First Appeared at The Music Box, May 2001, Volume 8, #5
Written by Michael Karpinski
Well before OK Computer cemented their reputation as one of the most talented bands of their generation, Radiohead made a somewhat tentative entrance onto the world stage with 1993’s Pablo Honey. Beyond the steeped-in-teen-spirit single Creep, that album would do little to predict what a brilliant behemoth the Oxford, England quintet would ultimately become. While all the raw ingredients for greatness may have been present on Pablo Honey’s plate — most notably, Thom Yorke’s tortured, banshee-in-a-bear-trap wail — the finished dish would prove decidedly more "appetizer" than "entrée." Fortunately, the main course would arrive in short order, in the guise of 1995’s splendid The Bends — a record as much a quantum creative leap from its predecessor as Nirvana’s Nevermind was from Bleach.
Certainly, credit and kudos go to Bends’ producer John Leckie (Simple Minds, XTC, Stone Roses), but one can’t help but suspect that the men of Radiohead were ready to take that next, momentous step regardless of who was setting their levels and jobbing their knobs. Truth be told: Few groups releasing records today are as adept as Radiohead at implementing just the right texture at just the right time — be it a harmonic guitar part, a brief-but-bracing backing chant, or an elemental-yet-transcendent stretch of synthesizer line. And though it most definitely lacks its successor’s thematic cohesion and compositional complexity, The Bends is ultimately no less successful in its juxtaposition of melts-in-your-mouth melody (the acoustic-based beauties Nice Dream and Bulletproof..I Wish I Was) and sudden, unhinged dissonance (The Bends, Bones). My Iron Lung essentially serves as a blueprint for OK Computer’s symphonically-complicated Paranoid Android, while Just’s escalating, tornadic riff sounds as if it’s about to blow another hole in the ozone. The relentless elegy Street Spirit (Fade Out) comes off as a haunting, post-grunge Dust in the Wind. And the crystalline Fake Plastic Trees — a song that effortlessly melds the best elements of U2 and R.E.M. — remains one of the band’s most supreme achievements.
Through everything, it’s Yorke’s sweet-and-tender-hooligan tenor that serves as The Bends’ unquestionable centerpiece. His is a voice at once violent and vulnerable — part prophet of the Apocalypse, part little lost lamb. Whether it’s throttling your throat or gently caressing your neck, it never fails to leave an impression. Just let those venerable, peacock-in-the-spotlight rock gods — Messrs. Hewson and Stipe — set the record straight: They are friends of Radiohead. They are friends of The Bends. And — most tellingly — they are envious.
Enough said. ½
The Bends is also available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box