Wednesday, October 10, 2007

No Surprises

Song: No Surprises
Artist: Radiohead
Album: O.K. Computer

While Radiohead’s “The Bends” wasn’t an all out smash… the record was certainly gestating with people, and “what’s next?” seemed to be the question. For me, I was getting more and more into the record and finding new layers, depth, (and hooks) with each listen. Their touring with R.E.M., one of the biggest bands in America at the time, had surly paid off. And while spoon-fed America wasn’t totally hip to them yet, (when discussing the band and trying to get people to get “The Bends” many people would say “Wait, isn’t that that “Creep” band? Didn’t they go away?”) the U.K. was certainly taken with “The Bends” despite still going through the huge Brit-pop phenomenon. Radiohead were British, but pop they were not.

Apparently, when the band gave their record label “O.K. Computer,” the follow up they had recorded in various locations in the countryside of the U.K. as well as various points in Europe, their reaction was… “Career suicide.” Though, this was the same label that thought the “The Bends” had not one single on it. It ended up having five top-40 singles in the U.K. and is now considered a pop classic. When “Computer” was released and put out to the public, things would never be the same again for Radiohead. The album was almost universally acclaimed and the buzz on the record, and the band, was pretty deafening.

I remember hearing all the talk about the album but it was not yet out in the U.S. (“O.K. Computer was in fact the last Radiohead album to have a staggered release date from Europe to the States.) I do remember getting the record the day it came out and listening to it in my ’85 Honda Prelude as I drove around campus. I remember thinking it was very slow and quiet, and maybe a little boring. This thought is absolutely ridiculous to me now, as the record rocks pretty hard… but it was my lesson to never judge a Radiohead album from first listen, their stuff is just has too much depth. After a couple weeks I believe I had decided it was one of the best records I had ever heard… and it didn’t leave my CD player.

As almost universal acclaim was sweeping the world for the record, most hailed it as a concept record for our times, an up to the minute bleak revelation of the cold modern world and the corporate consumerism that was becoming a global phenomenon. The band was quick to dismiss this, claiming it was “just a collection of pop songs,” but those songs, and the album speak for themselves. Even the track titles, “Airbag,” “Paranoid Android,” and “Karma Police” hint at the merger of technology, consumption, and personal dread. It is because of this that the record remains so important today… as the world has only grown MORE into the scary cold world that “O.K. Computer” envisions. It’s also rather catchy, and seriously rocks… despite being, you know… totally depressing.

Since its release it has been covered in it’s entirety as a reggae album by the Easy All Stars, as well as an indie rock tribute compiled by Stereogum. It was on the shortlist for the 1997 Mercury Music Prize, it was voted by the readers of Q magazine as the best record of all time in 1998 and then again in 2006, VH1 listed it as the number 94th best record of all time, NME placed it 16th, Pitchfork gave it number one in the top 100 albums of the 90’s, Rolling Stone listed it #162 out of the “500 Greatest Album of All Time,” It was voted #1 in a poll of 100 Greatest Albums of all time by the U.K.’s Channel 4, Spin Magazine listed is the number one album of the last twenty years, and TIME Magazine listed it as one of the 100 best albums of all time.

When I DJ’d parties in college I was actually pretty surprised that “Karma Police” was requested as much as it was, in between 80’s tunes you could dance to, “Genie in a Bottle” and “Mambo No. 5.” That song was the bands biggest modern rock hit here in the states after “Creep” and while the album wasn’t an out of the gate smash here, (it debuted at #21 here, #1 in the U.K.) it certainly grew their audience as everyone everywhere in music was talking about the band. I unfortunately didn’t get myself together to go see the band live, but their shows were also that of legend, with the entire “O.K. Computer” period elevating them to one of the more important working bands around. If they thought the world was listening for the follow up to “The Bends,” it was nothing like that after “O.K. Computer.” How do you follow up one of the best albums ever made?

It is very difficult for me to pick a favorite song from “O.K. Computer” because they are all so good. Personally, “No Surprises” holds a special place for me as an import song in my life, and a testament to the power of music. It was the third single from the album and an odd, scary, beautiful song. In retrospect it is pretty simple compared to the rest of the album, and yet fits right in place with everything surrounding it. It sums up the record for me, and can personally fit anytime one might feel frustrated and powerless. I remember the song coming on randomly after a particularly emotional weekend years ago when a felt personally (and romantically) more confused than I have ever been. It was early morning, and the sun was just rising, shinning of the dew on the streets and everywhere of the morning. The familiar ding of the glockenspiel brought everything together for me and I remember just losing it on my drive home. So for me the song is always a reminder that in life there are moments of no control and while they can be scary, and resist as we might, we must learn and take from them.

“No alarms and no surprises please.”

Below are some of the best videos Radiohead have done, with “No Surprises” being particularly terrifying.


Paranoid Android

Karma Police

No Surprises

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