It’s only just now that I realize what’s happened. Whether in a daze of grief or I was somehow tricked, duped or bamboozled, my ex-wife ended up with our copy of Radiohead‘s OK Computer. You know how it is when you start living with your significant other. If you’re lucky enough to find someone with the same musical tastes, you end up with a few duplicated albums. We both came in with OK, but as they chant in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, “Two enter, one leaves.” I am still the proud possessor of the rest of the Radiohead catalog, including the special edition of Amnesiac that resembles a library book, but she ended up absconding with the crown jewel in the collection. It’s easy to replace, sure. I even have it on my iPod, but there was just this feeling of loss this morning as I sat down to write this and I remembered that the actual tangible evidence of musical greatness is gone. I’ve gone through similar scenarios earlier in the year as I realized that she also had my copy of Gorillaz’s Demon Days (which I got back), and more recently, my best of XTC disc, but because of what this album signifies in particular, OK Computer hit me the hardest.
I bought my now purloined copy of OK Computer on its release day of the first of July, 1997. I was living in Delaware, which means that I’ve purchased (or have had purchased for me) Radiohead albums in five different locales, the other four being Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and London. On that fateful day, I also picked up a copy of Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land, an album ironically enough on XL, a label that would later release Thom Yorke’s solo debut. OK Computer’s release marked the midpoint of my time in Delaware and truly cemented the shock to the system I felt from moving to a location so disparate from my more familiar surroundings. I had been a Radiohead fan since the now seemingly ‘alternate universe’ single, “Creep” began playing on American radio stations. I championed The Bends as a record store clerk when others dismissed them as a `one hit wonder.’ So, when OK Computer came out, I was predisposed to like it, but I just didn’t know how much it would absolutely devastate me to my emotional core.
There’s no need for me to go through any track-by-track or blow-by-blow account of the album. If you’re reading this, then Radiohead means something to you already, and OK Computer, in particular, had a similar effect on you as it had on me. If often think to myself that Radiohead’s albums have formed an arc. From the modern rock intro of Pablo Honey to the complete opposite end of the spectrum of the aptly titled In Rainbows, Radiohead’s albums can be grouped accordingly as separate segments of that that arc. As an example, I usually see OK Computer as the beginning of a trilogy that ends with Amnesiac. To make it even more of a bookended set, I sometimes think of OK as the alternately titled Paranoiac. This trilogy seems to me to be the odyssey of a character overwhelmed by the modern world, thus seeking escape into several different fantasy worlds, then ultimately completely losing his identity in the face of globalization and politicization. Thus, the reason that OK Computer means more to me is an association with those feelings of alienation, depression and helplessness as the world changes so rapidly that I feel it will someday leave me behind.
“Let Down” and “No Surprises” are perfect examples of songs that act as universal human insights to fear, sadness and sometimes even outrage as well as also being incredibly crafted pieces of rock art. Each and every song adds to the identity of OK Computer in a separate and distinct way, becoming one of those albums where its parts can be enjoyed apart from the whole and vice versa. Each listen elicits different reactions, from blissful familiarity to an inundating yet therapeutic melancholy. Whenever I want to feel a rush of adrenaline, that intense feeling of being charged up with emotional energy, I can alternately listen to any random song on OK Computer, from the elegiac “Exit Music (For a Film)” to the epic, bilious ever-changing song cycle that is “Paranoid Android.” There are very few perfect albums out there, albums that can touch your soul and shock your senses with every listen, and OK Computer is one of those few.
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