Generation Radiohead

Joseph Fahim
8 Min Read

The music that has become a personal soundtrack for many fans

In 1997 the world was waiting abuzz for the “Be Here Now; British rock outfit Oasis’ follow-up to their record-breaking “What’s the Story (Morning Glory).

“Be Here Now, which turned out to be a major disappointment, still managed to sell millions of records around the world. Several other albums managed to overshadow Oasis’ blockbuster record: Blur’s self-titled fifth album, the late Elloitt Smith’s “Either/Or and The Verve’s masterpiece “Urban Hymns.

Despite the massive acclaim these albums received, none of them came close to match the frenzy that met Radiohead’s third effort “Ok Computer. This record was named by several critics and music publications as the greatest album in history shortly after.

The majority of the early and mid-90s was dominated by the Brit-Pop wave; a movement that started in 1990 with the Stone Roses s self-titled album. For me though, the real beginning of my favorite musical era took place in 1994 with the release of three albums that would define the entire movement: Blur s Parklife, Pulp s His n Hers, and, most of all, Oasis s landmark debut album Definitely Maybe.

It wasn t easy to get these albums in Egypt back then. Egyptian public radio and the few foreign music programs on local TV were full of the power ballads of Céline Dion, Mariah Carrey, Whitney Houston and the torrent of manufactured boy bands. My only sanctuary was a little record store down the Ahram Street of Masr El Gedida that belonged to a DJ called Mohram who used to record the famous Now! compilation CDs on cassettes that introduced me to a genre of music completely radical to the songs that jam-packed the airwaves.

Pretty soon, Oasis Live Forever became the first anthem of my adolescence and I started craving more. I savored every single record from the many wave s bands such as Ocean Color Scene, The Bluetones, Shed Seven Kula Shaker and others whose musical catalogue formed the soundtrack of my life. Brit-Pop wasn t a mere fad or phony craze; it was one of my strange tools of rebellion; for building an alternative cultural haven that stood against the mores of my society.

My infatuation with Radiohead though didn t kick in until a later stage. Like the greater majority of the band s fans, Creep was the first Radiohead song I stumbled upon in 1993. I wasn t immediately won over. The band s music was charged with unsettling sadness, fury and philosophy that contradicted the carefree music I loved and the life I led.

It wasn t until 97 when my obsession with the band began to blossom. At the credits at the end of Baz Luhrmann s Romeo + Juliet, the following lines swiftly echoed: Wake, from your sleep; the drying of your tears; today, we escape, we escape.

The song was called Exit Music (For a Film), one of Ok Computer s finest cuts. The mournful lyrics describing the morning after the two doomed lovers had made love, combined with Johnny Greenwood s piercing strumming of his guitar and Thom Yorke s jaded, haunting voice, left me literary shaking. I simply never heard anything like that before and the song drove me to purchase the band s second album The Bends, that would eventually act as my own personal life story and the recently released Computer; my favorite album of all time.

Ok Computer was never an easy album to listen to. The album is, after all, a document of the modern world; the mechanical everyday life, mortality, the overwhelming forces of submission and the defeat of beauty and innocence.

No Surprises, one of the most heartbreaking songs of the last century, encapsulates the essence of the album. The elegiac lullaby is built on a simple acoustic guitar chord, glockenspiel and well-placed electronic rhythms. An ode to T.S. Eliot s poem Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, No Surprises is a moving meditation of a man unsatisfied with a job that slowly kills you, a life overflowing with pain and devoid of any meaning and memories and regrets that never seem to heal. He longs for a better place, for a world where worry doesn t have a spot to reside, yet, deep inside, he understands that it doesn t truly exist.

Meanwhile, Let Down depicts what it feels like to be completely removed from our surroundings and Karma Police explores the thoughts of a man attempting to fight conformity.

Paranoid Android is the most cynical and terrifying tune of the album. The six-minute epic is divided into three separate parts, each with a distinctive melody, theme and pace that recalls The Beatles Happiness is a Warm Gun. The surreal Android is composed of what seems like snapshots of a nightmare of a man attempting to escape the agony of his life, only to discover that his getaway leads to another hell. The line ambition makes you look pretty ugly, is widely regarded as one of the most iconic verses in history.

Radiohead followed their biggest selling album with the difficult and challenging Kid A in 2000, a set of primarily dark electronic sonic beats that advanced the sound of DJ Shadow and Aphex Twin to a different lever and labeled by critics and fans alike as surefire commercial suicide. Two equally great albums would be released afterwards that saw the band successfully experimenting with different sounds, topping numerous polls and often labeled as the most important band in the world.

Nevertheless, Ok Computer has remained the band s essential masterpiece, influencing every Rock group in the world and, single-handedly, kicked-off an entire new wave in England that saw the likes of Coldplay, Travis, Snow Patrol and Keane establishing their entire careers on the heels of Computer s triumph.

Unlike the albums of the Brit-Pop era, Ok Computer has grown to be a part of my existence. I must have listened to the album hundreds of times yet the songs never lost any of their power and Thom Yorke s voice still penetrates the depths of my soul every time his words ring out from the speakers.

Ok Computer is an album of unfathomable beauty and deep-stead melancholy, a pensive essay on loss, estrangement, failure of communication and uncertainty that signaled the end of our adolescence and the beginning of adulthood. Radiohead made it ok for us to be who we are, to accept the desolation rooted with this world of ours and treasure every single genuine fleeting moment of pure joy. Ok Computer isn t a mere album; it s the record of my generation.

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