Being music month at this side of sunday and all, I'm going to make a bold statement here:
Radiohead's OK Computer is the greatest rock album of my lifetime (post-1975).
I would say it is the best rock album of all time, but I don't feel equipped to make such a call. I can appreciate the Beatles and Dylan albums of the past (and do, immensely) but I don't know if I fully get how awesome and ground-breaking they were in their time; how mind-blowing they would have been for their first listeners; how epically they spoke to their time and brought their hearers to new levels of sonic enchantment and excitement.
But I put Radiohead's OK Computer on again about a week ago and have not been able to stop listening to it. It is just an unbelievable album. It sounds like a concept album but every song can also stand alone as a masterpiece of its own. Of course the music industry is too spread out and demographic-ized and genre-riddled for us to ever have another Beatle-mania, but I think that on a musical level Radiohead is our generation's Beatles. Just when you thought every chord-progression had been tapped out and rock n' roll had reached the point of perpetual recycling, in 1997 Radiohead took you to new places you didn't know existed. I didn't actually listen to this album until 2001 or so, but you get the point. It is never too late to have your life changed.
The 53+ minute, 12 track album begins with Airbag, Paranoid Android, Subtarranean Homesick Alien, and Exit Music (For a Film)---and by the time Exit Music is over one gets the feeling that had it been a 4 song EP it still might be among the best rock albums of all time. I'm not sure if Exit Music was ever the closing-credits-song for a particular film or not, but just listening to the song makes a person feel as if they've just seen an amazing movie. Listening to this song alone would be a better movie-going experience than most movies you actually have to sit through.
Though these first four tracks could stand alone, the album is just getting going. Let Down just might be one of the favourite songs of my life. There are two guitar parts played on different time signatures which catch up to one another every once in awhile and the overlapping effect gives a unity and diversity to the song that just keeps you coming back for more.
This is followed by Karma Police, which is just as musically moving, and includes the intriguing lyric "Karma Police, arrest this man, he talks in maths He buzzes like a fridge, he's like a detuned radio." It then moves into a chorus which gladly always get stuck in my head on my way to a soccer game: "This is what you get, this is what you get, this is what you get, when you meeeeeesss with us!" This is balanced by the other chorus, which says: "For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself." I just love this song.
Fitter Happier is what seems at first to be a throwaway spoken-word track (in a computerized voice), but which deserves the label of poetry in the highest sense of the term. I can honestly say that I've never skipped this track. It is vital to an album which, as wikipedia puts it, exposes and "emphasises common themes such as consumerism, social disconnection, political stagnation and modern malaise." But it does it with a seemingly random assortment of words, instead of that academic sounding mumbo-jumbo.
The rest of the album is exceptional, at times even beautiful, and I won't go into each track. Probably the only song I don't like all that much is Electioneering, but having said that I think its lyrics quite poignant. Almost inevitably, by the time I've come through tracks nine to twelve---Up the Walls, No Surprises, Lucky, and The Tourist---I am literally shaking my head with amazement at what I've just heard and am more than likely compelled to start it all over again. Think I'm exagerrating? Set aside an hour, turn off the lights, put on some headphones or crank it up, and hear for yourself.
Sure, albums can get old, and this one gets put on the shelf for a time like any other. But if its been awhile, or if you've never heard this album, give it a go again and tell me if I'm wrong. Best rock album of our time.
(By the way, I was thinking of doing a top ten list to go with this, but it kind of dissolves into subjectivity after two or three selections (and who can pretend to have heard them all). Nonetheless, I'd love to hear other suggestions for best rock album of all time, besides OK Computer of course!)