The third album by the British alternative rock band began their departure from the guitar-oriented sound of previous work, as they ventured towards layered sounds influenced by many styles of music, and abstract lyrics, which would form the basis of later work. The lyrics, more focused on modern society and the social well-being of the population, focuses on the themes of isolation and consumerism to showcase how defunct society can be, but inputting many ideas of individuality and the disobeying of rules to showcase how we should live.
The album’s best track, “Paranoid Android”, incorporates numerous forms of musical styling and ideas into its four different sections throughout the track. Without trying to delve into the meaning, the first section is about social alienation, with the second being about mass consumerism and how unethical it makes us, “ambition makes you look pretty ugly. Kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy,” which are the two major themes prevalent in the album. “Subterranean Homesick Alien” continues the social alienation theme, with the song being about feeling out of place and devoid of feeling towards those around you, largely due to yourself being too ‘uptight’ to even acknowledge them, “I live in a town, where you can’t smell a thing. You watch your feet for cracks in the pavement.”
“Exit Music (For a Film)”, contains their strongest intent towards those in control and those who supposedly have power over you, “We hope your rules and wisdom choke you.” Album standout, “Let Down”, is about existential metamorphosis, and choosing to pursue your own identity even when society seems to set a path for you, and although this transformation may not occur without problems, a determination for the idea of freedom keeps Yorke going. “Karma Police” continues their exploration into society, with the song being about ignorance towards your own actions whilst criticizing others, similar to ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.
Then they begin conversing the simple facts of politics on, “Electioneering”, (as the leaders go forwards, the people go backwards) followed by the haunting, “Climbing up the Walls”, which is best seen as if listening through the perspective of madness and insanity before returning to the major themes with probably, the most direct lyric on the record. “No Surprises” narrates about those who were once so rebellious (bring down the government, they don’t, they don’t speak for us), who have now been converted by their resignation to unfulfilling lives and 9-5 jobs, and no longer possess the same ideals; a life with ‘no alarms and no surprises’.
“Lucky”, is another uplifting track by the generally sombre and depressing Radiohead, and it proves to work a treat as both this and “Let Down” are two of the album highlights. Recorded prior to OK Computer, the progressive art rock found here was the first real indication of what Radiohead would later become. The album then closes with “The Tourist”, with what essentially can be seen as the car crash that allows the continuity and loop back to the intro “Airbag”.
The most culturally significant and definitive album of the 90’s, OK Computer paved the way for broader alternative rock to overtake the success of the Britpop movement, before of course, completely abandoning the sound they had just revitalized, with Kid A. The Bends was good, but this album put Radiohead amongst the most important artists of all time, before confirming the status with subsequent releases. Their magnum opus.
Top Songs – “Paranoid Android”, “Let Down”, “Lucky”