Thursday, July 5, 2007

Happy (belated) Birthday, Ok Computer!

Wow, OK Computer. You're 10 years old. Double digits. I remember the first time I saw you at the Meijer in Champaign, Illinois. I bought you that day, having seen the cool animated video of "Paranoid Android" on MTV and also having heard some of the buzz surrounding your release. I listened to you once and put you away, silly me. A month went by and I heard "Let Down" on the radio one day. I rushed home and rescued you from the pile of cds on my desk. Put you into the player for another spin and this time, you grabbed me. Three months went by before you came back out of the cd player. Three months and probably 300 listens. And the only reason you came out then was so that I could lend you to my buddy Henson. I had to by an additional copy because he kept forgetting to give you back to me.

Ok. Enough of that. Seriously, though. OK Computer is 10 years old. Man, where does the time go? The previous paragraph kinda tells the story of how I discovered the album. I still listen to it regularly and what I thought when I really listened to it for the first time still holds true -- "Holy shit," I thought. "This is the best album I've heard since...since I don't know when."

You Frank-o-philes may remember that on my list of Favorite 5 Albums of All Time, OK Computer was not Number 1. Since I lost all of my old posts in the redesign, I'll provide the list sans wordy explanations:

1. Revolver by The Beatles
2. Deconstruction by Deconstruction
3. OK Computer by Radiohead
4. Gentlemen by Afghan Whigs
5. Angel Dust by Faith No More

Actually, I just re-wrote history there. Originally, I had 1 and 2 switched and I think I left FNM out of the list. They deserved to be up there though. Angel Dust meant a lot to me.

Anyway, Deconstruction came out in 1995 and OK Computer in 1997. Still, to me, OK Computer remains the best album since probably Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). What's this, you say? Sgt. Pepper's... isn't on the list? Well, it's not my favorite Beatles album, but it's probably their best from an overall standpoint.

Long story short, OK Computer is a phenomenal album. Life-altering, provided you're the type whose life can be altered by listening to music. Start to finish, its vision is clear and relevant. Each song builds on the last until at the end, the only place left to go is back to the start. Of course, this makes sense because the story is cyclical -- it begins with a car crash ("Airbag") and ends/begins again with a dangerous car ride ("Hey, man! Slow down! Idiot, slow down!" from "The Tourist").

For the sake of going on and on, here are some notes on each song:

1. "Airbag" Listen to it with headphones on. The opening guitar riff is doubled in one of the channels with a cello. Awesome. Also, dig the in-the-pocket bass line. Great stuff.

2. "Paranoid Android" Check out the bass drum line from the very start of the song. It foreshadows the rhythm of the noiser, uptempo riff that begins with the "You don't remember, you don't remember, why don't you remember my name..." verse. And when the song melts into the "Rain down..." finish, it's soft and cozy like a pillow. But kinda creepy.

3. "Subterranean Homesick Alien" It's great how busy the melodies are in this song. Descending during the verses and climbing during the refrains. Really intricate.

4. "Exit Music (For a Film)" Two things: 1 - this was actually the music over the end credits of the not very good, but not very bad movie "Angus." 2 - When the fuzz bass comes in this song goes from pretty cool to otherworldly.

5. "Let Down" Hands down, one of the best songs ever. Beautiful and melancholy, but reaching for hopefulness in the final section. Also, check out the vocals in that last part. There's a wordless melody Thom Yorke sings out of the line "...floor collapsing, floating/bouncing back and one day" as one ov the vocal tracks continues the lyric. His voice climbs and slides like a violin. It's stunning.

6. "Karma Police" Nice enough song. One thing that's interesting is that it borrows the downward progression from America's "Lonely People."

7. "Fitter Happier" You either like this song or hate it.

8. "Electioneering" A nice straight-ahead rocker. Cool riff.

9. "Climbing Up the Walls" So creepy. The strangled vocals are startling.

10. "No Surprises" Like a lullabye. In fact, the rendition of this song on the "Rockabye Baby!" Radiohead disc sounds almost exactly like the original. Calming.

11. "Lucky" The crying guitar line beneath the refrain couldn't be more perfect for the song. Incidentally, this is a recurring theme of the album --> every musical decision is a perfect fit song by song for the length of the album.

12. "The Tourist" As I said earlier, this is where it comes full circle. It's hard to hear this song and not start the album back at the beginning.

As I was writing that list it dawned on me that one of the best things I could say about the album, and one of the reasons I feel it's so great, is that it is really meant to be listened to as a complete work. How many albums is this true of anymore?

Frank out.

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