Radiohead, OK Computer

Ryan Dombal

By Ryan Dombal

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

OK Computer


OK Computer was released on June 17, 1997. The domain name "" was registered just three months later, on September 15. In 1997, the Internet had yet to become an omnipotent cultural force, yet Radiohead could see the signs. Every once in a long while, an album comes out that not only sums up a musical moment but also an underlying universal inkling. OK Computer is one of those albums. Musically, it's all over the place — there's elements of prog, alt-rock, and psych, not to mention lullabies, murder ballads, and horror movie soundtrack fodder. But the album is tied together by an encroaching sense of dread. On OK Computer, Radiohead are both the canary in a coal mine and the peaceful dove; they warn of a senseless, mechanic future while doing their damnedest to provide bloody respite from the clacking of keyboards.

Morphing from alt-rock heavies to art-rock gods

With its six-and-a-half-minute length and freewheeling structure — jumping from mosh-worthy riot rock to Gregorian chants in a blink — "Paranoid Android" certainly wasn't the most obvious choices for a lead-off single. It did do a remarkable job of setting Radiohead apart from any and all musical trends, though. And it vaulted the band from alt-rock heavies to art-rock gods, a slight but important switch in the darkening days of '90s alternative culture. OK Computer was also the first Radiohead album produced by Nigel Godrich, who has manned the boards for all of their subsequent LPs and turned into something of a sixth member. Here, he's able to help coax out the quintet's darkest dreams (so far), peaking with the one-two punch of "Climbing Up the Walls" and "No Surprises." The former has the band delving into the most awful shadows of man's psyche that allows us to kill, hurt, and maim while the latter has them falling into an unfeeling coma straight out of Orwell's 1984. Those two extremes are depicted with frightening realism, and they're both horribly beautiful in Radiohead's hands. But the album's closer, "The Tourist," gives a glimpse of hope amidst the suffocating ones and zeroes. "Hey man, slow down," sings Yorke, his vowels stretched to the brink. It's a plea, and a futile one at that. But while OK Computer didn't lead to a breakdown of Moore's law or an escape to nature, it made us stop for a second, look around, and consider technology's god-like powers in a stark light.