'Bends' it like Thom
The year was 1995. While consumers were mourning the loss of Nirvana - and should have been finding solace in the fact Justin Bieber hadn't started talking yet - five Brits took the musical world by storm. Radiohead, a band which had been struggling for 10 years and had caught its first big break with Pablo Honey just two years earlier, released its sophomore album, The Bends, to an eagerly awaiting public. The world of music hasn't been quite the same ever since.
Whereas Pablo Honey flits between classic alternative music and the post-grunge high of the '90s, The Bends began Radiohead's unwavering legacy of changing its musical style for each new album. Featuring intricate layering of sound, increasingly complex guitar effects and entrancing lyrical progressions, The Bendstook the seed which Pablo Honey planted and developed it into a vibrant, dynamic, living organism.
From the very start of the album's first track, "Planet Telex," there is a strong sense something epic is coming. And it does. The sheer emotional force of lead singer Thom Yorke's voice, combined with the forceful strumming of Jonny Greenwood's guitar, creates a sound which dances between the gritty force of rock and an unprecedented level of intimate alternative warmth. This momentum is maintained throughout the rest of the album, establishing The Bends as a musical masterpiece.
To put the work's masterful quality into perspective, even Pitchfork Media, notorious for its pretentiousness and music elitism, rated a re-release of The Bends with a perfect score. You literally can't beat that.
The Bends is both timeless and very much of its time. It is unquestionably a product of the '90s, capturing Radiohead's struggle to find a place for its music in a world desperately trying to escape the siren-esque musical train-wreck of the '80s, while not quite willing to accept grunge as a lasting substitute. While Radiohead would move on two years later, changing its tune again to a less accessible sound for the average public with OK Computer, 1995 music lovers were blessed with all that The Bends had to offer.
Every song, from "Just" to "Fake Plastic Trees" to "My Iron Lung" to "High and Dry," is so unforgettable in its musical style and lyrical content, it seems almost redundant to highlight specific tracks. To neglect to listen to The Bends in its entirety would amount to aural high treason. Listed in The Observer's "50 albums that changed music," the album deserves nothing less than universal praise.
Seventeen years later, it might seem almost impossible, if not for the iconic vocals of Thom Yorke, to match the Radiohead of The Bends with the Radiohead of today. If this isn't blatantly apparent, just take a quick listen to its newest album, The King of Limbs(2011). While each new incarnation of Radiohead is inimitable, we still haven't heard anything like the '95 revolution. So if the current musical landscape just isn't doing it for you, open up The Bends and give it a listen. It won't leave you "High and Dry"