Sigmund Fraud’s Sunday Album Reviews #3: OK Computer (1997)

Up until about a month ago I was the type of person to groan at the very mention of Radiohead when talking music with my friends. Sure, I loved some songs off of 1995’s The Bends and of course I thought “Creep” was a masterpiece in middle school but that was about my only exposure to the band’s discography. I thought their music was pretentious, and I thought their fans were even worse. Eventually I finally caved and listened to OK Computer — their most lauded album by far and for a long time the highest rated album on RateYourMusic — just to see what the hype was about.

The hypnotic guitar riffs and blown out drums of “Airbag” immediately drew me in, and I can think of few other opening tracks that catch the listener’s attention as quickly and effectively as this one. After my expectations had been set by the album opener, “Paranoid Android” completely blew them away. The multitextured, eclectic instrumentation couples perfectly with Thom Yorke’s melancholy vocal performance and the jarring, restless arrangement introduces a phrase or idea that gets fleshed out, tossed aside, and then brought back in when you least expect it. “Exit Music (For A Film)” is quite possibly one of the most enchantingly haunting pieces of music ever recorded, and I can’t remember the last time a song provoked such a strong emotional reaction from me than my first time listening to this album. On repeat listenings I still get choked up by this song.

Before you get mad at me for not talking about each and every song on the album, I’m doing this for brevity’s sake. Each and every song on the album is damn near flawless, and I can think of so many good things to say about all of them. The transition from the uncomfortably emotional “Karma Police” into the unnverving interlude “Fitter Happier” into the raw, distorted swing of “Electioneering” is one of the most impeccable examples of sequencing on an album I can think of. There is not a single misplaced song on this album, and even the most jarring tone shifts between songs make sense within the grander context of the album. It all feels like one big mood swing as the characters of this musical world face depression, isolation, and the vapidness of the world. Just when things feel like they’re finally starting to wind down with the melancholy perfection of “No Surprises”, “Lucky” and “The Tourist” pull you right back in and manage to avoid overstaying their welcome.

Holy shit this album is amazing. And I’m not just saying that because legions of music snobs herald this album as a masterpiece or Anthony Fantano ranked this as the #1 Radiohead album, I’m saying this because from start to finish this is one of the most transcendental listening experiences ever committed to tape. As stated earlier, each song occupies its own distinct space while flowing seamlessly with the others. Picking out the best musical aspect of the album is impossible, because everything just works so damn well here, from Thom Yorke’s tender yet forceful vocal delivery to the risks taken with the instrumentation this album is a through and through masterpiece that wastes no time or musical space in getting its messages across.

  • Rating: 10/10 (call my opinion trendy or cliche all you want but it’s true)
  • Favorite track(s): all of them (yes seriously, top three probably goes “Paranoid Android” then “Exit Music” then “Lucky” though)
  • Least favorite track(s): not a single bad track on here

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