In my experience there are very, very few albums where you love every song. For every song in isolation or as a trip start to finish, “The Bends” is a rare and beautiful exception to the rule.
The first time I heard Radiohead was seeing them perform on Later with Jools Holland. They blasted straight into this song that had so much energy and such a cool sound that I couldn’t help but watch.
As the song went on Jonny Greenwood did this weird thing with his guitar where he pulls the high E string off the guitar making a crazy wild effect that shouldn’t work but does. I was left stunned by the crazy effects, the power, the awesome. From that point on I was hooked.
The Bends was released in 1995 at the height of the Brit Pop movement. Facing bands like Oasis and Blur, Radiohead offered the “alternative sound” to the 90’s. The whole album is effortlessly unique. The music flows beautifully and on first listen the whole sound seems so simple, but the music is very sophisticated. Crammed with emotion, energy and depth in both the music and lyrics this is one of those albums that has been crafted to near perfection.
The mood is one of despair throughout. Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals echo a man deep pessimism, mulling over his dark thoughts on life. Street Spirit(fade out) was a song about death; how eventually we all fade out of life without exception. In Yorke’s Words
‘Street Spirit’ is about staring the fucking devil right in the eyes, and knowing, no matter what the hell you do, he’ll get the last laugh. And it’s real, and true. The devil really will get the last laugh in all cases without exception, and if I let myself think about that too long, I’d crack.”
“High and Dry” is a great example of how you can layer relatively simple sounds to get great depth. a quick glance at the chords and the song seems fairly simple. the song builds, then drops, then builds more, and drops, and repeat. The power in this song lies in the clever nuances. For example the note sung during ‘high’ is a colour tone(a note outside the key or chord being played) which enhances the chord first time, then resolves.[source]
“Iron Lung” starts as a clean-cut spanky sounding song then out of nowhere descends into a grunge-rock showcase of weird twists and turns. The way this song gets you is by keeping a predictable clean chorus build,next verse pattern so that the second time when the pattern is broken the grunge riff is extra effective. Like a dog with a stick, if you throw the stick first time it jumps straight away, if you pretend to throw it first time then it’s surprised when you actually throw it the second. Then the clean verse comes back, chorus and back into the grunge riff. Only this time after the riff there’s a solo, then a new section, another solo! Truly a master-class in building and releasing tension.
So deep an atmosphere you could fall into it for 48mins 37seconds, The Bends secured Radiohead as one of the greatest British bands to grace this planet. Excuse me while fall…