Personal admission: I like anniversaries and birthdays. I like the angle, the hook, and the unlimited pun opportunities, both as a journalist and dance party promoter (my proudest work, from the pill a few years ago: "You're the One For Me, Fifty! Happy Birthday Morrissey!"). So while I was kinda excited to learn that Interpol's EP celebrated its 10-year anniversary earlier this month, it's an even greater thrill to note that RADIOHEAD's OK Computer -- a record I bought for $40 on import at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square a few days after its release -- came out in the UK 15 years ago tomorrow. Stateside, the Year 15 banner goes up on July 1. But if you were an anglophile growing up in the US in the '90s, you always -- always! -- got the import, regardless of price.
But for Radiohead, the release of OK Computer was a turning point for the band and mainstream rock music. First pegged as a one-hit wonder in the aftermath of "Creep" -- remember when MTV tossed it in their "buzz bin?" -- Radiohead then in 1994 released The Bends, a record as overlooked as it was brilliant, overshadowed by Britpop and all the haze of the mid-'90s Cool Britannia. But then just as the third wave of Britpop started to rot the entire culture and Pulp eulogized the movement with This Is Hardcore, Radiohead were allowed their time to shine on a podium really all their own in the fetid pit of late'-90s rock music, and eventually cemented themselves as one of the most influential modern rock bands of our time.
Since this is Best Music Poll week here at the Phoenix, here's what Matt Ashare wrote about the band in the 1998 BMP, where Radiohead took home Best National Act and Best National Album
For a band whose career in the US was launched in 1993 with the kind of perilously catchy, dangerously in-tune-with-the-angst-ridden-times single that can easily kill a band's career by marking them as a one-hit wonder, England's Radiohead have truly come a long way. Sure, "Creep" was great the first dozen times you heard it, but you can't blame Thom Yorke for not wanting to sing it anymore. Though he'll make an exception when Pablo Honey producers Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade are in the house, as they were when Radiohead played Harborlights last summer. Johnny Greenwood hated the song so much from the get-go that he tried to muck it up with those cacophonous false starts on his guitar, which were duly noted by Kolderie and Slade and became the tune's signature anti-hooks. But Yorke, Greenwood, and the rest of the band refused to be defeated by success, returning in '95 with The Bends (Capitol), a disc produced in the British style (i.e., grandiose, not grungy) by Stone Roses vet John Leckie: a disc with absolutely no "Creep," a disc as complex as "Creep" was simple, a disc whose best single was a goddamn ballad ("Fake Plastic Trees") so unfit for alterna-radio that it took months to get it on the airwaves.
The Bends in all its convoluted glory was really just a twisted prelude to OK Computer (Capitol), which arrived last summer with nothing resembling a workable single and very little in the way of a coherent lyric. Majestic probably doesn't begin to describe the operatic scope of the album, but it's not a bad place to start. Yorke, who's got the prettiest falsetto this side of the Met, has gone from being a creep to being full-on creepy, his latest obsessions being squashed insects and chicks with Hitler hairdos (hey, read the lyrics). And Greenwood's and Ed O'Brien's guitars sound like keyboards half the time, though that's a piano that takes over on the exquisitely disturbing "Karma Police." So now some of the same critics who wrote the band off after "Creep" hit the charts are holding Radiohead up as modern-rock saviors, which they probably are. Either way, it feels good to see them selling out the Centrum and then managing to bring the intensity and complexity of OK Computer to life on stage, with or without "Creep" in the set.