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Top Twenty Greatest Albums, Six: Radiohead, “The Bends” 1995

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” Coming from famed nihilist and all round party pooper Fredrich Nietzsche, this statement seems odd, but I happen to agree with the ultimate pessimist. 

Art, literature and music should be THE criteria by which periods of history are judged. We can use them to ask important questions such as why is there no great work of art by a German against the Nazis?” We can make some observations about hierarchy and power in times of crisis via War and Peace. The works of Solzhenitsyn provide an insight into the cruelty of Stalin, and the control society in general, and Guernica is a painting that perhaps sums up the futility of total war better than any hand wringing article.  

And then of course the incomparable George Orwell. The Voice of the Left through the most important and turbulent period of British history.” The Road to Wigan Pier” is the most important book of the 20th Century for anyone on the Left or anyone who wants to understand Socialist values. The debates it contains are the same ones that face the Left now as we move into the second decade of 21st century. 

Are the working class to lead or be led?

What do you do about people who can’t, or won’t engage?

Should the Left reject business or make it work for us?

Is War the right thing? (Kosovo V Iraq). Back then it was Spain.

How much should we screw the rich and is this just the politics of jealousy?

Can a toff be a socialist? 

It’s also interesting to note that Orwell devotes a lot a time to discussing bad diet and it’s effects on public health. Lard, margarine booze and fags were considered to be the great threats. This was in 1937.Basically the same as now if you add sugar. 

Orwell felt that the establishment wanted to keep people addicted and dependent.

Labour seemed obsessed with relaxing boozing laws and the unbelievable proposals to expand gambling (sorry, gaming). John Reid said smoking was OK as it gave people some enjoyment. How patronising but lucrative for the Treasury. Until it has to fork out loads to the NHS for the illnesses that result. 

I’m not for a minute going to compare Radiohead with Orwell but they have produced two of the best albums ever recorded and their ability to arouse such raw emotion through the searing beauty of the music and lyrics in combination is just stunning.

It’s like classical music in a rock context. (Street Spirit being the most obvious example). 

OK Computer has better individual songs.(Karma Police ,No Surprises) but as a whole piece I think the Bends edges it as it hangs together better as an album. 

1995 was a bad year for me as an individual. I had successfully suppressed all the fallout from my Mum’s suicide but you can’t sit on these things forever without something having to give. 

I felt sad and I had no idea how to stop it so I decided to deal with it head on and went to a counsellor who specialist in this sort of stuff. Big mistake. She had a rigid way of analysing things and I imagine she had a template and that was it. I found it made me 100% worse so I elbowed it and just had to try and hope it would resolve itself. 

I was in the back yard with headphones listening to the Bends and I cried at the end. But it was because the music moved me. Nothing else. It was the Rubicon moment and I felt the release and have never looked back.

So the Bends it is.

Radiohead’s sound harked back to a fusion of 1970’s and 80’s innovative music which is no surprise (lol) as producer John Leckie had worked as an engineer on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, before going on to produce the ambient, more electronic sound of Simple Mind’s first three long players, all underestimated records. Leckie also produced the eponymous Stone Roses album and brought all this experience to bear with The Bends.

Capped off by Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals and subtlety crafted songs right from the first track Fake Plastic Trees to the absolutely wonderful Street Spirit, The Bends is an almost perfect piece of work. 

The List So Far….

20. REM. Automatic For the People (1992).

19. Simple Minds. New Gold Dream (1982)

18. Levellers. Levelling the Land (1991)

17. Muse. Black Holes and Revelations (2006).

16. Stereophonics. Language, Sex, Violence, Other. (2005).

15. Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Ragged Glory (1990)

14. George Michael. Listen Without Prejudice (1990).

13. Oasis. (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory (1995).

12. Bob Dylan. Blood on the Tracks (1975).

11. Echo and the  Bunnymen. Ocean Rain (1984).

10. Johnny Cash. The Man Comes Around (2002)

9. The The Mind Bomb (1989)

8. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band   Born in the USA (1984)


7. Blur 13, (1999)

About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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