No, It's Not A Concept Album

Despite my diverse and illustrious musical tastes, I've got to admit that

I'm completely out of the loop when it comes to the concept album

department. Pink Floyd-- never got into it-- something about an inflatable

pig and post-World War II social order?

Happily, there's still hope for me as I fell completely under the spell of

Radiohead's new album, OK Computer. Quite decidedly in the

progressive rock vein, the much hyped third album hits stores in the U.S.

on July first and is sure to help fuel the bands slow but sure rise to

rock superstardom.

But first, a little history. Unless you lived without electricity, weren't

born yet, or slept your way through 1993, you heard, liked and listened to

Radiohead's debut single and massive radio hit "Creep." It has yet to be

surpassed in the minds of many as the perfect pop song, and rightfully so.

"Creep" boasts Radiohead's signature guitar crunch and remains high above

its peers in the pop rock single genre in both catchiness and coolness.

That said, the song became the veritable bain of Radiohead's existance as

the rest of their debut album, Pablo Honey was basically ignored by

the hit hungry public. They became a band that everybody liked but

nobody had heard. Nevertheless, Radiohead pulled themselves together and

released another album in 1995, The Bends. The Bends met

with tolerable success, helped along by a series of eye-catching and

intelligently crafted music videos. The musical growth Radiohead showed in

the time between Pablo Honey and The Bends was promising.

The band used clever intrumental techniques and seemed to be progressing

quite nicely. But nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.

OK Computer delivers Radiohead as a band that is no longer, in

any way, catering to the demands of popular music. Burnt out by the success

of "Creep", Radiohead has paid their dues to the radio gods. Now, freed by

their penance, they explore and expand their sound, crafting their songs

into sonic experiments that defy pop song conventions. And, as is most

always the case with true talent, they come up with a batch of

conceptually topical, aurally pleasing and truly inspirational songs. Even

if you don't like that type of thing.

This is not to say that every venture on the album is a success. Track 7,

"Fitter Happier" which is without singer Thom Yorke, features a

computerized voice rapping out the lyrics: "Fitter, healthier and more

productive / a pig / in a cage / on antibiotics." It's a little too

preachy and elitist for its own good. If there were an overall downside to

the album it would be the fact that it tends to treat mundane daily life

and the structures of society as not only offensive, but downright evil.

And while this may be true enough, it lends a depressing air to the album

that makes you want to reach over, hug the person sitting next to you on

the bus and tell them that its going to be okay.

With the exeption of "Fitter Happier" the average length of the songs on

OK Computer is well over four minutes a piece with the longest song

clocking in at six minutes and twenty three seconds. In an unconventional

move the longest track "Paranoid Android" is also the first single off of the

album. The song is an opus in three parts and comes with a fully animated

music video, created by Magnus Carlsson of the U.K.'s "Robin" animated

series, that has already hit regular rotation on MTV. It's said that all

twelve of the tracks off this album are going to be made into videos which

will, in the end, link together conceptually in the album running order.

And, if the other videos are in any way as far out as the video for

"Paranoid Android" which features along with other animated oddities, a

man in bondage trying to chop down a lampost and eventually chopping off

his own limbs, the finished product will be a sight to see indeed.

"Paranoid Android" begins with an acoustic guitar picking out a sweet tune

accompanied by rhythmic clickings and shufflings and other assorted

noises. Yorke comes in drawling out the words in a tired but determined

way, "When I am king you will be the first against the wall, with your

opinions which are of no consequence at all." The guitars get a little

rougher and a lot more menacing as Yorke accuses, "Ambition makes you look

very ugly, kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy." Then all pretense of

calm is shattered as the guitars electrify, jabbing and scratching at the

chorus as if to tear the song apart. "You don't remember, you don't

remember, why don't you remember my name?" And just as quickly as the

chaos came its gone, replaced by a soothing bridge, "Rain down, rain down,

come on rain down on me. From a great height, from a great height,

height...God loves his children, God loves his children.." The guitars

kick in again and the song ends abruptly, disturbingly loud and

uncontrolled.

"Exit Music (For A Film)" features Yorke at his finest. His voice is

hauntingly quiet as the song starts and ends then soars above it as the

song progresses. The vocals were recorded in the stone entrace hall of St

Catherines court, one of the out of studio locations where the band

recorded the album. "Sing us a song / a song to keep us warm. / There's

such a chill, such a chill / You can laugh, a spineless laugh. / We hope

your rules and wisdom choke you." Its a beautiful song that deserves no

less than Radiohead gives.

"Karma Police," the sixth song on OK Computer, has a lovely piano

intro and is the most conventional pop song on the album. Yorke sings the

chorus is a deceptively agreeable way considering the lyrics, "This is

what you get, this is what you get, when you mess with us."

The music on OK Computer is perhaps the newest and most interesting

to be released this year, and maybe even the year before. While we were

all busy singing along to "Creep" and stroking our own egos, comforting

ourselves with the lyrics, Radiohead were busy forming themselves into the

most progressive and musically talented band to come out of the U.K. in

who knows how long. The brothers Greenwood, bassist Colin and Guitarist

Jonny, "polite guitarist" Ed O'Brien and drummer Phil Selway are creating

the sonic landscapes that allow Yorke's melodies to travel above and

beyond and they're doing a fine job of it. The guitars growl, howl and

caress while the basslines travel that happy road between pop song staple

and ambient noise makers. Selway's drumming and precussion effects hold

everything together with impressive finesse.

From the video plans and weighty lyrics to the vast soundscapes created by

the band, Radiohead are proving themselves to be so much more than a bunch of

poppy "creeps". They have created an album to pick up all the people who

missed the boat the last time. Don't be put off by the fact that the

record is being hailed as a concept album, it may very well be, but give

it a try anyways-- even if you don't like that sort of thing-- you won't

regret it.