I’ve observed a nugget of embarrassment buried in the latest avalanche of crucial reappraisals and retroactive interrogations of Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” a record that was launched in 1997 and is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this summer. Critics (and a few enthusiasts) approached its reappearance with trepidation—as though we have been all approximately to be robust-armed into the reckoning with our pretentious and over-critical past selves. As if someone had just slid an unmarked manila envelope below the door, and it contained photographic evidence of that one time we Scotch Taped a poster of Nietzsche to our dorm-room ceiling, with instructions to await besides note. Even Thom Yorke, the band’s singer, has been nearly sheepish when discussing its legacy. “The entire album is truly fucking geeky,” he lately advised Rolling Stone.
To mark the anniversary, the band has just released “OKNOTOK,” which incorporates a remastered model of the unique album, plus eight B-sides and three formerly unreleased tracks: “I Promise,” “Man of War,” and “Lift.” (Besides, a special vinyl version, available in July, will offer a hardcover art ebook, a group of Yorke’s notes, a sketchbook of what the band is asking its “preparatory work,” and a cassette tape containing demos and extra session recordings.) None of the extraneous cloth is precisely revelatory—stay versions of “Lift” and “I Promise” had been drifting about the Internet for years—though it does help complete a portrait of a band backing in opposition to itself, and gaining knowledge of how to specify its worry effectively.
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By the time the band commenced writing “OK Computer,” Radiohead had already released excellent guitar records (“Pablo Honey,” in 1993, and “The Bends,” in 1995), but it turned into now not yet clear that it’d be the band to rewire all and sundry’s expectancies of modern rock. Still, there has been a wildness to the early work. I keep in mind watching the video for Radiohead’s first single, “Creep,” overdue one night time on MTV’s “120 Minutes,” and whispering whatever the thirteen-12 months-antique equal of “What in tarnation!” is. The video starts benignly sufficient a cluster of lanky, sunken young men, a mopey progression. Then the guitarist Jonny Greenwood increases a bony arm, slams out two scabrous chords, and a maniacal-searching Yorke starts of evolved wailing like someone who decided to jog down a hill, most effective to discover he couldn’t control how fast his legs have been going.
“What the hell am I doing here?” he shrieks. I had by no means heard depression articulated pretty so evidently. Even now, “Creep” stays the high-quality-tune I know approximately the inertia of disappointment. Yorke changed into twenty-seven whilst working on “OK Computer” and just coming off several years of traveling. (“I was essentially catatonic,” he advised Rolling Stone. “The claustrophobia—simply having no experience of fact at all.”) Though Yorke insists that “OK Computer” changed into inspired by using the dislocation and paranoia of non-prevent tour, it’s now in large part understood as a report about how unchecked consumerism and an overreliance on technology can lead to automation and, subsequently, alienation (from ourselves; from each other).
The disparity among these matters—the concept that everybody has gone on believing that the file is set the rise of machines, whilst Yorke keeps telling us it’s about how plenty he hated traveling the arena in a dumb bus—is captivating, and as a minimum partly as a consequence of the record’s fretful instrumentation. (Its lyrics are summary sufficient to fit just about any imagined narrative.)