Released in 1995, “The Bends” was to become Radiohead’s most anthologized album ever, with seven of its twelve tracks included on Parlohone’s 2008 career retrospective. And while it is evident that the album which succeeded it (“OK Computer”, 1997) was even better, fans and critics alike hold “The Bends” in true esteem for a simple reason.
“The Bends” was the moment the band started redefining, reinventing and reconstituting. With this album, Radiohead showed that it could lead the way forwards without missing a single step. And many would begin following, even without realizing they were doing it.
On this album, the band captained by Thom Yorke was to update the concept of anthemic rock for a whole new generation of listeners. The spirit that had marked the best moments of “Pablo Honey” remained. But the uncontrolled aggressiveness was gone. Rather, it had become something else. Disaffection that was grounded on the truest, largest realities.
The world tours in support of “Pablo Honey” had worn everybody out. But they had seen the world. They had seen how the industry operated. Thom had gained a wildly new insight, a perspective from which to write that could but be more productive for his listeners and for the band he commanded on the whole.
And he put it to splendid use on the title track, in which he looked on the effects of success that spirals so vertiginously that it doesn’t even let you enjoy the trappings you always thought would come with it. The song’s melodic mannerisms made it an obvious single release at a time in which the Britpop movement was the dominant force. And songs like “Just” and “My Iron Lung” coupled Thom’s newly-found vision with the loudest moments of the band’s debut, like a marriage made in the heavenliest hell that ever existed.
And there aren’t words unused-enough to describe the harrowing beauty and vulnerability of “Street Spirit” and “High And Dry”. The former gave the band its very first top 5 hit in the UK.
Besides, “The Bends” had cuts like “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Black Star” – cuts that dealt with the despair in already-established relationships, not relationships that were yet to be, or strictly limited to (and by) the mind of the protagonist such as “Creep”. There was a world of possibilities and impossibilities out there. By the point they recorded “The Bends“, the whole band knew it.
That didn’t mean they were having a good time making music together. Far from it – relationships were at an all-time low. Just look at the lyrics of “Nice Dream”:
If you think that you’re strong enough
If you think you belong enough
But the band was to go from one musical strength to the other, until all the differences they had were somehow reconciled, or contextualized within the successes they were to see together.
Upon listening to “The Bends”, some critics opined that Thom Yorke was to be the next martyr in the history of rock & roll.
He proved them all wrong.
To a whole generation, he was to end up resembling more of a musical messiah.
And the moment of revelation is nowhere else to be found but on “The Bends”.