Radiohead – The Bends… a swift listen

Over the last couple of years I have been listening to a lot of music online.  Streaming the 010100101010000111111s.  But recently I have taken a step back from the new, the fresh, the vital and I’ve been basking in the dusty, spinning black circles of music history.  I actually think it’s having a positive influence on my own recorded output as I’ve been putting a nostalgic bent on the new Eleventh Hour tracks – but more on that another day!

I so enjoyed listening and commenting on Abbey Road as it played I thought I’d do something similar with the next record in the rack.  And that accolade goes to…. /spins chair around and grabs next album in line… hmmmm.  Interesting.  The Bends by Radiohead.  Ha ha!  Discussions of Radiohead can be more than your life’s worth!

So… needle dropped.  Planet Telex.  I remember buying the single.  I think it was a double A-side.  Planet Telex and High and Dry.  I remember reading an article in a student magazine at the time where Thom Yorke was saying that High and Dry was “for the masses” and Planet Telex was the song the band really wanted people to take notice of.  I recall being somewhat offended by the comment.  And I still do to a certain degree.  Look… I think Planet Telex is a great song, a great influential song.  But I also happen to think High and Dry is pretty perfect.  Now, in hindsight, was Thom really slating High and Dry or was he just doing that thing that people do where they put down their own song as if it was soooooo easy to write?  So everyone else thinks… ‘wow, he must be amazing if he can write songs that good that he actually hates but we all love’.  Ha ha!  Or was he just a very contrary character.  Well… you know what… knowing what we know now it was probably a little of all of them.  But I think High and Dry is a high point and it was annoying to hear it being slagged off by its writer before I’d even heard it!

Radiohead meant a lot to the kids of my generation.  Especially the kids in bands at the time that this album came out.  It was a rosy time for the British music industry and epoch defining albums were being spewed out at a phenomenal rate.  But Radiohead always seemed that little bit more interesting than the others.  They were already a very contrary band.  A band that was so dismissive of its biggest hit to date, Creep.  A band that was always on the clever side of intellectual.  And Radiohead seemed so close to home.  Thom Yorke had gone to Uni just up the road from me.  I knew one of his ex-girlfriends.  They just seemed touchable… you know… within a whiskers grasp.  Then. Not now!

I managed to type right through a couple of songs there! Ha ha!  Anyway… High and Dry is playing now.  And I still think it’s one of the best songs Radiohead have ever pulled out of the hat.  Thom would probably smack me in the face for even suggesting it.  I kind of understand his position.  He genuinely wants to push boundaries.  He wants to be cutting edge.  Perhaps he felt a little embarrassed about the direction the band had taken in those early years.  All bleached hair and U2-isms.  Big songs.  Big ballads.  Acoustic guitars.  Quiet-loud-quiet dynamics.  Well… Thom it’s all here in spades.  Fake Plastic Trees is playing now.  This is the song that got all the plaudits.  For me it’s not quite up there with High and Dry but I notice that over the years the band haven’t been so coy about this track.  They seem prepared to admit it’s their song.  So sometimes a big acoustic song is alright then?  Ha ha!  Got you.

I know Thom used to DJ at Uni and was very much into the acid house scene.  I think Kid A probably gave him a much greater sense of achievement than this album. But Kid A couldn’t have happened without The Bends.  For it is this album that created Radiohead.  Without it they would have been the band that wrote Creep.  They would have been an EMF or a Charlatans.  The Bends changed the story.  Or it at least turned the page.  I suppose OK Computer not only furthered the story but actually relocated the whole damn library.

Listening to this album now it sounds relatively straightforward.  I have always held it in supremely high regard and it does still sound fighting fit… but I’m not too keen on the song currently playing.  Perhaps it says something for the album that I’m going to have to reach over for the sleeve to see what this song’s called.  Bones.  Hmmmm.  Not really feeling this song.  I suppose on a CD I might skip it but I’m sitting here enjoying the fact that the record is playing under the record player cover and it would be far too much of a task to ‘skip a track’.  And anyway… an album is an album.  You stick with it through the good and the bad.  And so far this album has been pretty good.

It’s actually hard for me to be objective about The Bends.  As I’ve already said, it hit me at the ‘correct’ moment in my life.  I needed this album.  And unlike the rest of the world I never needed the follow-up.  I think the typical ‘reviewer’ defines Radiohead as pre-OK Computer and post-OK Computer.   But OK Computer is always the fixed point in time.  The perfect album created by their perfect head-music band.  OK Computer didn’t have the same relevance for me.   I think I’m happier thinking of Radiohead as a cascading series of ever more eclectic waves.  We are the shore.

I was getting into some A-level style creative writing there!  Ha ha.  But I notice de duh shhhe de duh shhhe de duh shhhe de duh shhhe the needle is going round and round.  Time to turn the record over.

Hey this is more like it.  Just.  This brings back memories.  Remember MTV2?  I used to watch that channel all the bloody time.  And this video was on all the time.  Great video.  Intriguing video.  Anyone who hasn’t seen it – stop reading and YouTube it now!  Great quiet LOUD quiet song this.  Kind of defines the moment.  We were in the aftermath of grunge and this style of music was very much in vogue.  But Radiohead brought another slant to the style.  The guitarist playing those fast repetitive guitar stabs whilst wearing that plastic brace thing on his arm.  Honestly his guitar style was so influential.  You hear it everywhere.  You hear it in my music.  You hear it in Muse.  You hear it everywhere.

My Iron Lung.  I’m sure this was on an EP released before The Bends?  In any case, I’m not going to stray and Wikipedia anything.  I am writing this as the album plays and when it finishes I finish.  The ultimate time constraint.

So far I’ve got to say that Side 2 is kicking arse.  Big stylee!  Such great guitar work in this song.  And what a frenetic break in the middle.  Just an obelisk of a song.  This track has monkeys gathering around it aimlessly clanking bones about.  But one of those monkeys is gonna throw that bone in the air. . .

What I notice now with the space of 17 years is the varied ‘textures’ of this album.  I can hear the electronica that was to come.  I think The Bends is more of a defining moment for Radiohead than the historians would have you believe.

I like Thom’s vocals on this album.  He still had to sing at this point.  I mean sing in the traditional sense.  The band still had to achieve success.  Pablo Honey (the début album) was not a great album.  Radiohead were not destined for greatness.  Not then.  They had to work up to that point.  You can only truly experiment once you have reached a level where people WANT to hear the results of your laboratory workouts.  Mix those chemicals too soon and no one will be interested in the contents of the test tube.  In fact they will just insist that you clean up your mess.  Bands have to do this.  They have to reach a level of success and instil a certain confidence in their fans.  The Beatles couldn’t have just started out with the White Album.  And Radiohead couldn’t have just started out with Kid A.  And in any case, whether they like it now or not, Radiohead made a good stadium rock style band.  They could have been the Killers or Coldplay of their day.  Luckily for us Radiohead were much more than that.  Radiohead were a band that paved the way for anyone who wanted to experiment.  When someone asked you who you sounded like you could just say ‘Radiohead‘ with confidence – and that still holds to this day.  For while I am not their biggest fan I do appreciate that they are still the band to live up to.  A band who have touched greatness and seemingly been driven mad by it.  Radiohead almost seem to mirror the artists of the ’60s who took too much LSD.  It’s like Radiohead were Pink Floyd.  They had their Bends, Dark Sides, OK Computers and Wish You Were Heres.  But then Radiohead became Syd Barrett and Peter Green.  Radiohead took off … destination – another galaxy.  They became the Lennon that wanted tape loops involving the number 9.  But whole albums of it.  There was no McCartney to reign Radiohead in.  And in many ways they are all the better for it.  We NEED bands like this.

Okay… the last song.  Street Spirit.  I don’t have long left.  I’m typing like a banshee!!! This is no average final track.  This is a classic.  This is a defining moment.  And again… I hear what they were to become here.  This is monumental song writing.  And this is an important album.  I haven’t played The Bends too much over the years.  But it did change me.  Those initial listens changed me.  And I’m sure they worked their similar magic on Matt Bellamy.  And others.  For The Bends is nothing if not influential.  And for every reviewer who holds aloft OK Computer as the greatest thing since sliced bread I will open those slices of bread and point at the filling.  For it is The Bends.  (don’t bite into it!  An OK Computer, Bends, OK Computer sandwich has got to be bad for the teeth!  And I’m not sure anyone could survive the emotional, heartfelt, Jeff Buckley inspired indie onslaught!).

The record has ended.  Apologies if I have written a load of bollocks.  I had to type quickly.  And I was a little spoiled by the last record, Abbey Road.

I enjoyed listening to The Bends again.  A band at its peak of being “A Band”.  They were never ‘quite’ the same again.

Any opinions?

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