- 470 words -
I know this is long overdue - I’ve struggled to find the right words to describe this album, especially in context of this band’s discography...
I’ve been listening to Radiohead for a few years now. However, I always ended up disregarding this album for some reason - maybe because it’s less experimental and so ‘normal sounding’ compared to the rest of their material - but I definitely shouldn’t have.
There’s little extreme or bombastic about this album, a contrast from the previous AM (and partially why this took so long to write about). The closest it gets to that is when Jonny Greenwood’s wailing guitars pierce the calm of Thom Yorke’s vocals e.g. when the bridge comes in (Nice Dream). But its quietness speaks volumes.
The opener Planet Telex introduces the hypnotic state that persists throughout the album - reflected quite nicely by the facial expression on the album cover. Louder, grungier songs like The Bends, Bones, and Just interject the moments of tranquility in this album, without overstepping any lines.
The flowery atmosphere on this album is achieved mostly through Thom’s performance on this album, both through his undulating vocals and acoustic guitar. Although, as expected from a Radiohead record, the mood conveyed isn’t always a positive one. For instance, the subject matter of My Iron Lung pertains to the band’s dislike of the commercialism they’d encountered upon the success of their single Creep, a song still synonymous with the band despite their disownment of it.
However, this album was released at a point in the band’s career when more introspective themes were still being touched on, and it shows in the lyrics of the other songs on here, as well as the music. I’d note Fake Plastic Trees as an exception, in that it creates a narrative and pertains to someone else - a man who’s worn out by the artificiality of his life. Then again, it seems as though Thom still sings about himself.
This album is definitely among their more melodious ones, a category it shares with the love-themed In Rainbows and arguably even milestone album Kid A. Coincidentally, I’ve often seen the two aforementioned albums debated as being their overall best by more seasoned fans, while The Bends gets lost in the shuffle.
Although, even as I’m a little lost for words, I think The Bends is easily their most digestible album, thanks to its melodious nature and conventional instrumentation, with sparks of genius here and there signature of the band. It’s the album you’d probably want to introduce to a new fan.
8.5 / 10
Tracks I play the most: The Bends, (Nice Dream), Just, Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was, Sulk, Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Tracks I play moderately: Planet Telex, High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, My Iron Lung, Black Star
Tracks I usually skip: Bones