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‘OK Computer’ – The alternative masterpiece enters the mainstream

| Friday, March 31, 2017

OK Computer banner_WEBDominique DeMoe

Last week was a monumental landmark for music. The week, which Pitchfork dubbed “OK Computer Week” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the beloved album, was received jubilantly by music fans. Equally notable however, is the number of people who didn’t notice the commemoration. For a band so revered by fans and critics alike, Radiohead’s reputation among the general public is surprisingly modest. The Grammy’s confines them to the “Best Alternative Album” category, and they’re given less media coverage than Charli XCX. The average citizen’s infatuation with “Creep” comes at the expense of every other Radiohead song. Its popularity is a running joke among everyone who knows how to spell Thom Yorke correctly.

The fault for this situation lies, not with people who have never heard of the CR-78 drum machine, but with Radiohead’s devoted fans. Sitting atop their mountain of musical superiority, Radiohead fans imagine themselves as the chosen few. However, this is not the case. Maybe the fans had a claim before, when things were different and the quintet was changing the rules faster than anyone could follow along. But, with 20 years under “OK Computer’s” belt, its influence has seeped into the mainstream, even if its name hasn’t. We can’t just respect it as a genius work in itself if we want to make the album universal. We have to recognize it as a cornerstone of the alternative genre.

“OK Computer” won’t join the ranks of hallowed LP’s like “Abbey Road” and “The Dark Side of the Moon” overnight. The fans have to spread the album’s legacy through their own hard work if they want it to rise to the top. This is best done by emphasizing how “OK Computer” is just a step above almost everything else. With that in mind, I’d like to present a short and incomprehensive list of the things that “OK Computer” does better. If you have a friend that likes one or more of these things, they’ll certainly enjoy the third Radiohead album.

Radiohead does better than…

Every song they play at football games
Six times each fall, I witness masses of Notre Dame students going nuts in the stands over “Crazy Train” and “Shipping up to Boston.” I’m fond of both of these songs myself, but they have nothing on the swirling guitar solos and loud/soft dynamic of “Paranoid Android” 

“Creep” by Radiohead
Not a bad song at all, but its grunge sound borrows too heavily from the Seattle sound and is not at all representative of Radiohead’s music. A much better candidate would be the interlocking guitars, electronic sounds, and soaring vocals of “Let Down.”

SYRs
Dances are fun, but you have to find a date. On the other hand, the DJ Shadow infused alt rock classic “Airbag” will always be there when you need it.

Surprises

Life as a student is full of stress. There are essays to write, tests to take and due dates that pop up a week earlier than you expected. The bright and inviting soundscape of “No Surprises,” defined by Ed O’Brien’s buoyant guitar line, envisions a relatable world without any of these concerns.

“In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins

The drum break in the fourth minute of Phil Collins’ 1981 soft rock hit is ubiquitous, and rightly so. This only increases my confidence that the clinical drumming of another Phil, Radiohead’s Phil Selway, can gain similar prominence. I’d make the case for his masterful break ushering in the second half of “Exit Music for a Film.”

Every other album, according to besteveralbums.com

Look it up if you don’t believe me.

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  • HolyHandGrenade

    Coincidentally, been on a Radiohead binge this week, so perfect timing.

    “This is best done by emphasizing how “OK Computer” is just a step above almost everything else.”

    I would, if I didn’t like The Bends, Kid A, and In Rainbows more! Half of OK Computer is pure genius, and I love it, but the cohort of Airbag, Let Down, No Surprises, Lucky, and The Tourist all just amount to pleasant background music for me… spacey singer/songwriter tracks basically. I much prefer the likes of Knives Out or Fake Plastic Trees for that caliber of song, which is all subjective of course. Karma Police fits there too, but that one’s something else. I like The Bends (My Iron Lung) and songs like Electioneering for being a step above, and more creative, than the rest of 90’s alt rock, and I like 2000+ Radiohead for being whatever the heck it is, but some stuff just falls into the dead space in between those areas.

    I’d like to follow your lead and compare Paranoid Android to Bohemian Rhapsody, but I don’t know if that’s blasphemous.