It takes something really special to leave me speechless. A reverse dunk might leave me speechless, a beautiful woman that actually talks to me might leave me speechless, an eye opening "bring me to my knees" religious experience might leave me speechless, or a surprisingly tragic event in my life might leave me in a sad speechless state. It seems like I am always writing or talking about something that is of minor importance to everyone but me and that is just the way it has always been and especially when it comes to music.
But I have to confess that OK Computer has always left me speechless and with an awkward case of writer's block. I feel like whatever I write about OK Computer will not even come close to doing it justice. I felt scared that I would never be able to describe the breathtaking beauty of just about every song on this album, I felt like whatever I wrote would be an insult to something so magnificent, like my every word would be the neutering of the musical version of Michelangelo's David, I felt like every organized paragraph would be an slap in the face to the most beautiful faceless thing I have ever seen or heard, and I felt like anything I described would just be scrutinized to the point of no return. Ok Computer has always been the "jump over the car" dunk that makes you question the very existence of gravity, it has always been the girl so symmetrically perfect that her muttering "hi" is like rounding third base with a angel, and it has always been the car crash that left you bleeding on the concrete yet took you to pearly gates afterwards. Ok Computer has always been too magnificent for speech or even a whisper. Maybe it is because its sheer existence is the only review or words it has ever needed.
I knew after listening to Ok Computer one time that it was not only going to be my favorite album but it was also going to be an album that fundamentally changed my life. Ok Computer changed the way I listened to music, changed the music I listened to, changed the way I thought about people, changed the way I thought about politics, changed the way I thought about the future, and fundamentally changed what I actually wanted to try to do with my life. Without Ok Computer I am not who I am today. For years Ok Computer has given me everything without asking anything in return: it has given me an album to cry to, an album that makes me think, and an album that has fundamentally changed my life. I feel guilty that the album is so magnificent and important that I have given it nothing.
My pitiful attempt at giving back is this post. Fifteen years after its release, I feel like we can finally say that Ok Computer is the greatest album of all-time because of its high quality of songs, high quality of lyrics, concept, the flow, its moments, immediate significance, lasting significance, and it being better than all of the other "top albums." I hope this post can give Ok Computer a fraction of what it has given me over all of these years. Or I hope that it will at least remind you that something that gives this much still exists.......
1. Quality of Songs
The first reason Ok Computer is the greatest album of all-time is the high quality of song on the album. The song features ten near classic songs, eleven songs that are at least excellent, three of the most important songs of the past twenty years, and one of the most important "interludes" in recent history.
"Airbag" is the perfect opener for the album and is one of the most uplifting songs on the album, "Paranoid Android" is brilliant in its skitzophernia and serves as the albums "modern day Bohemian Rhapsody" moment, "Subterranean Homesick Alien" is the albums only "normal song" but also serves as the biggest grower on the album, "Exit Music" is a haunting epic that defines forbidden love as beautifully as any four minute and twenty-five second song could ever do, "Let Down" is the best song Radiohead has ever done and it seems to be the perfect autobiographical song for the nerdy cluster mess that is their fanbase, "Karma Police" proves that Radiohead is the only band that can beautifully roast something as complex as the entire universe, "Fitter Happier" is a misunderstood robot interlude that fits the concept of the album nicely, "Electroneering" brings Radiohead back to their rock roots and makes Thom Yorke sound like he was a prophet, "Climbing Up The Walls" is one of Radiohead's first "scary songs," as it prays on the fears in our hearts and the fears on our ears in a haunting yet still somehow majestic way, "No Surprises" is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, "Lucky" is one of Radiohead's five best songs, and "The Tourist" is a cultural defining anthem that sends the album off peacefully and perfectly.
This album has ten classic (songs that are of five out of five quality) songs ("Airbag," "Paranoid Android," "Exit Music," "Let Down," "Karma Police," "Electroneering," "Climbing Up The Walls," "No Surprises," "Lucky," and "The Tourist," a interlude that is perfect for the albums concept ("Fitter Happier,") and three all time great songs ("Paranoid Android," "Let Down," and "Karma Police.) Most albums are lucky if they have one song that is a classic, one interlude that kind of makes sense, and one song that even comes close to being an all-time great moment. Hell, most albums I consider classic albums only have a couple of classic songs. Ok Computer is MUCH better song quality wise than anything I have ever heard and that is the first reason it is my greatest album ever.
2. The Lyrics
Every Radiohead album seems to have a different feel or theme lyrically. Pablo Honey seems to have a feel of teenage rebellion and self loathing, The Bends has a brit pop feel of unnecessary optimism combined with a grungy apathetic feeling, Kid A had a "the storm is coming" feel, Amnesiac had a political feel combined with "the storm is coming" feel of Kid A, Hail To The Thief had the feel of a hard rocking political protest album, In Rainbows was the most brilliant mid life crisis ever recorded, and The King of Limbs was the sounds of a band letting go of all of the themes and feelings they had relied on so heavily in the past.
Ok Computer seems to embrace all of the lyrical themes and feeling of Radiohead's seven other studio albums. "Airbag" gives us "the storm is over" feeling of The King of Limbs combined with the sounds of some of the more experimental songs on The Bends, "Parnoid Android" seems to perfectly combine the best of the quasi political lyrical themes of Hail To The Thief, "Subterranean Homesick Alien" has the "lets just settle down until we go crazy" type of lyrics heard on Ok Computer combined with the type of sound that we might hear on The Bends, "Exit Music" has the bitter lyrics of some of Pablo Honey's more angst driven songs while its breakdown sounds like "How To Dissapear Completely" off of the brilliant Kid A, "Let Down" has lyrics that remind us of "Pyramid Song" off of Amnesiac and a sound that reminds us a bit of "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" out of In Rainbows, "Karma Police" has the biting lyrical sarcasm of all of Radiohead's albums and is a song that could be placed on just about any of Radiohead's albums outside of Pablo Honey, "Fitter Happier" has the "capitalism is keeping us down!" lyrical theme that is most prominent on Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief and kind of reminds the listener of "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" off of Amnesiac, "Electroneering" is basically a 1997 Hail To The Thief b side in words, structure, and sound, "Climbing Up The Walls" has very Kid A like lyrics and has the feel of something that might work well on Amnesiac, "No Surprises" simple lyrics match the more complex lyrical themes of Kid A and Amnesiac and its innocent sound kind of reminds me of "Sail To The Moon" off of Hail To The Theif or "Motion Picture Soundtrack" off of Kid A, "Lucky" has the lyrical confidence of something off of In Rainbows and the "Street Spirit" sound of one of the more experimental songs on The Bends, the lyrics on "The Tourist" remind of "Separator" on The King of Limbs just because of the "freedom even in times of war" thing they seem to represent and the song sounds like it would have been one of the last songs on Kid A. On Ok Computer Radiohead combine all of the lyrical themes and feelings that made all of their other albums so good and make a masterpiece.
Another thing that makes Ok Computer so great lyrically is just about every song has a memorable lyrical moment. The chorus of "Airbag" is extremely uplifting even though it is telling a story that is very heartbreaking, the breakdown of "Paranoid Android" is groundbreaking in its simplicity, "Subterranean Homesick Alien's" lyrics make Thom Yorke seem human, the breakdown in "Exit Music" is haunting, "Let Down" has some of the most brilliant lyrics Radiohead has ever done, "Karma Police" has the wit and sarcasm that a very serious album so desperately needed, "Fitter Happier" is a computerized summery of all the albums important themes, the last verse of "Electroneering" has some of the most aggressive lyrics Radiohead has ever done, the end of "Climbing Up The Walls" is the creepiest thing Radiohead has ever done lyrically, "No Surprises" is the most simplistic peaceful suicide note ever written, the repetitiveness of the opening verse of "Lucky" brings the album back to life, and Greenwood's lyrics on "The Tourist" seem to define this generation and the previous generation. The lyrics on Ok Computer are great because they use all of the themes and influences they perfected on their previous seven album and because one lyric or lyrical moment stands out in just about every song.
3. The Concept
I will admit to hating just about every album that is a concept album because they all try to be original by making the most unoriginal points ever. We all know that the political system is corrupt, we all know that "war is bad, mmkay," we all know that women live just to hurt us, we all know that going on a spiritual journey once every twenty-five years is of crucial importance, and we all know that cancer or sickness kind of sucks. Concept albums always try to be original by making the most unoriginal points ever and this makes what the artists thinks should be a groundbreaking album come off as "out of touch" and repetitive.
But I have always been a fan of concept albums that are original or concept albums where I have to search to find a concept or a storyline. Hospice worked because it had an original subject manner that seemed to define heartbreak with such ease. Ok Computer has a story that we have to search for and a storyline that is original at the same time and this makes it one of the more underrated concept albums of all-time. Ok Computer is about the effects of capitalism on the average man and each one of the albums songs serves as a different chapter in the story.
CHAPTER ONE: "Airbag"
In chapter one the narrator has just survived a tragic automobile accident. He is shocked that he is still alive and humbled that an "Airbag" of all things has saved his life. He promises himself that he will work hard, be a better person, and that he is actually "back to save the universe." After an "Airbag" saved his life the narrator is ready to go back to living a more effective life and be whatever society wants him to be.
CHAPTER TWO: "Paranoid Android"
Chapter two sees the narrator wondering why he was so excited to survive his accident. He figures out that we are all subjects of corporations and logos and he is disgusted by this very thought. He feels that we are all just robots of society ("paranoid androids,") he feels like we are all following pointless rules for no reason ("when I am king you will be first against the wall,") he feels like he is surrounded by a bunch of ambitious pigs ("ambition makes you look pretty ugly/kicking screaming Gucci little piggy," and he feels like all of his past mistakes and past problems are just raining down on him after a brief period of just being happy to be alive.
CHAPTER THREE: "Subterranean Homesick Alien"
When he realizes he has lost his way in a capitalistic corporate world the narrator decides that he must be the adnormal one and he kind of feels like an ailen. He feels like he cannot tell his friends anything because he is an "alien" and they will not believe anything an ailen says, he feels like he cannot share his secrets because they are too unwordly and not politically correct enough, and he feels like he has to watch his own step just to make sure he is still real. The narrator feels like he is a totally different person after surviving his accident and is now apathetic to anything happening in the outside world.
CHAPTER FOUR: "Exit Music"
The narrator finds love in a common frustration with the "logo driven" market of the outside world. He and the person he shares this common frustration with plan to escape from the pressure of this outside world by killing themselves. The first thing the narrator and his lover have to do though is come to peace with their frustration before acting on it. It seems like they can never come to peace with the frustration that will probably kill him anyway and this is why he and his partner cannot kill themselves just yet. The song ends with the same anger towards society that had enslaved the two lovers in the first place.
CHAPTER FIVE: "Let Down"
AFTER losing his Cold War to capitalism, the narrator once again tries to get along with the outside world. He tries to go out to bars and finds them to be far too depressing ("disappointed people hanging from bottles," he tries to make friends with normal people and finds that they just find him disappointing ("let down and hanging around,") he finds the feelings of people just recycled metaphors and rants from a worthless past ("don't get sentimental, it only ends up drivel,") and he finds out that he still feels like an leper spotted alien even when he is trying to make the best out of a business driven world ("hysterical and useless/hysterical and useless.") The narrator attempts to make peace with a corrupt outside world by deciding that he will never fit into the corruptness of this outside world. He decides that maybe they should all be killing themselves instead.
CHAPTER SIX: "Karma Police"
THE Narrator begins to find hope and peace in the fact that there just might be an afterlife. He feels like all of the people who are successful subjects of society right now will be unsuccessful subjects of the afterlife. The people described in the first verse will be arrested by the "karma police" and will be doomed for eternity. He also feels like the good karma he is building up will never be enough ("we're still on the payroll") and he feels like his only satisfaction will be seeing these people suffer in their own egotistical hellholes ("this is what you get.") After a while though the narrator realizes that all of this ferocious anger is probably not good for his own karma and decides once again to give being "normal" a chance ("phew for a minute there I lost myself, I lost myself.")
CHAPTER SEVEN: "Fitter Happier"
Chapter seven shows that the author has bought into the corporate capitalist world out of his sheer desire to not be an alien. He has everything that the outside world is good and is working towards everything that the outside world says is good but he still feels very empty. He has the "American Dream:" two and a half garages, two and a half kids, two and a half women, two and a half gym memberships, two and a half animals, two and a half close friends, and two and a half Bibles scattered throughout his mansion of misery. But he feels like since he has conformed to the most innocent of conformity he has lost the half of the heart he used to have in his state of denial. He knows that accepting the world that the world wants from him is the only way to survive so he plans on continuing to live a life where he is a robot on "their" string.
CHAPTER EIGHT: "Electroneering"
Chapter eight shows him angry not only at the people who sham less conform to the capitalistic system but the people who enforce the capitalistic system. This narrator is searching for the root of his angst and he aims his anger at the politicians who set up the capitalist system that the puppets so ignorantly have to abide to. He says that the politicians will continue to move the world "backwards" while using technology as a cover up to say that it is actually going "forwards." In a world where you are either going forwards or backwards the narrator is on a shameless and somewhat selfish quest for neutrality. He just keeps wondering if he can move "forwards" and "backwards" will retaining the mask of a life he set up in the seventh chapter.
CHAPTER NINE: "Climbing Up The Walls"
Chapter nine shows the evil that the system has made the narrator do. The narrator has turned into a murder, a kid napper, and a thief because he feels the need to murder the people who shameless conform to such a halfhearted system, he feels the need to save the children before they see the corrupt nature of the world, and he feels the need to murder the possessions that have replaced morality in the world he is living in. He feels that if he cannot escape he should give other people the chance to escape. The author is at his last resort in chapter nine and he feels his only escape is doing the charitable act of helping other contaminated yet innocent souls escape from the dark of the world into the blinding light of the afterlife.
CHAPTER TEN: "No Surprises"
The narrator does not feel charitable after his actions in chapter ten so he finally plots his personal escape. The narrator knows that the only place without government, the only place without jobs, the only place without kids, the only place without capitalism, the only place without alarms, and the only place without surprises is the afterlife. The narrator has accepted that the only place where he can be a good person is the afterlife. He has accepted that the only place where he is not going to be a robot or is not going to be an alien is the afterlife. In chapter ten the narrator finally decides to kill himself because he knows that it is the only way for him really to live.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: "Lucky"
After the narrator kills himself in chapter eleven he begins to relish the second chance that he has in the afterlife. He finds love, he finds himself as a "superhero," he rejects calls from the "head of state," he is "standing on the edge," he is saving people's life, and he believes that everyday suddenly has a glorious purpose. He has been reborn by the act of dying. He feels like maybe he should have been dead the whole time.
CHAPTER TWELVE: "The Tourist"
The narrator suddenly feels sad for the people on earth. He feels the need to tell them how they should be living. He wants them to escape from the businesses, escape from the paychecks, escape from the technology, escape from the pain, escape from the pressure, and just "slow down" and find happiness outside of the system that is at best a crutch and is at worst a killer. He wants them to get away from their "spiders" and he wants them to find the happiness that he thought was only possible in a utopia or in an afterlife. The novel ends with the narrator pleading for the world to slow down or to just go with him into this world where everything seems to move at a perfect pace. Even after fleeing mankind, the narrator still believes in mankind. He just wants a mankind that is his "heaven on earth."
A concept album also has to flow like a chapter book. Ok Computer does not work if all of the tracks do not flow together perfectly and it is a remarkable acheivement that all of the tracks on this album did actually flow together. The screeching final riff of "Airbag" flows nicely into the opening beeps and acoustics of "Paranoid Android," the powerful guitar solo of "Paranoid Android" flows into the laid back riff of "Subterrean Homesick Alien," the laid back final riff of SHA flows nicely into the opening acoustic riff of "Exit Music," the final words and soft acoustic riff of "Exit Music" flow into the fast paced start of "Let Down," the electronic final seconds of "Let Down" flow into the piano and acoustic driven opening moments of "Karma Police," the chaotic end of "Karma Police" flows nicely into the robotic lyrics of "Fitter Happier," the distorted instrumentation of "Fitter Happier" flows into the powerful opening riff of "Electroneering," the solo at the end of "Electroneering" flows magnificently into the "cricket sounds" of "Climbing Up The Walls," the creepy ending of "Climbing Up The Walls" flows into the lullaby sound of "No Surprises," the beautiful ending of "No Surprises" flows into the spacey opening moments of "Lucky," and the electric final moments of "Lucky" flowed into the soft opening moments of "The Tourist."
This album flowing together so mangificently is of crucial importance. It means that the storyline of chapter one going into chapter two actually makes sense and it also adds credibility to an album that already has ten classic songs, eleven excellent songs, three timeless songs, and a compelling story. Ok Computer flowing together perfectly despite its diverse influences and stylings is one of the many reasons it should be consider the greatest album of all time.
All of my favorite albums have a moment of greatness. I'm Wide Awake Its Morning had the closing riff of "Road To Joy," Aim and Ignite had the closing moments of "At Least I'm Not As Sad As I Used To Be," The Devil and God had the breakdown of "Jesus," Kaputt had the opening minutes of "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker," and The White Album had the chaos of "Helter Skelter." These are moments that made the album classic and made the album important to me.
The thing that separates OK Computer from those albums and from any other album that says it is a "classic" is that it has a classic moment on every single song. Anytime I listen to any song on Ok Computer I get the shivers, I feel new, and I feel like each moment gives the song a purpose and makes every song on here at least excellent. Here are the moments I am referring to:
A. The Chorus of "Airbag"
B. The "Rain Down" part of "Paranoid Android"
C. The "Uptight" chorus of "Subterrean Homesick Alien"
D. The Final Moments of "Exit Music"
E. The Breakdown and "Don't Get Sentimental, It Only Ends Up Drivel" Parts to "Let Down"
F. The "Phew For A Minute There" Breakdown To "Karma Police"
G. Just How Damn Weird "Fitter Happier" Is
H. The Chorus To "Electroneering"
I. The Screams At The End of "Climbing Up The Walls"
J. The Opening Verse of "No Surprises"
K. The Final Lyrics To "Lucky"
L. The Last Chorus of "The Tourist"
6. Immediate and Lasting Signifigance
The really cool thing about Ok Computer is that it has really already defined or is currently defining three eras: the pre Y2K era, the post 9/11 era, and the technology driven era that we are currently live in.
When the album was released the world was changing. Everyone feared Y2K and their computers dying more than they fear a car crash and actually losing their own lives, relationships and happiness were minimized as people began to living on machines, corporations, oil companies, and politicians owned a world that used to be owned by "the little man," and people lived out of fear of everything except things that they were actually logical to be in fear of. Ok Computer seems to define this changing world perfectly. The album speaks of a world where the average man is overwhelmed not only by responsiblities at home but responsibilities in a technological world he knows nothing about, the album speaks of fearing illogical things when really the only thing we should fear is the system that we so cluelessley and blindly follow, the album speaks of corporations dominating the world and the people actually working feelling powerless, the album speaks of not being able to deal with change, the album speaks of depression so deep that death is the only way to escape, and the album speaks of peace only found in slowing down. With Y2K approaching it seems like people always wanted to slow down but due to changes in the world could only speed up and accept their pitiful fates. Just about every song on Ok Computer speaks of this helplessness found in our sheer existence.
After 9/11 it seemed that the only logical response to every thing around us was fear. We thought that every second was just another second we could be attacked, we thought that every minute was just a minute closer to nuclear war, we thought that everything evil in the world had won, we thought that chaos had finally won out and replaced normalcy, and we thought that everything we had worked for was meaningless. We began to distrust the politicians that may have let this happen, we began to be cynical towards the people we used to give chances to, privacy was waterboarded and executed with a fair trial, we began to divide into classes and races instead of realizing that humans were just one class and race, and the only time we felt comfortable was when we were green dots on computer screens. We had unknowingly become the narrator in Ok Computer.
Now it seems like we have just accepted it. We have accepted that all we are is dots, all we are is unread texts, all we are is clothes purchased off of websites, all we are is unemployment checks, and all we are is transportation that takes us from one futile place to another. Ok Computer spoke of the horrors of a technological and technology driven world and now we are living in that world with false glee and even falser hope. We have accepted this world just like the narrator accepted it in the seventh chapter of the novel. We are trying to find a way out by separting our classes into percentages and preaching things we could never practice but maybe the only way out is discovering the utopia of the afterlife. Or maybe we just all need to slow down.
7. It Is The Best Album of All-Time
Before you scoff at that last sentence ask yourself these questions:
1. What other album has ten classic songs?
2. What other album has eleven excellent songs?
3. What other album has three game changing songs?
4. What other album can combined lyrical styles from seven of a bands other albums?
5. What other album has a lyrical moment in just about every song?
6. What other album flows together while having 12 different sounding songs?
7. What other album has 12 defining moments?
8. What other album has helped define three different eras in history?
The only album for me has been Ok Computer. And that is why I think it is the greatest album of all-time.