“OK Computer” Turns 20

Sebastien Balembois, Reporter

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Twenty years ago,”OK Computer,” one of the biggest commercial and critical successes in the history of alternative rock was released. Radiohead was one of the biggest rock bands of the 90s, but after this album became one of the biggest bands in the world The album was Radiohead’s third, and they had already made big strides since the grunge of their first album, “Pablo Honey” in 1993.  

Their second album, “The Bends,” was a large step forward, and a typical band would have reached their peak there. But Radiohead went all out with “OK Computer.” This was the album that expanded Radiohead’s international popularity and went on to sell 4.5 million copies worldwide. This was the album that has been cited by listeners, critics and musicians as one of the greatest albums of all time. This is the album that hasn’t been matched lyrically or musically by anyone since its release.

Lyrically, nothing like “OK Computer” had never been done before. The album was a stylistic shift from the grunge of “Pablo Honey” and Britpop of “The Bends” toward the indie rock that would become an influence on such bands as Bloc Party and TV On THE Radio. The album kicks off with a haunting riff by guitarist Jonny Greenwood in the song “Airbag.” One of the best opening album tracks of all time and one of Radiohead’s best songs, it sets the tone for the rest of the album with its lyrics basically saying that “whenever you go out on the road you could be killed.” Tracks throughout speak of  luck (“Airbag,” “Lucky”), emotional isolation (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”), political uneasiness (“Electioneering,””Paranoid Android”), hopelessness (“No Surprises”) among other topics. Part of the reason why this is such a classic album is because all of the topics tie in.

Looking at this beautiful album twenty years on, one can see how it left such a large impact on music nowadays. Its rich use of technology and views of technological doom have influenced such bands as Muse, Coldplay and Keane who are loved by many worldwide. A world without “OK Computer” would have been tough for any of these groups.

It is almost impossible to select the best songs on the album but “Airbag,” “Paranoid Android,” “No Surprises,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Let Down,” “Karma Police,” and “Lucky.” That’s over half the album but there are no duds so the choices were hard.