OK Computer is the third album released by Alternative Rock band Radiohead. Upon its release in May 1997, the album reached number one in the UK and number 21 in the US, and received overwhelmingly positive acclaim from both fans and critics. The album is best remembered for the four singles that supported it — "Paranoid Android", "Karma Police", "Lucky", and "No Surprises" — all of which were radio hits and remain fan favorites to this day.
Recorded with the intent to present a less introspective album than The Bends, exchanging the 1995 album's personally-oriented lyricism and downbeat melodies in exchange for a more aggressive, experimental, and sociopolitical style, OK Computer initiated a shift away from the popular Britpop genre of the time to the more melancholic, atmospheric style of alternative rock that would be prevalent in the next decade (corroborated by the fact that it released just a few months before Oasis' Be Here Now, widely considered the Genre-Killer for Britpop). It would also initiate the band's shift away from their original guitar-heavy approach and into the more experimental territory that defined their subsequent work.
Critics and fans often comment on the underlying themes found in the lyrics and artwork, emphasising Radiohead's views on rampant consumerism, social alienation, emotional isolation, and political malaise; in this capacity, OK Computer is often interpreted as having prescient insight into the mood of 21st century life. Others meanwhile noted the thematic similarities to Pink Floyd's own 1973 Breakthrough Hit The Dark Side of the Moon, and dubbed this plus Radiohead's complex and experimental instrumentation techniques throughout OK Computer a sign of Progressive Rock reemerging into public relevance after its downfall in the late 70's and early 80's. Radiohead themselves detested such comparisons; similarly to Pink Floyd, however, the sudden explosion in popularity would take a hugely negative toll on the band, with burnout from their abrupt fame and Artist Disillusionment with rock music altogether resulting in the even more experimental electronica and jazz directions of their next two albums.
Prominent rock critics predicted the album would have far-reaching cultural impact, and boy, were they right — in subsequent years, the album has been frequently cited by listeners, critics, and musicians as one of the greatest of its time, if not one of the greatest albums of all time. OK Computer is currently listed at number 42 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time; in 2006, Time Magazine placed it in their list of 100 timeless and essential albums; and it is currently listed as the 8th-most-acclaimed album of all time on Acclaimed Music's compilation of critics' lists. In 2014, it was inducted into the National Recording Registry for its "cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance." It also currently holds the position of being the highest-rated album on Rate Your Music.
In 2017, the band commemorated the 20th anniversary of OK Computer with OKNOTOK, an expanded and remastered re-release containing both the original 1997 album and an additional disc of bonus material, namely the B-sides for its associated singles plus the previously unreleased songs "I Promise", "Man of War", and "Lift", which themselves were released as singles with their own music videos to promote the re-release. True to form, the band included a hype sticker◊ on OKNOTOK pointing out how all of the issues first discussed in 1997 have only gotten worse in the 20 years since, making OK Computer more relevant now than ever before.
- "Airbag" (4:44)
- "Paranoid Android" (6:23)
- "Subterranean Homesick Alien" (4:27)
- "Exit Music (For a Film)" (4:24)
- "Let Down" (4:59)
- "Karma Police" (4:21)
- "Fitter Happier" (1:57)
- "Electioneering" (3:50)
- "Climbing Up the Walls" (4:45)
- "No Surprises" (3:48)
- "Lucky" (4:19)
- "The Tourist" (5:24)
Note: Vanilla Edition CD releases are across a single disc
OKNOTOK Bonus DiscWho's
- "I Promise" (3:59)
- "Man of War" (4:29)
- "Lift" (4:06)
- "Lull" (2:25)
- "Meeting in the Aisle" (3:07)
- "Melatonin" (2:08)
- "A Reminder" (3:52)
- "Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)" (4:22)
- "Pearly" (3:38)
- "Palo Alto" (3:51)
- "How I Made My Millions" (3:07)
"Please, can you stop the tropes? I'm trying to get some rest:"
- 1-Dimensional Thinking: The unseen driver in the "Karma Police" video, and then the car itself.
- Adult Fear:
baby smiling in back seat...Shot of baby strapped in back seat.
- A couple lines in "Fitter Happier":
- The phrase "Lost child" is visible on the album cover above the blue-orange figure.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: From "Paranoid Android":The crackle of pigskinThe dust and the screamingThe yuppies networking
- Bittersweet Ending: Ends with the one-two Tear Jerker punch of "Lucky" and "The Tourist", which provide a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and resolve the tension and fear that pervade the rest of the album.
- Bookends: OK Computer begins and ends with a car crash; "The Tourist", which closes the album, describes the events leading up to it from the perspective of a bystander, and "Airbag", which opens it, describes the driver's celebration after surviving the crash.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Recurs in "Fitter Happier", making the already creepy song even creepier.Nothing so childish, at a better pace
Slower and more calculated
No chance of escape
- Careful with That Axe: Thom's unsettling distorted shriek at the end of "Climbing Up the Walls".
- Cloudcuckoolander: Insanity and paranoia is a major theme on this album.
- Concept Album: Although the band denies it, in the minds of the fans the album qualifies, due most of its songs addressing the future of technology in the eve of the 20th century.
- Creepy/Machine Monotone: "Fitter Happier", used to show the disconnect between corporate advice and the people who follow it.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: "Subterranean Homesick Alien":I'd show them the stars and the meaning of life
They'd shut me away, but I'd be alright
- Easter Egg:
I like you.
- The CD release has some text hidden on the inner tray art, on the inner right edge, which reads as follows:
I like you. you are a wonderful person. I'm full of enthusiasm. I'm going places. I'll be happy to help you.
I am an important person. would you like to come home with me?
- The deluxe edition release of OKNOTOK features a cassette mixtape that starts with "Zx Spectrum Symphony", a track that appears to be incoherent electronic gibberish. However, putting the tape into a ZX Spectrum computer (or a ZX Spectrum emulator) and running it grants access to a hidden message from the band.
- Epic Rocking: "Paranoid Android" is over 6 minutes long.
- Fading into the Next Song:
- The beeps at the end of "Airbag" set the tempo for "Paranoid Android".
- The sirens at the end of "Karma Police" trail off into "Fitter Happier", which then fades into "Electioneering". Unfortunately, the former two are separated on vinyl editions.
- Fake Loud: "Climbing Up the Walls" consists of two of Thom's vocal tracks layered over each other. The one that's mixed lower is clipped and distorted in this manner, but it's actually much quieter than the Thom's other vocal track, which is more clean and melodic.
- Foreshadowing: The chorus of "Paranoid Android" contains a quiet Machine Monotone muttering the line "I may be paranoid, but not an android", which leads to the track "Fitter Happier", which has the same Machine Monotone voice front and center (albeit reading off a different series of lines throughout the piece).
- The Future Will Be Better: The song "No Surprises" semi-ironically evokes this trope. The protagonist wants to have no surprises anymore in his life, which seems to indicate he might be Driven to Suicide.
- Genre Roulette: While the album as a whole is Alternative Rock, the exact style of it shifts from song to song, including the straighter style of "Airbag", "Subterranean Homesick Alien", "Lucky", and "The Tourist", the aggressive, Progressive Rock-esque "Paranoid Android" and "Climbing Up the Walls", the acoustic "Exit Music (For a Film)", the Beatles and Beach Boys pastiches of "Karma Police" & "No Surprises" (respectively), the Laurie Anderson-esque Avant-garde Music of "Fitter Happier", and the Punk Rock of "Electioneering".
- Good Hair, Evil Hair: "Karma Police":Her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill.
- Great Escape: "Exit Music"'s lyrics describe one inspired by Romeo and Juliet and what would've happened if after they consummated their marriage, they tried to escape the morning after.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The 1997 double-LP release of the album names each of the four sides after the first line of the children's counting rhyme "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo." For the 20th anniversary OKNOTOK expanded release, which includes an additional disc of bonus material, the rhyme is changed to reference Ip Dip, a similar counting rhyme only widely used in the UK.
- In the Style of...:
- "Happiness is a Warm Gun" by The Beatles from The White Album, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" from A Night at the Opera and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew were cited as influences for the multi-part structure of "Paranoid Android."
- Further Beatles influences appear in "Karma Police", whose main piano melody is reminiscent of "Sexy Sadie" from The White Album.
- The band admitted the drums on "Airbag" were recorded as an attempt to imitate the drum programming of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing......
- Word of God confirms that "No Surprises" was written as a pastiche of The Beach Boys, specifically of the material on their 1966 album Pet Sounds.
- Last Note Nightmare:
- "Karma Police". As the rather mellow melody of the song fades out at the end, some very dissonant feedback fades in... Which is in turn followed by a nice closing piano chord. Then again, it is Radiohead; this sort of thing is to be expected.
- "Climbing Up the Walls" is scary enough already, considering it deals with insanity and paranoia, but as its climactic ending fades out, 16 violins are left playing notes separated by quarters. It can leave you thinking "Wait, how long were they there?!"
- List Song: "Fitter Happier", which has a robotic monotone voice listing off phrases and imagery tied together subliminally by the theme of the cold and commonplace ethos of society.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "No Surprises" contrasts a lullaby-like melody and comforting instrumentation with bluntly frank lyrics about the crushing sense of apathy and ennui that result from depression and burnout.
- Machine Monotone: "Paranoid Android" and "Fitter Happier" feature one, both courtesy of the "Fred" voice from MacinTalk 3 Pro.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Most of the album is a 2-3. However, "Exit Music (For a Film)" and "No Surprises" drop to a 1, while "Electioneering" reaches a 6. "Climbing Up the Walls" is a 4, as the song's creepy atmosphere and the aforementioned Last Note Nightmare prevents it from being any lower.
- "Paranoid Android" covers all the ground from 1 or 2 at its softest to 7 or 8 at its heaviest parts. Overall, it probably comes out to about a 4 or 5.
- Mood Whiplash: Used frequently. The aforementioned shifts in "Paranoid Android" and the transition from "Karma Police" to "Fitter Happier" may be the strongest examples.
- New Sound Album: The album took the spacey but driving style of alt-rock the band had introduced on The Bends, and proceeded to take it Up to Eleven with additional Progressive Rock elements, more intricate production, and more elements drawn from other genres.
- No Animals Were Harmed: "Fitter Happier":Careful to all animals (never washing spiders down the plughole)
A pig, in a cage, on antibiotics.
- Which is subverted at the end with:
- Off with His Head!: Literally sung in "Paranoid Android":When I'm king, you will be first against the wall(...) Off with his head, man
- The Oner: The music video of "No Surprises" shows Thom Yorke shot in one long continuous take. The continuous 57 seconds in which Thom Yorke is submerged was done by speeding up the track Thom is miming to as his face becomes totally submerged, then editing the footage to slow it down for the full minute. The making of this video is featured in the band's documentary Meeting People is Easy, which shows Thom's frustrations with being unable to do the shot correctly for several takes.
- One-Word Title: "Airbag" and "Lucky".
- Over Crank: Thom Yorke in the music video of "No Surprises", wearing a dome over his head like an astronaut, which is being filled with water. When it is completely full, Thom goes completely limp and motionless. For almost a full minute. Then the dome drains out and Thom appears to be quite distressed (sucking in great lungfuls of air), and also quite relieved, laughing as he lip-syncs the last of the lyrics. He was never in any actual danger— they Over Cranked the film in order to make it appear he was motionless. He actually only had to hold his breath for a few seconds. The kicker? The video took several takes to film, and each time Thom grew more and more stressed out and agitated at how long it was taking, as documented in Meeting People is Easy. Horribly, eye-wateringly claustrophobic.
- Precision F-Strike: The sole swear on the album comes from "Fitter Happier", of all tracks.Like a cat
Tied to a stick
That's driven into
Frozen winter shit
- Product Placement: "Paranoid Android" sardonically dubs the song's target a "kicking and squealing Gucci little piggy."
- Progressive Rock: While not an example of the genre in the traditional sense, influences from it are rife in the album's complex, classical & jazz-inspired composition and instrumentation, abstract lyricism, and use of overarching themes; many analysts at the time in fact directly compared the album to The Dark Side of the Moon. Radiohead themselves opposed both the "progressive rock" label and the Pink Floyd comparisons, but nevertheless they persisted, and the band's work both here and on later albums are frequently listed as examples of crossover prog.
- Rant-Inducing Slight: "Paranoid Android" was inspired by a woman Thom Yorke saw in a bar who became violent when someone spilled a drink on her.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: One possible interpretation of "Exit Music"— taking its roots in Romeo and Juliet into consideration— depicts it as one from Romeo and Juliet to Friar Laurence, who is an integral part of the pair's demise.We hope your
- Record Producer: Nigel Godrich. This the first album where the band worked with him as their producer (after he had engineered The Bends), and since then he has produced all their albums.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Climbing Up the Walls", and possibly "Fitter Happier".Either way you turnI'll be thereOpen up your skullI'll be thereClimbing up the walls
- Self-Backing Vocalist: The two vocal overdubs played simultaneously in the last verse of "Let Down".
- The title of "Subterranean Homesick Alien" to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" from Bringing It All Back Home.
- Two to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: the album title comes from Zaphod's line "okay, computer, I want full manual control now" from the 1978 radio series, while the song "Paranoid Android" derives its own title from the character Marvin the Paranoid Android.
- The beeps that mark the transition between "Airbag" and "Paranoid Android" are sampled from BBC radio, where they're used to mark the last seconds before a new hour starts.
- The music video for "Paranoid Android" is set in the universe of the Swedish-Canadian animated series Robin, starring the show's own main characters (the titular Robin and his friend Benjamin), courtesy of series creator Magnus Carlsson.
- "Fitter Happier" appears to be a homage to Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Milan, 1909", featuring a text-to-speech voice reading out a lecture while underscored by an unsettling minimalist instrumental. In this case, the lecture about the rise of Futurism and its coopting by the Italian Fascist Party is traded out for an abstract rumination on neoliberal capitalist society.
- The "businessman and average Joe shaking hands" emblem that appears on the disc label and in the liner notes is a visible nod to the cover art of Wish You Were Here; the back cover for the CD2 version of the "Paranoid Android" single also features a pig in the vein of Animals. Incidentally, Radiohead would later grow irate from the number of critics comparing OK Computer to Pink Floyd.
- Siamese Twin Songs:
- "Airbag" segues into "Paranoid Android."
- "Fitter Happier" is basically an extended spoken-word outro to "Karma Police".
- Spiritual Successor:
- Spoken Word in Music: "Fitter Happier", which features a computer voice saying all the lines.
- Studio Chatter: "Climbing Up the Walls" contains clips of what is apparently studio chatter pitch-shifted and buried among the insect noises and violins. The song must be slowed down before it can even be noticed at all, and even then it's hard to make out what is being said (it seems to be: "We're playing... Ready?" though it also sounds rather like "Amazing... Amazing").
- Take That!:
- The line "Kicking screaming Gucci little piggy" in "Paranoid Android" has been interpreted by some people as a shot at the Spice Girls. The actual story behind the line is that Thom had a very unpleasant encounter he had in a Los Angeles bar, where a woman reacted violently after somebody spilled a drink on her.
- There are more straightforward shots fired at the capitalist corporate lifestyle of the West in "Paranoid Android", "Fitter Happier", "No Surprises", and "Let Down" ("disappointed people clinging onto bottles" references another event where Thom was in a bar and suddenly wondered what would happen if the floor would collapse.)
- The credits include a piss-take at their record label with the line "lyrics reproduced by kind permission even though we wrote them."
- Tall Poppy Syndrome: "Paranoid Android":Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
- Together in Death: A line near the end of "Exit Music (For a Film)" that is arguably the most explicit representation of Romeo and Juliet's influence on the song.Now, we are one, in everlasting peace.
- Uncommon Time:
- "Paranoid Android" has some bars in 7/4.
- "The Tourist" alternates between 9/8 and 10/8.
- "Let Down" has a guitar part in 5/4 with the rest of the instrumentals in 4/4.
- What Could Have Been: In-Universe; "Exit Music" was built around an idea that Thom got when he watched the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli adaptation of Romeo and Juliet at the age of 13: What would've happened if Romeo and Juliet escaped the morning after they consummated their marriage?
- Winged Humanoid: "Let Down:"One day I'm going to grow wingsA chemical reaction
- World War III: "Airbag:"In the next world warIn a jack knifed juggernautI am born again
- You Bastard!: Just after the Precision F-Strike on "Fitter Happier":The ability to laugh at weakness
- 0's and 1's: A working title for the album.