The Bends

Radiohead’s struggle and second guess themselves in an attempt at producing another ‘Creep’ an attempt that saw the band writing half a dozen potential follow-up hits, none of which they were particularly happy with. The sessions for the album dragged on, everyone went a bit crazy, not helped by the extensive touring they’d just completed in support of ‘Pablo Honey’. Experienced producer John Leckie held things together, and Radiohead’s survived intact. They very nearly split up, right here. Very nearly gave up altogether. Think about that for a second. Think about the fact that ‘The Bends’ sold far less than ‘Pablo Honey’ in the US, and in the UK it took about five singles to regain the groups lost ground, with the closing and very unlikely single type song ‘Street Spirit’ finally cracking the top ten and giving Radiohead a future. ‘The Bends’ stuck around in the UK album charts though, to be fair. Each and every single reminded people who knew  existed. It seems shocking these days, when Radiohead have enjoyed chart topping albums and everything else that goes with it, but still.

‘Planet Telex’ explodes from the speakers with a depth to the sound that just wasn’t there on ‘Pablo Honey’, but it is absolutely no kind of song, whatsoever – all atmosphere and texture. It’s okay, but the title song that follows it is far better. If the rockier songs on ‘Pablo Honey’ were sometimes a little embarrassing, Radiohead have suddenly got a lot better at ROCK songs here. ‘High And Dry’ varied the album, all of the opening first three songs managing to sound different to each other. ‘High And Dry’ is pretty, especially vocally. It’s a good song, but ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ is far better, and able to reduce this listener to tears more often than not. Now here, you see, is a song better than ‘Creep’, a giant leap forwards. The emotion here is immense, especially given that the lyrics aren’t that straightforward, but that only all works to the songs advantage. Thom sings absolutely beautifully, and ‘The Bends’ has a genuine classic on its hands. ‘Bones’ and ‘Nice Dream’ are mood pieces, attempts at moving forwards ably supported by the excellent production of John Leckie, without whom neither song would amount to anything more than the prettier moments from the very un-acclaimed ‘Pablo Honey’. The harder guitars of ‘Just’ appealed to Radiohead’s American fans and the truly demented ‘My Iron Lung’ won over a whole new bunch of ‘obscure in their listening habits’ UK alternative music fans. Hard to believe listening to it, that ‘My Iron Lung’ was simply an attempt at writing a new ‘Creep’. The song progresses, quietly yet spooky and full of potential menace even before the very loud and loose guitars of Johnny Greenwood have really kicked in. Fabulous stuff from start to finish.

‘Bullet Proof’ has a grandeur about it, a wonderful ballad with a sad, lost atmosphere and great production and mixing. Working with John Leckie probably saved Radiohead’s career. The echo on Thom’s voice here is just right, and really adds to the song. ‘Black Star’ has its moments, ‘Sulk’ doesn’t – but the closing ‘Street Spirit’, which revolves around a fascinating repeating guitar figure and intriguing Thom Yorke lyrics, is almost worth the price of admission alone.

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