Musical Recommendations!

Though I am presently unable to update the small album of the week selection at the top right of the page (my WordPress plug-in writing knowledge does not extend to such heights as writing user interfaces, or at least text boxes where one can insert the name of the album and a link to the picture. So I have to wait till I go home and am able to edit the actual plug-in file. Oh well…), I really do have a few ideas as what the next album of the week may be.

Airbag/How Am I Driving EPFirstly, I thought that I should really get around to listening to some of the music that I had bought recently that is a little weird and more B-side material. So in this category I have the OK Computer B-side EP – the Airbag/How Am I Driving EP which was recently re-released (if you’re American) or released (if you’re British). This contains Airbag and then all of the B-sides from the singles on that album. These include such tracks as Melatonin, Polyethylene (Parts 1&2), Palo Alto and Meeting In The Aisle, just to name a few… While you’d expect this (as a CD of B-sides) to not be particularly good and not really good enough to be put on the actual album (which is slightly phenomenal in this case), you might be surprised as there are some really quite excellent cuts on here. Naturally you’ve got Airbag, which you should already know is a great song, but take Pearly for example – it has a nice classic depressing Radiohead sort of sound to it. The sort of sound that you’d expect from The Bends or OK Computer era – pretty much what you’d expect. The 3rd track – Meeting In The Aisle is fundamentally very different and strangely more electronic. The drums sound considerably more synthesized and the guitars and backing instruments are producing much more of an ambient sort of sound. This isn’t what you might expect from the kind of stuff that Radiohead was producing in 1997. It sounds much more like it was taken from the Amnesiac/Kid A era. A Reminder, the song following Meeting In The Aisle again follows the same themes and ideas in terms of its more ambient approach – it even has what sounds like the announcer from a French train station at the start. Though the vocals in this case are much more what you’d expect from an OK Computer B-side, sounding vaguely similar to The Tourist rather than anything else.

It isn’t just the next two albums that are hinted at within this EP, from listening to Polyethylene (Parts 1&2), especially the first part, I can hear a similar kind of sound to In Rainbows, or at least I think that’s what it most sounds like. While this seems very bizarre, as In Rainbows is another 10 years down the line – it suggests that a lot of the music contained here is largely experimental and may be rough ideas being thrown around – ones that may even be used again to some extent in the future. Though this may be the case with Polyethylene, it applies only to the first part of it. The second part turns largely into a song that sounds like it is right off The Bends in terms of its rock sound to it, though the chord sequence is intrinsically odd, as are the lyrics, which are much more OK Computerish,

“Leukaemia, schizophrenia, polyethylene. There is no significant risk to your health.”

Overall, this song is one of the more powerful ones on this EP, and is definitely worth a listen.

If you thought the whole ‘sound of what may be to come’ concept was over in this album, then Melatonin blows this right out of the water. It sounds way too much like All I Need from In Rainbows (or should it be the other way around?) with the string backing and the drums at the start, but unlike All I Need it doesn’t really change from this sounds. However, Melatonin’s lyrics remain firmly planted in OK Computer territory with the alienation in modern capitalistic society theme,

“Don’t forget, that you are our son. Now go back to bed.
We just know that you’ll do well, you won’t come to harm.
Death to all who stand in your way. Wake my dear.”

N.B. One could argue here that some of these lyrics sound dark, foreboding and possibly dangerous in a similar way to We Suck Young Blood from Hail To The Thief, where the themes and concepts of the loss of innocence, especially with the young are present. Though the two songs are unrelated there could be such a linking of themes…

The final song on this EP, Palo Alto, definitely, yet again and most unsurprisingly has the OK Computer theme going on with its lyrics.

“In a city of the future?
It is difficult to concentrate?
Meet the boss, meet the wife?
Everybody’s happy?
Everyone is made for life.”

Unlike the other songs on OK Computer and Airbag/How Am I Driving where the alienation and modern society theme is thrown around and touched on slightly, Palo Alto addresses it fully. The first verse (above) starts with a happy portrayal of what is currently going on in the world. Though rather ironic and possibly sarcastic at times (‘Everybody’s happy’), the optimism is realised. In later verses, the realisation (i.e. the harsh reality) becomes apparent.

“In a city of the future?
It is difficult to find a space?
I’m too busy to see you?
You’re too busy to wait.”

The whole “I’m too busy to see you” idea suggests that no-one really matters and that that there may be a sense of alienation where people do not care about other people anymore. What becomes clear here is that the time for understanding and paying attention to others is over, modern society does not allow time for it. Finally, to finish off the song and to continue to enforce the whole idea of the destruction of values and overall change, greetings are exchanged. The utmost bleakness and complete blandness of these greetings just continue to depict the future in a crudely sarcastic manner.

“I’m okay, how are you??
Thanks for asking, thanks for asking?
But I’m okay, how are you??
I hope you’re okay too.”

The word okay is especially resonant in this case as it emphasizes how average and naff everything has become. The repetition just adds to it, suggesting that everyone now just has automated replies where they are merely okay and then ask how the other person is. It shows a sense of detachedness from a personal viewpoint – everyone is a machine built for work and work only, they need not have any social skills (very 1984 themed), ingrained also in this verse (and in the complete album and song too) is the continuing theme of people not caring for others due to the fact that it simply isn’t necessary anymore.

As a background to this, it might be worth noting that Palo Alto is a city in California, in the North of Silicon Valley. This is where the reference of ‘In a city of the future’ comes from. Being in Silicon Valley, you would expect Palo Alto to be very technologically advanced, thus almost seen as a Utopia of the future and a good basis for this song. Getting back to the actual music, the style of Palo Alto is akin to The Bends and possibly has some of the very then Indie sound of Pablo Honey. This naturally gives a good spread of Radiohead styles throughout this EP.

Overall, this is a truly phenomenal EP. It might sound particularly odd at first and like a mishmash of B-sides, but on a second or closer listen it’s clear that this is a bridging album between the very contrasting styles of OK Computer and Kid A/Amnesiac, it could almost be regarded as a sequel to OK Computer. It has a bit of everything that Radiohead has done, and some stuff that they might still do, but overall it acts as a brilliant complement to OK Computer. Enjoy!

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