mellotron and a bass riff that tugs at the song's tight structure. The song levitates in its chorus with an airy guitar solo, something very uncommon for Jonny Greenwood.

"Lucky" could have made the perfect ending for the album for two reasons, both lyrically and musically clever: "Lucky's" lyrics are synonymous with the subject matter of "Airbag," but handles surviving an automobile crash much differently, actually mocking the jubilance of "Airbag". The song also ends on a musical punchline, as Yorke claims he "won't leave you standing on the edge," but never resolves from his final suspended chord. Instead of ending on "Lucky," however, Radiohead opted to bring things to a more natural end with "The Tourist," a fluid, guitar-driven track recounting a bit of social commentary from Jonny Greenwood, and reminding the listener to "Slow Down" and pay attention to detail.

The album ended with the quiet ringing of a bell, but the silence afterword was only prolonged by the unanimous gasp of music critics, listeners and competing musicians alike. Nothing like "OK Computer" had been done before, and nothing this triumphant and groundbreaking was expected in such a stagnant music scene. In a fashion only achieved by "Sgt. Peppers" in the past, "OK Computer" was granted immediate acclaim from every critic, and is now still regarded as the last "classic" album ever to be recorded. Needless to say, the "Nirvana lite" moniker was dropped, and replaced with more fitting terms.

More importantly, "OK Computer" helped establish Radiohead's true musical identity, encouraging Yorke, Greenwood and the others to dive headfirst into even more uncharted musical territory. Now, more musically ambitious albums like "Kid A" have cemented Radiohead's position as creative pioneers, and fans now argue that "OK Computer" was only the tip of the iceberg. Whether or not this is true, it's impossible to deny that Radiohead found themselves on their legendary 3rd record, and that "OK Computer" is anything short of a modern masterpiece.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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37 Drake Lyrics From 'Scorpion' That Will Make Your Next Instagram Caption Go Double Platinum

Side A makes you want to be single, Side B make you want to be boo'd up.

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We all knew Scorpion was going to be the summer banger we wanted. However, Drake surprised us with two sides of an album and two sides of himself. Mixing rap and R&B; was genius on his part, so why not dedicate 37 of his lyrics to our Instagram captions?

1. "Don't tell me how knew it would be like this all along" — Emotionless

Definitely a "I'm too good" for you vibe.

2. "My mentions are jokes, but they never give me the facts" — Talk Up

This one's for my haters.

3. "I wanna thank God for workin' way harder than Satan" — Elevate

For when you're feeling blessed.

4. "I promise if I'm not dead then I'm dedicated" — March 14

In Drake's story about his son the world knows about now, we get a lyric of true love and dedication

5. "My Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions" — Survival

6. "Pinky ring 'til I get a wedding ring" — Nonstop

7. "I gotta breathe in real deep when I catch an attitude" — 8 Out of 10

This first line of the song is about to be spread on the gram like a wildfire

8. "Heard all of the talkin', now it's quiet, now it's shush" — Mob Ties

9. "California girls sweeter than pieces of candy" — Sandra's Rose

This is gonna have every girl who has ever stayed in Cali all hot and heavy, watch it.

10. "I think you're changing your mind, starting to see it in your eyes" — Summer Games

Y'all know how these summer games go

11. "Look the new me is really still the real me" — In My Feelings

When you've got to profess that you've changed 200%

12. "Only beggin' that I do is me beggin' your pardon" — Is There More

13. "Shifted your focus, lens lookin' jaded" — Jaded

14. "Back and forth to Italy, my comment section killin' me" — Can't Take a Joke

Necessary for when you've got people hyping you up already

15. "People are only as tough as they phone allows them to be" — Peak

Y'all can't have this one, I'm stealing it

16. "Work all winter, shine all summer" — That's How You Feel

Put in the work so you can flex on 'em, summer 18

17. "Blue faces, I got blue diamonds, blue tint, yeah" — Blue Tint


18. "I stay busy workin' on me" — Elevate

19. "Ten of us, we movin' as one" — Talk Up

The perfect reason to get the largest group picture you've had on your gram

20. "October baby for irony sake, of course" — March 14

This statistically applies to 1/12 of y'all reading this, so take that as you will (we October babies are the best)

21. "She had an attitude in the summer but now she nice again" — Blue Tint

22. "I know you special girl 'cause I know too many" — In My Feelings


23. "Gotta hit the club like you hit them, hit them, hit them angles" — Nice for What

24. "She said 'Do you love me?' I tell her, 'Only partly,' I only love my ____ and my ____ I'm sorry" — God's Plan

If you haven't used this one yet, get to it

25. "But I'm blessed I just checked, hate me never met me in the flesh" — I'm Upset

26. "It's only good in my city because I said so" — 8 Out of 10

Follow this up with a location and shoutout your hometown

27. "My haters either on they way to work or they arrived" — Can't Take a Joke

28. "I always need a glass of wine by sundown" — Final Fantasy

Has Drake ever been more relatable?

29. "It's your f***in' birthday. Happy birthday" — Ratchet Happy Birthday

Let's go get kicked out of an Applebee's

30. "I move through London with the Eurostep" — Nonstop


31. "I stopped askin' myself and I started feelin' myself" — Survival

Mood all summer 18

32. "They keep tryna' get me for my soul" — I'm Upset

33. "I'm tryna see who's there on the other end of the shade" — Emotionless

34. "Only obligation is to tell it straight" — Elevate

35. "It don't matter to me what you say" — Don't Matter to Me


This line from the King of Pop (MJ) will give you chills. R.I.P.

36. "I'm the chosen one, flowers never pick themselves" — Sandra's Rose

37. "Say you'll never ever leave from beside me" — In My Feelings

Couple goals, amirite?

Cover Image Credit:

@champagnepapi / Instagram

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It Is Pointless To Pity The Homeless

Guilt is the silent killer of political action.

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Two summers ago, when I was an intern at The Father McKenna Center in Washington DC, I met Jason, who was homeless. I had just finished closing the shelter's computer lab for the evening, and the attendees of the AA meeting in the shelter's cafeteria had started to say their goodbyes and disperse until next week. As I was leaving to take the subway home, and as he was leaving to walk back to his encampment, wherever it may have been, Jason and I converged with each other at the front door of the shelter, and we introduced ourselves to each other.

Jason had two children, aged four and six, both of whom were protected from him under custody by his former wife. She had made the decision to divorce him because of his drug use, which posed a danger to the couple's children. (Jason did not hesitate to admit to this.) Shortly after the separation from his family, he became homeless. He had a high school degree and some former experience doing construction work. Aged into his mid 30's with minimal employment, Jason had been struggling to find a job for years.

As we walked, he told me about his kids, and how sometimes he hears about them during occasional phone calls with his wife. For a moment, he turned his head to look at me in my eyes, and he quietly told me about how proud he was of his daughters for completing the first and third grades of elementary school.

If you are homeless, it takes an immense amount of courage to make the commitment to go to a homeless shelter. I believe that the one thing that most people struggle with, homeless or not, is the challenge of confronting one's own demons. Jason had demons, luggage, regrets, and so on - I had those too. Jason had first stepped at The Father McKenna Center shortly before I began my internship. As I performed the duties of my internship, Jason and I, together, experienced a great turbulence in our individual missions to confront our demons; and with that turbulence came sobriety. Not relief or improvement, but sobriety. True self-improvement is a year-long commitment, but self-awareness is a skill which can be utilized at any time.

Jason and I spoke several times throughout my internship. One of the last interactions I had with his before I completed my term happened again at the front entrance of the shelter. He told me that after years of searching, he had found the initiative to apply for a job. "Even though she and I needed to go our own ways," he said, "I still want to show my wife that I care about her. We're not married, but I still want to provide for her and the kids. I don't know how they feel about me, but I want to show my daughters that I am still their father, and that I love them."

When I started my internship at the shelter, I genuinely believed that I would come out of it depressed and disillusioned. But I learned to look beyond the misfortune and suffering, and with that perspective, I started to find more and more inspiration in the facets of life by which I had previously felt discouraged and depressed. I have not seen Jason in two summers, but I think about him every day, for strength.

Say, for instance, that you start to feel as though the daily grind of your summer job is starting to become too monotonous. Us undergrads are tirelessly told by our advisors that the best possible use of our time during the summer, outside of college and other than working for pay, is time spent volunteering and building up our resumes. After some online research and phone calls, you break down your volunteering options to three different nonprofit organizations in your area: Your first option is to spend 3-5 hours once a week helping a local community center care for its flower garden, fresh herb greenhouse, and wildlife sanctuary. Your second option is to spend Tuesday and Thursday evenings bathing, petting, and reading storybooks to all the dogs and cats at a nonprofit rescue shelter. Your third option is to spend 5 hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at an inner-city homeless shelter and rehabilitation center for men who have been recently released from prison.

This where the conflict begins. Deep inside, you know that volunteering at the men's shelter is, in your opinion, the most valuable kind of work you can do. Human beings require more attention than plants and pets. Humans beings need to be kind to each other, and so, you may want to volunteer at the shelter.

The problem is certainly not that nobody wants to volunteer at homeless shelters. I consider myself an optimist, and I still think that the majority of people living in the United States wish to care for and support each other. The true problem is that even when a good-minded, empathetic, caring person wants to offer their kindness to the homeless, there are layers upon layers of illusions, false impressions, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and (most importantly), miscommunications which prevent them from doing so. What must truly be addressed is not how much attention is being paid to homelessness, but how attention is paid. There are many kinds of layers of illusion; the majority of them are certainly racial illusion. A vast number are economic. Others, however, are emotional. A lot are just flat-out moral as well.

The growing epidemic of homelessness, as an affliction, is the product of political injustice, racist systems, and greed. But the homeless lifestyle itself, however, is not political in nature. Homeless people are not statistics in a study, neither are they variables in a social equation. Homelessness is a daily struggle for a human life, and those who are homeless suffer. They are as emotional and as sentient as the well-off office workers who pelt them with quarters as though they're fountains.

Understanding homelessness is especially hard for people on the polar opposite side of the social/economic spectrum from the homeless. It is somehow harder for a wealthy and educated person to understand homelessness than it is for someone from lower-class origins to do so. As I said before, I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people on this Earth have the moral initiative to help those less fortunate - but this initiative is excessively overridden by the reflexive tendency most people have to compare and juxtapose themselves. This act of reflexive juxtaposition is what scares most people away from homeless shelters.

Call it what you want - "juxtaposition" is not the only word one can use to describe this feeling. Some people might call themselves "overqualified." From a political perspective, some have referred to it as "white guilt." Regardless of what you call it, it is reflexive. Homeless people, just upon sight, are registered with labels and false truths. The visceral, instinctive reaction to a homeless person is "Look forward, walk firm, and don't make eye contact." This is what needs to change.

In western society, people who grow up privileged - with parents, shelter, an education, and relationships - are subconsciously taught, unintentionally encouraged, and silently conditioned by the people around them to treat the homeless with, above all else, pity. The etiquette of reacting to a homeless person suggests something of a "passive melancholy." Like I mentioned before, under this mannerism of avoidant sorrow, homelessness is not a condition of life. It is a political symbol. The stumbling beggar in the subway and the raggedy busker on the street corner are effectively dehumanized by default; as long as they are evidently homeless, their role in the social dynamic of these public places is automatically different from yours and mine. The status of homelessness completely nullifies - no, prevents - a person's worthiness and rightful entitlement to human attribution, and without mercy, they are turned into something which is not human: a figure which is nothing but a representation of itself.

After years of riding the bus and subway, I have become aware of several different categories in which the people around me fit; I see the day laborers, who are categorized by being older men, clad in paint-stained construction pants, functioning in close-knit groups of six or seven. I see the government employees, who are categorized by the loudness of their gazes of exhaustion, directionless and unfixed, garbed in outdated albeit notably well-fitted suits, bland floral blouses, sky-blue button downs, the incredible pant suits, and khakis, and khakis, and khakis. I see the college-aged summertime interns running coffee for politicians who never remember their names, and they, too, are categorized; specifically by their calculated movements, blatantly artificial exteriors, and the endearing aura of simultaneous youthful naivety and capitalistic millennial-themed ambition (they also act like they know where they're going, when really, they don't, but they never stop to ask for directions). I see the mothers, the trust-fund white kids from Gonzaga, the beatniks from Howard, the Reagan-bound luggage-bearing vagabonds, the punks, the academics, the racists, the anarchists, the activists, the drunks, the wandering, the sleeping, and of course, the emblematic tourists in their MAGA hats, graphic tees, and jorts.

What kind of a response is demanded of those who choose to protect the weak? How are the wounded addressed by the healers? How should I talk to someone who suffers? The photographers, the journalists, and the volunteers cannot hope to rile a revolution alone. Neither can the teachers hope to raise a generation freed from toxicity alone, nor can the young politicians on the Hill hope to deliver their country to safety and stability alone. The problem of homelessness can be addressed, as can it be confronted, observed, studied, and journalized. Don't get me wrong, though - this type of action is deeply important: The awareness of a problem creates an opportunity for its solution. But the raising of awareness is not enough. The confrontation of our reality is not enough. To take the first step beyond awareness is to give attention to those who are in need of it; to attend to the weak and the wounded, and to act for their protection and their healing. In the words of the French revolutionary Simone Weil: "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."


Song suggestion: LCD Soundsystem - American Dream

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Paul J. RIchards/Getty Images

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