The Bends by Radiohead

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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 Images

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

 

Foo Fighters

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Foo FightersWith the suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain abruptly ending what looked like a promising rise for the rock trio in 1994, the group’s drummer, Dave Grohl, decided to write and record independent material as a “cathartic experience”. The resulting work, Foo Fighters, an album and act which derived its name from a term World War II aircraft pilots would use to describe various UFOs. No one (even Grohl) at the time knew that this album would act as the commencement of a highly successful rock band for decades to come.

The name originally served as a proxy, intentionally used by Grohl to preserve his anonymity after recordings were completed. Those recordings took place over just one week in October 1994 at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, with Grohl frantically recording all instrumentation and vocals himself. Along with producer Barrett Jones, the duo spent long days recording up to four songs each day in the order that they would ultimately appear on the album. Having never been a front man, Grohl was initially insecure about his singing so he often double-tracked and applied added effects to his voice. Many of the compositions were initiated during Grohl’s time in Nirvana, as he would often bring a guitar along on tour. However, there were many parts composed on the fly during the short studio time.

Grohl originally pressed a limited number of LPs and cassettes to pass out among fellow musicians and friends. He had been offered a permanent gig as drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and briefly considered taking it before Petty heard one of his tapes and encouraged Grohl to pursue “the solo thing”. Soon these tapes reached some major labels and Grohl signed with Capitol, who accepted the original recordings but had them remixed. Grohl then recruited a full band to forge a live show and fulfill Capitol’s request for a photo of a full band.


Foo Fighters by Foo Fighters
Released: July 4, 1995 (Capitol)
Produced by: Barrett Jones and Dave Grohl
Recorded: Robert Lang Studios, Seattle, October 1994
Album Tracks Primary Musician
“This Is a Call
I’ll Stick Around
Big Me
Alone + Easy Target
Good Grief
Floaty
Weenie Beenie
Oh, George
For All the Cows
X-Static
Wattershed
Exhausted
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums

Foo Fighters

The opener, “This Is a Call”, is actually one of the more recent songs written by Grohl and, right from the jump, his sense of melody and accessibility is evident along with his penchant for unabashed, hard-edged rock. the song starts with some double vocals above strummed electric for one line before the song explodes into a full and intense rock arrangement and it peaked at #2 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. “I’ll Stick Around” is more like a traditional Nirvana song with rotating riffs and a quasi-punk feel. The song’s vocal vibe ranges from detached whine to emotional screed with the music following perfectly throughout. The third song, “Big Me”, displays a third distinct type of talented musical style by Grohl. As a calm and melodic pop song, the track displays a knack for effective use of repetition and arrangement in getting the songs message out in a quick and effective way.

“Alone + Easy Target” dates back to 1991 and is another good jam, albeit not quite as innovative as the first three songs. “Good Grief” is driven by steady, upbeat drums and drilling guitar textures and the choruses get a little punk intensive, while “Floaty” contrasts with a pleasant 12-string acoustic intro before launching into a flange-drenched steady rock sway during the verses. “Weenie Beenie” brings the effects to a nearly absurd level with its textures and heavily treated vocals. While this is all fun as a headbanger, there is not much in terms of musical substance. “Oh, George” returns to melodic hard rock and is a loose tribute to George Harrison, who he calls his “favorite Beatle”.

Dave Grohl

Coming down the stretch, Foo Fighters maintains its energy and vibrancy while offering more diverse selections. “For All the Cows” is another Nirvana-esque track, starting with calm, jazzy verses and exploding into heavy punk screeds during the choruses. “X-Static” is notable as the only track with an outside musician, as Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs plays guitar. “Wattershed” is a punk jam with nearly screamed vocals that rail against mailmen, banks, record contracts, and other divergent subjects. “Exhausted” closes things out and works great with its title as the closing track to this rapidly recorded collection. The track is notable for an extremely long “feedback” section in the middle, before the main musical riff reprises to shepherd out the album.

Foo Fighters charted well throughout the world and was promoted through several tours domestically and internationally. These tours served to gel the members as a proper “group” and much success would follow, starting with the 1997 second album, The Colour and the Shape, and continuing well into the next century.

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1995 Images

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

 

Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt

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Tragic Kingdom by No DoubtNo Doubt offered an upbeat breath of fresh air to the mid nineties with their dynamic masterpiece, Tragic Kingdom. This third overall studio album by the California-based rock band found tremendous commercial and chart success and sustained seven singles over the period between late 1995 and early 1998. Led by the dynamic vocals of Gwen Stefani, the group composed songs blending a diverse array of musical genres including blues, rock, ska, reggae, grunge, new wave and punk.

The group was formed in 1986 by keyboardist Eric Stefani, with his sister Gwen occasionally joining in on backing vocals when they practiced in their parents’ garage. Bassist Tony Kanal later joined after catching one of the band’s early shows and began a (initially) secret relationship with Gwen. In early 1988, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young joined No Doubt, rounding out the band’s long-standing lineup. Impressed by the group’s rabid live following, No Doubt was signed to a multi-album deal by Interscope Records in 1990. However, the group’s initial two releases, their 1992 self-titled debut and the self-produced The Beacon Street Collection failed to gain widespread success.

Producer Matthew Wilder was brought on board to produce Tragic Kingdom. The album included recordings made over a two and a half year period between March 1993 and October 1995, with recordings made in nearly dozen studios in and around Los Angeles. This album would also be the last to feature Eric Stefani, who was the primary composer of the material on the first two albums. After Eric officially left the band in 1994, most of the other group members stepped up to co-write the new material.


Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt
Released: October 6, 1995 (Interscope)
Produced by: Matthew Wilder
Recorded: Los Angeles, March 1993–October 1995
Album Tracks Group Musicians
Spiderwebs
Excuse Me Mr.
Just A Girl
Happy Now?
Different People
Hey You
The Climb
Sixteen
Sunday Morning
Don’t Speak
You Can Do It
World Go ‘Round
End It On This
Tragic Kingdom
Gwen Stefani – Lead Vocals
Tom Dumont – Guitars
Eric Stefani – Piano, Keyboards
Tony Kanal – Bass
Adrian Young – Drums, Percussion

Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt

The opener “Spiderwebs” starts with a steady reggae show piece with some brass before it quickly changes into a more frenzied and rock-oriented ska groove. Dumont’s crisply squeezed guitar chords and Kanal’s thumping bass lines accompany a steady beat by Young. Released as a single, the song reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. “Excuse Me Mr.” features a more frenzied ska riff and is especially entertaining during the bridge section where a frantic drum shuffle is accompanied by honky tonk piano and some fat brass. This song was originally composed as an acoustic folk song but the recording was lost in a studio accident, causing the group to re-write and re-record a punked-up version. “Just a Girl” features a wild sounding guitar riff accented by slight bass and steady hi-hat fused drums through the intro and verses and, later on, Eric Stefani adds a soaring synth lead over the ever-intensive rhythms. The lead single from the album, the song charted twice in the Top 40, eventually peaking at number 3. The lyrics, written by Gwen Stefani, tell of her own experiences dealing with female stereotypes;

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes, I’m exposed and it’s no big surprise / Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand, this world is forcing me to hold your hand…”

“Happy Now?” is a more vocal and lyric driven track with strong guitar riffing and chords. This is one of several tracks which lyrically deal with Gwen Stefani’s recent breakup with Kanal, after a seven year relationship. “Different People” features strong rudiments and a great animated bass line, while “Hey You!” has a unique and excellent arrangement with a heavy sixties vibe brought on by the overt sitar and harpsichord as well as the more subtle structuring of the rock groove. “The Climb” is a dramatic blues song written by Eric Stefani and it features cool penny-whistle organ parts under the verses with several guitar textures by Dumont. The song goes through several trans-formative sections and a long ending dissolve where each musician gets to add bits of embellishment in turn. Following the standard ska of “Sixteen”, a drum shuffle fades in along with a driven bass which makes it closer to pure reggae with heavy rock guitars and dynamic, dramatic vocals.

The album’s first and only ballad, “Don’t Speak”, offers one its most indelible moments. The song starts with Eric Stefani’s slow, rocking electric piano in verses but breaks into jazzy acoustic choruses complete with a later excellent flamenco acoustic lead by Dumont. Slight use of strings and brass are just enough to bring out the emotions without getting overly sappy, shining the spotlight on Gwen Stefani’s vocals, which are best at their very best on this album. The song would go on to become the breakthrough single. received tremendous airplay, and helped elevate the album as well as previously released singles. It would also go on to be nominated for Song of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards.

Coming down the stretch, Tragic Kingdom features more entertaining tracks such as “You Can Do It”, which is funky, seventies style soul with heavy brass, disco strings, wah-wah guitar and rounded bass patterns. “World Go ‘Round” returns to the upbeat reggae with horns and Hammond organ and plenty of brass, while the closing title song is a strong and steady, guitar and vocal driven rocker which is set up like a theatrical mini-suite complete with horn sections and a rapid fingerboard guitar lead. The best of this lot is “End It on This” (which should have been the album closer). This last, great song on the album has a definitive new wave feel with rapid guitar riffs and bass notes accented by melodic piano patterns. The choruses feature especially potent keyboards and bass which work together to give a feel of rapid melodic motion. The song then steadies into a traditional guitar lead section before an intense and fantastic outro section.

No Doubt

Following Tragic Kingdom‘s release and success, No Doubt embarked on a an extensive tour which lasted about two and a half years. A 1997 performance from this tour was recorded in the group’s home city of Anaheim and released as a Live in the Tragic Kingdom DVD. The band would not follow-up with another studio album until Return of Saturn was released in 2000, a half decade after Tragic Kingdom.

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1995 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1995 albums.