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Radiohead's 'OK Computer' – Just an Album About Shit, Really

Yuppies, technology, essays—give me a break.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB

If you're the kind of person who is interested in reading a retrospective on OK Computer, first of all congratulations on finding something you love. Honestly, I'm happy for you to do you. Second of all: how have you not realised by now this is an album about … just stuff? A miserable cacophony of shit that is somehow less interesting in tone and colour than anything I've put in a toilet.

For the last few weeks there's been a sincere, transatlantic wanking contest over the band's third album, its release anniversary and what that means now 20 years have passed since it came out. Of this there have been several "think-pieces": How OK Computer Predicted the Future, Why The Lyrics of OK Computer Are More Relevant Than Ever and Today, We Escape: Radiohead's OK Computer at 20. Like: yeah, fine, OK. This album is now old enough to corner you at a party and talk to you about its importance. But does that mean it's saying anything of note? No, it does not. You're either polite enough to listen or sucked into its vortex of self-importance, looking to draw some out via osmosis.

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How do I know this? Diehard Radiohead fans famously do not know anything about music because the only music they listen to is Radiohead. And the only reason they listen to Radiohead so much is because it's a life choice to remain committed to understanding something so devoid of meaning. Right off the bat, from "Karma Police": "Arrest this man, he talks in maths / He buzzes like a fridge, he's like a detuned radio." What are you talking about, mate? I'm not getting anything here. Haters will tell you that's because I am yet to understand Radiohead, that – well, actually – the song is a hauntingly sinister yet beautiful comment on, like, white goods or something, that it's inspired by The Beatles. But that is all protection from the fact Radiohead fans have lost years of their life to time spent trying to unpack and dig deeper into this album.

I will concede OK Computer is the zenith of pompous rock albums (what Pitchfork deem the pinnacle and destroyer of the art-rock album format). How could it not be? Almost every positive review of the record uses disastrously technical terms like arpeggio (useful when you want readers to know you understand the science behind the music as well as the feeling) and there's a song on the album that can be described using the genre musique concrète, which also includes a literal computer talking – as though that's another useful comment on what would become of technology rather than Thom Yorke having writer's block (which he did). It is an album where the sessions had to be moved because guitarist Johnny Greenwood was dissatisfied with "the lack of dining and bathroom facilities". It is a prime example of rock music being celebrated (and going several times gold and platinum in 15 different countries) across the world over more inherently interesting albums of the time.

But hey, at least "Paranoid Android" isn't in its original, 11-minute, organ-featuring form, because that would be a fucking joke. The thing about this record is that it really is meant to mean something: songs are inspired by the Bosnian War, the pseudo-meaningful pseudo-meaningful lifestyle presented by corporations, suicides in suburbia, aeroplane crashes. It's 1990s insignia at its peak. But the problem is Thom Yorke's lyrics are so abstract it's impossible to learn anything from them and the listener may as well have spent their time reading a book. Like I said: Radiohead requires severe investment. The other problem is that, y'know, Radiohead are good because they capture how it feels to be despondent and miserable and confused and empty. But when I feel miserable and empty I don't want a soundtrack to it – and on the rare occasion I do, there has to be something to take away beyond more despondency. Radiohead are built on a catch-22 that makes them impossible to really enjoy and anyone who is capable of doing this must be really twisted up inside, for which I am very sorry.

With all its bland sloganeering – "More productive. Comfortable. Not drinking too much", as the album's advertising campaign (and track "Fitter Happier") put it – OK Computer is the Trainspotting poster of the "last great album" generation. It's also made by someone called Thom which – forgive the personal attack, here – is the "I definitely read books and want you to know it" brand of name shortening. Sorry mate. This album is a pile of shit and if you've made it this far by not listening to it I would advise you to never do so. If you have and enjoy it, fucking go outside or something. Smile. What a piece of immaculately car-washed to nothing shit of an album. I would rather watch Fight Club because at least that has Brad Pitt and The Pixies in it.

You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter.