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The Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke impishly said of “,” his band’s critically enshrined 1997 multiplatinum album, that he wanted “to make a record that you could sit down and eat to in a nice restaurant, a record that would be cool and be part of the furniture.” In a way, Radiohead succeeded, despite itself. Sure, the album created a restless, chilly roar of alienation, but it also wrapped you in a group hug of conflicted yearning that gradually drifted into just plain yearning – lovely and melancholy. Yorke’s wail and Jonny Greenwood’s guitar were nothing if not au courant, artfully distorting a deep catalog of references.“OK Computer” has a reputation as a sprawling dystopian reckoning, a commentary on the time’s relentlessly digitizing means of production by thrashing those very means. It’s an album of the proper sort – striving towards a narrative of sound and vision.
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If you wish, there are treatises to consult on this matter. Ultimately, the record serves as Radiohead’s sturdiest argument for itself as one of rock’s most thoughtful and sonically compelling bands, a claim that critics and fans have made consistently since its release 20 years ago.Here, an audio guide to the album’s 12 songs, plus what came before, and what came after. It’s the sound of rock being treated as a virus in urgent need of decoding.All music previews and full tracks provided by. One of Radiohead’s ambitions on “OK Computer” was to smudge the dissolute riffs of ’90s alternative rock with electronic dance music (an impulse it fully explored on later albums “Kid A” and “Amnesiac”). Here, Jonny Greenwood’s ominous guitar (plus Mellotron) is brightened by Ed O’Brien’s sparklier second guitar and hurtled forward by an erratic cut-up of Phil Selway’s drums into a spastic breakbeat that later transforms into a smeared, digital turntable scratch.
Yorke, meanwhile, emotes, mostly wordlessly, about death, rebirth and car accidents. For a song in which the most memorable lyrics are about a bug being crushed on the ground – “shell smashed, juices flowing/wings twitch, legs are going” – “Let Down” is perhaps the band’s pinnacle of sheer melodic beauty.
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Ascending its shimmering, surging tower of guitar, Mr. Yorke’s voice bends into an elastic moan, but there’s an undeniably uplifting, redemptive sentiment, even as he cries, “Don’t get sentimental, it always ends up drivel.” It’s quintessentially Britpop in sound, but with little of the coked-out, neo-liberal triumphalism.