The Bends by Radiohead

Buy The Bends

The Bends by RadioheadThe Bends is the classic rock coming of age album by Radiohead, for which they received critical acclaim as well as chart and commercial success. This 1995 album was at once a major shift in the group’s musical direction as well as a move towards accessible tunes, as reflected in its five charting singles. A major contributor to this compositional evolution was the more sprawling approach in front man Thom Yorke‘s songwriting, who delivered more global lyrical themes in comparison to the personal ones of earlier work. In turn, the music was sweeping and dynamic with diverse styles and arrangements added to their three-guitar attack to forge a grand and forceful sound.

The group’s first album was 1993’s Pablo Honey, which featured a strong alternative / grunge presence. This brought some international success and much subsequent touring. The following year, Radiohead released the EP, My Iron Lung, featuring some early versions of tracks which would be re-worked for The Bends. However, this EP had poor commercial success.

The Bends was produced by John Leckie, with Radiohead working on song arrangements for the album through the entirety of 1994. Work on the album was slow through the initial months, as the group felt pressure to create the perfect follow-up to Pablo Honey. An initial release date of October 1994 was pushed back several months as Leckie taught the band “how to use the studio in different ways”.


The Bends by Radiohead
Released: March 13, 1995 (Capitol)
Produced by: John Leckie
Recorded: Abbey Road and RAK Studios, London, August–November 1994
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Planet Telex
The Bends
High and Dry
Fake Plastic Trees
Bones
(Nice Dream)
Just
My Iron Lung
Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was
Black Star
Sulk
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Thom Yorke – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Jonny Greenwood – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
Ed O’Brien – Guitars, Vocals
Colin Greenwood – Bass
Phil Selway – Drums, Percussion
 
The Bends by Radiohead

Extra-present drums set the pace for the odd, spaced-out beat of the opening track “Planet Telex”. Released as a single, the track features some tremolo keyboard and guitar textures, with the chorus offering the most rewarding part of this otherwise bland emo screed. The title track, “The Bends”, follows with a strong rock arrangement through a long riff intro. The verses revert back to a more steady arrangement but the song rocks well throughout with lyrics that are thematic. The ballad “High and Dry” is the first real highlight of the album, as Yorke’s vocals are pleasant and melodic above a blend of acoustic and electric guitars by Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien. Written well before the album sessions, there was much debate on whether this light song would even be included on the album. Not only was it included, but it was also a successful single.

“Fake Plastic Trees” is another acoustic track but, unlike the previous ballad, this has more of a psychedelic, early Pink-Floyd-like vibe. “Bones” follows with a strong rhythmic presence by bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway as well as some topical tremolo guitar and a ringing distant guitar. This short, three-minute song finishes with strong rock riffs and accents. “(Nice Dream)” follows with a descending, four-chord acoustic riff in the intro which sets the meter for the moderate folk/alternative song. The best part of this track are the excellent post-chorus guitar layers. Another fine track, “Just” starts with a strummed intro, soon accompanied by a strong distorted electric. When it fully kicks in, this track features a great musical arrangement in verses to accompany the fine vocal melodies, perhaps the finest on the album.

Radiohead in 1995

“My Iron Lung”, the title track from the previously released EP, is an odd art of noise. The first part of song is built droning rhythm and jangly guitar melodies, while the second section is nearly incoherent in a deliberate attempt at pure noise. Alternative to the core, whine in vocals but song is saved by good melody and arrangement. On “Permanent Daylight”, Yorke’s vocals hide within a wall of noise, while “Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was” employs space-like psychedelic effects using echo and sustain in the background with a slow, acoustic folk in foreground. “Black Star” returns to upbeat rock with a full arrangement fading in through the intro and moderate verses with cool guitar textures and good drumming elsewhere. “Sulk” features an interesting, slow waltz shuffle drum beat upon which the rest of the textures are built. Each verse adds more sonic candy, especially with the guitar, bass, and keyboard textures. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” concludes the album with a dark, repeating riff and elongated vocal phasing, making it a bit anti-climatic for an album ending.

While The Bends charted well in several countries throughout the world, it only peaked at #88 in the US, making it an initial disappointment. However, this album has only grown in stature and influence over the two decades following its release, with many Brit pop bands taking cues from many of its songs.

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1995 page images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

Pablo Honey by Radiohead

Buy Pablo Honey

Pablo Honey by RadioheadWith their 1993 debut album, Pablo Honey, British band Radiohead was just starting to forge their interesting sound which brought them much fame later on in the decade. However, in the heavily saturated alternative climate of the early nineties, the album was not given much initial attention until the lead single “Creep” began to gain popularity. That song was written by vocalist and guitarist Thom Yorke in the late 1980s and best symbolized the internalized and tortured themes of angst and alienation in the band’s lyrics. These were brought to life by the dynamically layered strumming fury of a three guitar crunch, strumming fury of their guitar work and the dynamism of their whisper-to-a-scream song structures was the Radiohead sound musically.

The band evolved from a group called On a Friday in Oxford, England in the early 1990s, which included Yorke and brothers Jonny Greenwood on guitar and keyboards and Colin Greenwood on bass. After signing with EMI/Parlophone, the group changed their name to Radiohead and released an EP named Drill in mid 1992. Some critics dubbed the band’s early style as “Nirvana-lite”, which the group actively sought to remedy.

The album was produced by the team of Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie in the autumn 1992 and achieves a sound that is both visceral and intelligent. Since the material used was drawn from material the band had been playing for years, the sessions were completed very quickly. Still, Pablo Honey represents only a small subset of their early material and was described by a band member as their ‘greatest hits as an unsigned band’.


Pablo Honey by Radiohead
Released: February 22, 1993 (Parlophone)
Produced by: Sean Slade & Paul Q. Kolderie
Recorded: Chipping Norton and Courtyard Studios, Oxfordshire, England, Sep-Nov 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
You
Creep
How Do You?
Stop Whispering
Thinking About You
Anyone Can Play Guitar
Ripcord
Vegetable
Proof Yourself
I Can’t
Lurgee
Blowout
Thom Yorke – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jonny Greenwood – Guitars, Piano, Organ
Ed O’Brien – Guitars, Vocals
Colin Greenwood – Bass
Phil Selway – Drums

Pablo Honey by Radiohead

After the picked and pretty notes of the opener “You”, the radio and video hit “Creep” brings the album to life. Led by the upbeat, almost jazzy bass of Colin Greenwood and drums of Phil Selway during the verse, the heavy noise over chorus is previewed a bit early by a great effect by Jonny Greenwood. Rumour has it, this was initially an attempt to “ruin” this song which he he did not like, but became a great happy accident.

“How Do You?” is like punk with excess twangy guitars and contains a snippet of the Jerky Boys skit which gave the album its title. “Stop Whispering” never really leaves the main riff and only the drum shuffle by Selway rescues the song from being mundane. Still the song, written as a tribute to the group the Pixies, reached the Top 25 of the Mainstream Rock charts. The strummed acoustic of “Thinking About You” gives the album some diversity early on and is Yorke’s best vocal performance, brought out by sparse arrangement.

“Anyone Can Play Guitar” is driven mainly by the bass riff of Colin Greenwood, offbeat drums, and the later triple-layered guitars from Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Ed O’Brien. The song was the second single from the album but made relatively little impression on the charts. On “Ripcord” the chorus descends nicely and melodically while verse alternates between strummed and crunchy riffs.

Through the album’s stretch run it settles into a nice groove with moderately interesting tunes. Some highlights include the almost country/blues electric picking of “Vegetable”, the high register vocals of “Prove Yourself”, and the good, moderate sound of “Lurgee” with dual picked guitars, quality bass and drums, and a some compositional restraint. “Blow Out” makes for an apt and interesting closer, with a jazzy overall vibe, duet vocals, and intense interludes between sections with wild guitar effects by Johnny Greenwood.

Following the release of Pablo Honey, the band would digress from its alternative influences and evolve towards more expansive and experimental works. The album topped off at number 22 on the UK charts and never really made much critical or a commercial waves until the success of future albums.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.