Radiohead: OK Computer

British rock group Radiohead’s third studio album, OK Computer, is one of the most influential albums of the last 15 years. Initial recording was done at a converted country shed, but the bulk of the album was recorded at actress Jane Seymour’s mansion in England, with most of the recording being done live by the whole band, an increasingly rare concept in recording pop music. Lyrically, the album deals with the empty values of modern life, with themes of social isolation, political discontent, unbridled consumerism, mental illness, and death. Musically, the album is an incredible sonic pastiche of styles, drawing on such disparate influences as the Beach Boys, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima.

Although their record label viewed it as artistic suicide due to the subject matter and challenging musical vocabulary, OK Computer debuted at #1 in Great Britain in the summer of 1997. It has reached multi-platinum status in several countries, won a Grammy Award, and has been named to many important industry lists, including Rolling Stone and Time magazine. Q Magazine pronounced it to be the greatest album in the history of the world. The influence of this album in the musical community has been enormous, paving the way for the success of similar sounding bands like Coldplay, Muse, and Snow Patrol. Classical pianist Christopher O’Riley has released two solo piano albums of Radiohead songs, including many selections from OK Computer. Composer and former conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic,  Esa-Pekka Salonen remarked after hearing it, “I understand what these people are trying to do.’ And what they were trying was not so drastically different from what I was trying to do.”

“I’d tell all my friends, but they’d never believe me. They’d think that I’d finally lost it completely. I’d show them the stars and the meaning of life. They’d shut me away, but I’d be all right. I’m just uptight.” – from Subterranean Homesick Alien

Whether or not Radiohead is “the only band that matters,” as their record company has maintained, is a matter of opinion. However, the message the band offers as a reflection of Post-modern Western society certainly packs a punch and OK Computer helped establish them as one of the most important artistic voices in music. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Viewing:

Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy. (Documentary of Radiohead’s tour in support of OK Computer.)

Suggested Reading:

Brandon Forbes & George Reisch (eds.) Radiohead And Philosophy.

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