My onslaught of rememberance continues, this time Radiohead’s seminal second album The Bends. Again, may contain copious amounts of gushing…
It’s astonishing to think that, seventeen years ago, Radiohead were being roundly dismissed as one hit wonders and ‘Nirvana lite’, and fair enough Pablo Honey was pretty crap. No matter how wondrous that one hit, 1992’s Creep, may be, much depended on their follow up; they had labels to shake off and doubters to prove wrong. This was make or break territory. Of course they did make it, emphatically so, churning out one of the albums of the decade in 1995’s The Bends. It’s tribute to the band that, with their only truly ‘Brit-Pop’ effort they managed to craft one of, if not the, definitive works of the genre, an album that puts even that supposed master of the domain ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory’ to shame.
The most immediately striking thing upon revisiting the album is the youth of it, initial reaction upon hearing Thom Yorke’s distinctive falsetto is one of ‘christ…he sounds so young!’, examples of this youthful immaturity are scattered throughout the album, from lines like ‘I wish it was the 60s, I wish I could be happy’(still one of the most astonishingly crap lyrics I have ever encountered) to the buzzkillingly repetitive High and Dry .
But yet from the moment those guitars grind in on Planet Telex you know you’re dealing with a different beast than that seen on their debut effort. Indeed you can pinpoint the very moment where the band achieve full maturity and blossom into the band we know today: Street Spirit. Arguably they’ve never topped it, arguably few ever have, inarguably a masterpiece of melancholy. The instant Thom Yorke opens his mouth you can sense the change, the voice goes down a notch, the tone of the guitar is less brash, more reserved, you sense the coming storm. This is the song that set this album apart, elevated it to true greatness and confirmed that Radiohead were a truly special prospect, a once in a generation band.
That’s not to say the rest of the album is carried by it, the album is in fact stunningly consistent, with some true classics like Just, Iron Lung and Fake Plastic Trees. Part of the charm now though, looking back at it, is how straightforward it is. None of the dubstep inspired dance of King of Limbs, this is just some guys with their guitars letting rip; it almost evokes nostalgia for those simpler times. And for those guitars. Guitars that they have probably never bettered, throughout the album is peppered with quality riffs and searing solos, filled with a crunch and bite that took a backseat once Jonny Greenwood moved on to more obscure things.
This is an album of its time, no one makes music like this anymore and you sort of wish they did at times, so alluring is its innocent simplicity. Returning to an album like this from a band like Radiohead really brings to light just how much sounds have diversified in the past quarter century, Radiohead in particular. Hell, maybe they even started it with Kid A. But then that wouldn’t have happened without this would it, we’d still be talking about those Nirvana rip-offs who disappeared after that one crap album.