Rocks In The Attic #200: Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ (1995)

RITA#200The 200th post in this blog celebrates an album that is probably more important to the development of my musical tastes than any other album in my collection.

In the early ‘90s, when I discovered music for myself – and discovered bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC (that I couldn’t care less if other people liked or not) – I was very much into rock music. I naively thought all other genres of music were a waste of time. I either liked contemporary rock, or classic rock, with a touch of metal and grunge thrown in for good measure.

I then went to University, joined the Rock Society club and found other like-minded people. The rest of the time, I would be drinking in pubs with my classmates, usually dressed in an AC/DC or Led Zeppelin t-shirt, with my shoulder-length long hair; and my classmates would be dressed like normal people. Ugh, who wants to be normal people?

Around this time, and from the time I started listening to music, Indie and Britpop were my enemy. This is partly the fault of the hype surrounding Oasis, and partly the fault of those normal people all around me, like the red-headed chick a year above me in college who just couldn’t fathom that I wasn’t going to the big Oasis gig at Maine Road later that night. Britpop was a club that I didn’t want to join, full of bands like Pulp, who sang about twee nonsense whilst mincing around a stage littered with kitsch charity-shop junk. “Jarvis is really a fantastic social commentator,” I would be told. That’s strange, I thought, he looks like a collector of chintz, singing mediocre songs, backed by a band of average musicians.

(I guess that’s the point I still agree with today. If you listen to rock music, you tend to listen to a better pedigree of musician. The lines have blurred completely, because rock music is now so mainstream, and has been for the past decade, but when I think back to the 1990’s, the Indie or Britpop bands were full of musicians who just couldn’t really play. Noel Gallagher may have started off as a decent songwriter – although it pains me to say it – but his skills on the guitar are very basic. Listen to him solo and he plays the same pentatonic scale every single time. Compare him to somebody like Slash, and there’s just no contest. You may think it’s an unfair comparison, but players like Slash aren’t that uncommon in rock music.)

Anyway, I digress. So, there I am at University, in my second year I think, and it’s getting a little tired listening to rock music all the time. It’s not like I had run out of rock bands to listen to, but there was definitely nothing decent that was coming out by contemporary bands. Bright young rock hopes like The Wildhearts had lost their way and gone all industrial, and Terrorvision had gone completely mainstream, singing about Tequila on Top Of The Pops every week. Then one day I was in the Scream pub in Huddersfield, and somebody put Just by Radiohead on the jukebox.

My whole outlook on music changed instantly. Here was an Indie or a Britpop band, playing something that was just as musically interesting as anything that I had heard in rock music – either in contemporary rock music or in classic rock. I rushed out and bought the album straight away.

Just was clearly the best song on the album, accompanied by a great music video, but there was some other really good stuff on there too. I very quickly bought Pablo Honey (average, but with a couple of highlights) and OK Computer (overrated, but with a couple of highlights), but The Bends remained my favourite (and still does to this day).

The rest of my years at University were spent digesting everything I could by Radiohead. I even remember buying one of those cheaply produced interview discs with the band, just because my appetite for anything related to them was so strong.

Their lasting effect on my musical tastes is impossible to quantify. I made a huge left turn from my existing staid music collection, and turned almost wholeheartedly into Indie and Britpop. I started listening to some bad examples of the genre (Cast, Space, Bis, etc), but found plenty of modern classics there too (The Las, Blur, Supergrass, etc). This eye-opening led to a decision that I’m still in two minds about today. In the summer of 1999, I decided against seeing Aerosmith headline a day of rock bands at Wembley Stadium, in favour of travelling to my first of many Glastontonbury festivals.

I guess it was just bad timing, but I still partly regret not seeing Aerosmith that weekend. One of my friends went to that gig, and when he told me about the setlist they played, full of ‘70s classics they had avoided playing in the three times I had seen them up to that point, I immediately started kicking myself. But then when I think back to Glastonbury 1999, and all the bands I saw not only that year, but every year I went back up to and including 2007, it’s not really a fair comparison.

If I had seen Aerosmith at Wembley Stadium in 1999, I would have seen my favourite ever band, supported by the likes of Lenny Kravitz (who I was lucky enough to catch that same weekend at Glastonbury) and The Black Crowes (who I still haven’t managed to see live). By deciding to go to the Glastonbury festival that year, and over the next six Glastonburys I went to, I managed to see David Bowie, Radiohead, R.E.M., Manic Street Preachers, Suzanne Vega, The White Stripes, Super Furry Animals, Oasis, The Who, Paul McCartney, Muse, Doves, Coldplay, Air, The Chemical Brothers, The Bluetones, Fatboy Slim, Kings Of Leon, Moby, The Killers, Blondie, Amy Winehouse, and a whole lot more.

Radiohead almost lost me with OK Computer, but they definitely lost me after that. At one point, I remember seeing them play a live gig on TV, I think to promote Kid-A. At one point during the set, Jonny Greenwood took off his guitar and walked over to a bank of portable TVs. He crouched down and started flicking through channels as part of the performance. That’s it, I thought, they’ve turned into something else.

I liked Radiohead as a guitar band, when they used to write songs on guitars. I’d even be brave enough to say The Bends is the best album of the 1990s.

Hit: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Hidden Gem: Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was

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6 thoughts on “Rocks In The Attic #200: Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ (1995)

  1. Matthew Gibson

    I agree with you up to a point about indie guitarists – there is no indie Angus Young. But I would say that Jonny Greenwood and Graham Coxon are among the best guitarists there ever was. Just no ear shredding solos. And Guiggsy of course.

    Reply
    1. mrjohnnyandrews Post author

      Definitely. I think Johnny Marr set the bar very high, but I’d agree that those two are just as good as any rock guitaris.

      Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but I think generally most indie/britpop bands are formed around the nucleus of one man and his songwriting skills, and the rest of the band are just morons in the right place at the right time.

      Reply
      1. Matthew Gibson

        I think that’s true of Britpop, but it’s also true of most bands ever – a good musician or songwriter and a couple of other guys. My point is that there are lots of good indie guitarists, just that they don’t do Rory Gallagher style jams. I’m thinking of bands like REM – perhaps not technically amazing guitarists, but they have a unique sound.
        But getting back to Radiohead – it’s just odd that Jonny Greenwood isn’t put on the same pedestal as, say, Jimmy Page. The noise that comes out of his guitar is astounding sometimes, like on Just from here.

  2. mrjohnnyandrews Post author

    It’s just a fact of him coming much later though, isn’t it? Jimmy Page came along at such a time that he was a big fish in a small pond; and Jonny Greenwood is a bigger-than average fish in an immense pond. (By the way, have you heard his soundtrack for There Will Be Blood? It’s every kind of awesome).

    Matt Bellamy from Muse is another of that lot – a very gifted guitarist that would have been put on a pedastal if he’d have come along twenty or thirty years ago.

    Reply
  3. Matthew Gibson

    I don’t think that I’ve listened to the soundtrack all the way through, except when I was watching the film of course. I’m not a big fan of soundtracks as stereo listening, the handful that I own are of the compilation of hits variety. I think that soundtracks don’t tend to make much sense when they are separated from the action. Tindersticks have done a few soundtracks, I bought one, listened to it, thought “that was excellent” then never listened again. Same with Nick Cave’s and Warren Ellis’ soundtrack for the Assassination of Jesse James.

    As for Muse – I genuinely cannot see how they have become so big. Aren’t they rubbish? A cut price Mansun?

    Reply
    1. mrjohnnyandrews Post author

      They’re a cut price Queen if anything. They started off very well, and their first two or three albums are very good, but then they crossed over with a very mainstream pop single, and they’ve never been the same since. Like a lot of bands, they’re just a shadow of their former selves. It says something when the airheads in my office like to listen to them…

      Reply

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