Is it possible and/or appropriate to wish “Happy Birthday” to an album? If so then this blog is my attempt to mark 25 years this weekend of OK Computer, Radiohead’s third studio album released on 21st May 1997.
If you’ve the time and the inclination you could stick the album’s name into a search engine and spend hours reading opinions and analysis of the songs. I prefer to listen to the album because a quarter of a century on it still sounds like freshly delivered Martian music.
I was 27 years old when OK Computer was unleashed and became my life’s soundtrack. The songs seemed to answer questions I’d been asking myself for the previous five years since arriving in London for work.
And if my 20 something queries weren’t answered then I was soothed by the fact that Radiohead’s words and music resonated with me. The “unborn chicken voices” of Paranoid Android were the audio equivalent to what I referred to as “The Twittering Machine” inside of me. I named my internal nest of anxiety after Paul Klee’s 1922 watercolour.
Radiohead co-produced OK Computer with Nigel Godrich and I think this adds to the effortless, perfect gift they’ve handed to listeners. It’s a soundtrack to another world which turns out to be our past, presnt and future rolled into one.
I can barely remember my 20s. I muted that decade’s sound when I was living it and now I can’t find the remote control to undo that disconnection I chose back then. It’s painful to reflect on happy times and missed opportunities, not to mention the bad times and that relentless feeling of not wanting to (or feeling capable of) staying alive.
The screeching guitars, spacious sonics, angelic vocals and funny, unsettling, brilliant lyrics on OK Computer will forever remind me who I am, where I’ve been and where I’m trying to reach.
There’s a radio programme called We’re All Living in Ok Computer Now. It’s written and presented by writer Sarah Hall and includes commentators including journalist John Harris. I think I’m paraphrasing one of them when I say that this 25 year old album is both out of time but still of this time.
It was the soundtrack to 1990s Britain: New Labour, Britpop and Princess Diana’s death but it’s relevant now. It is the soundtrack of Brexit fallout, the war in Ukraine and hard borders in hearts and minds.