Monday, September 28, 2009

The exotic colours of an alien world - Radiohead "OK Computer"

Most of my friends have found it hard to believe that I had never even heard of Radiohead until a few months ago and, when I listen to an album like OK Computer, I can understand why they might think that I could not possibly, even in my classical-only days, have allowed such groundbreaking, interesting and wonderful music to pass me by.

But I did, and it did, and so I have been trying to catching up today, listening to OK Computer over and over (which is how it deserves to be listened to), carried away on music that floats like some huge and exotic bird in the sky, marked with strange colours, and emitting strange cries that are sometimes eerie, sometimes frightening, sometimes weeping, always full of music.

“Paranoid Android” seems almost a symphony in itself, gliding through so many different places, at first hovering high in the stratosphere, then descending through roughly cleft rock, and then down into some dark valley, as Thom Yorke, in that remarkable voice that seems to transcend registers, sings with such pleading torment, “rain down on me from a great height”.

There always seems to be so much going on in these songs – rhythms that I would not even dare to guess a time signature for, beautifully placed electronic sounds that create wonderful blocks of music and then join them together, like the sliding glissandi in “Subterranean Homesick Alien”, creating a mosaic of strange, but beautiful textures and hues, each piece a picture in its own right.

There are moments of unfathomable sadness, too, like the haunting “Exit Music (For a Film)” with a simple, minor key acoustic guitar opening that ultimately swells into an anguished, heart-wrenching requiem, “now we are one in everlasting peace”. Or the ominous and yet tormented menace of “Climbing up the Walls”. But perhaps nowhere is the album’s sadness greater than it is when it is rested and at peace as it is in “No Surprises”, a suicide note to a simple, lullaby-like tune that you might sing to children to calm them when they’re afraid.

The album is ceaselessly daring, always trying new things, like in the kaleidoscope of sounds that build up and die away and build up again in “Karma Police” and then give way to a long monologue from a computer generated voice, spurting out platitudes, some more than just a little bit twisted, about how to be happy in the modern enlightened world.

The album ends with “The Tourist”, a transcendentally beautiful song where Thom Yorke’s voice soars in a boundless sky with long, lingering notes that take us with it off into the far, distant horizons that this album has been bold enough to explore, and creative enough to discover.

OK Computer paints and alienated, alienating world with astonishing warmth and beauty. It’s an incredible achievement and every time I listen to it, I find that I have fallen in love with it just a little bit more.

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