Thursday, July 23, 2015

20 Years Ago

For Radiohead's epochal 1997 record The Bends, Thom Yorke made a Faustian pact with the devil, it’s obvious, and agreed to forevermore become a cantankerous, impenetrable recluse; in exchange his band would emerge from the shadows of grunge to take its place among the pantheon of 20th century artists.

And why not? The Bends is rightfully the first glimpse of what Radiohead were truly capable.  Everyone knows that after this they would hold the commercial and critical world spellbound.  It all started with this startlingly confident expose of the post-modern rock genre.   The Bends is a record of impressive depth that rewards repeated plays and patience.  For me, it started with admiration for the pyrotechnics and hooks that characterized the singles "High And Dry", "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Just'.  The latter track boasts one of the truly memorable videos of the MTV era that regrettably had already had begun to dissipate into real world, teenage fad trash.  Focusing on the most marketable material sells The Bendswoefully short, however.  The real heart of the album is on more esoteric cuts like "Planet Telex," "Bullet Proof," and the hypnotic "Street Spirit."  

Discussions are bound to revolve around the subject of what it "means." My take: There is something to be said for a search for meaning amidst the degradation of post-modern capitalist life.  That sounds a little like a dull graduate thesis but The Bends rocks much too hard to be stale.  It made the leap to their next slice of genius a natural progression. What it remains to this day is an unexpected, amazingly confident, guitar-based album. Hindsight demonstrates even more clearly that this was a band that had found its feet and was poised for its launch into the critical and commercial stratosphere.



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