Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Top Ten Albums: The Bends

Two years after writing up my last top ten album, here is my next. If you want to read about the others, please have a look at the links at the bottom of the page. At this rate I might just finish by the end of the decade.

The Bends is too huge an album to sensibly review. You’d have to be pretty obtuse not to like it. You could call it slightly over-produced if you were being picky, or you could take issue with the angst threaded all the way through it. But The Bends’ angst is tempered by some incredibly tender moments and is nothing compared to the whiny, hectoring angst present on several subsequent Radiohead albums.

All of the songs on The Bends (bar one - “Just” - which I’ve never liked) are phenomenal. That’s 11 out of 12 phenomenal songs. 

You don’t get a hit rate like it nowadays. You didn’t get a hit rate like it then. The main criticism of The Bends as far as I can tell is that it seems to be too perfect, too well-engineered/arranged/produced with just the right amount of emotion, wigging-out and on-the-money songwriting to matter.

Yeah, but… what a record. Its release passed me by, for some reason. I think I was listening to a lot of Nick Cave at the time, and, er, Mansun*. Radiohead were there, on the peripheries of my consciousness, but so were Mudhoney. No one thought Radiohead were capable of pulling something as extraordinary as The Bends out of the hat, so when they did, no one really noticed.

Over the course of 1995, The Bends caught on by word of mouth. It was not a radio record so you didn’t hear it much on the radio. It wasn’t an indie nightclub banger, and it wasn’t really the sort of album you’d put on when you had people round. This was more or less pre-internet, so The Bends got heard because friends started telling their friends about it. And that process was not instantaneous.

Which makes sense. I cannot imagine listening to The Bends in company. Although you could hardly call it a naked or personal album, the range of emotion Thom Yorke produces from that weird, shrieking falsetto and the quality of songwriting and musicianship is transfixing.

By the middle of 1995, purely on the strength of The Bends (I’d never liked ‘Creep’), Radiohead were well on the way to becoming my New Favourite Band. 

Then in September 'Lucky', a song the band recorded in five hours, appeared out of nowhere. It was the lead track on the War Child HELP EP and was one of the best things I’d ever heard. Mysteriously, it completely flopped. 

Two years later Radiohead put out OK Computer and became one of the biggest bands on the planet. I still think The Bends is better. But that’s just me.

If you've never heard The Bends or any of the tracks off it (really?), click on the spotify link which you can hopefully see directly below. There's no bad place to start.


Love - The Cult

The rationale for doing this

Further rationale at the bottom of the This is the Sea entry.

* And Jane’s Addiction. And Britpop. Bloody Britpop.

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