Starting and then stopping
Taking off and landing
The emptiest of feelings
Disappointed people clinging onto bottles
And when it comes, it's so, so disappointing"
OK Computer is the third album released by Alternative Rock band Radiohead, released in Japan on 21 May 1997 and in the UK 26 days later. Upon its release, the album reached number one in the UK and number 21 in the US, becoming Radiohead's international Breakthrough Hit.
The band recorded OK Computer with the intent of presenting a less introspective sound than what they'd done on their previous album The Bends, exchanging its personal lyricism and downbeat melodies for a more aggressive, sociopolitical approach. OK Computer initiated a shift away from the popular Britpop genre of the time to the more melancholic, atmospheric style of alternative rock. This new sound 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), and also initiate the band's shift away from their original guitar-heavy approach and into the more experimental territory of their later work.
The album's lyrics and artwork emphasize 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. In that sense, the album is often considered a Spiritual Successor to Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. While Radiohead detested such comparisons, they similarly felt a strong sense of Artist Disillusionment that would result from the album's success, resulting in the even more experimental electronica and jazz directions of their next two albums.
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.
On a final note, the album's world tour — and more specifically the band's growing ennui and burnout from their newfound superstardom — became the subject of the rockumentary Meeting People is Easy, directed and filmed by Grant Gee, who also directed the video for "No Surprises".
OK Computer was supported by four singles: "Paranoid Android", "Karma Police", "Lucky", and "No Surprises", all of which were radio hits.
- "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 never attempts to drive to the side to avoid the rapidly-advancing fire at the end of the video, instead continuing to reverse directly backwards in vain.
- Alien Abduction: The narrator of "Subterranean Homesick Alien" fantasizes about being subjected to this, thinking that it'll give him closure in his search for a purpose in life.
- Animated Music Video: "Paranoid Android", courtesy of Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson, who reused characters and settings from his TV series Robin. Radiohead were fans of the show, finding the title character resonant with their own situation, and commissioned Carlsson because of that.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: From "Paranoid Android":The crackle of pigskin
The dust and the screaming
The 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.
- Book Ends: OK Computer (possibly) begins and ends with a car crash; "The Tourist", which closes the album, can be interpreted as describing the leadup to it from the perspective of a bystander, and "Airbag", which opens the album, 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".
- Chiptune: "Let Down" closes out with a twinkling melody composed on a ZX Spectrum.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Spun in a dark way: insanity and paranoia are major themes 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 and capitalist society on the eve of the 21th century.
- Creepy Monotone: "Fitter Happier", used to show the disconnect between corporate advice and the people who follow it.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: The narrator of "Subterranean Homesick Alien" describes himself as such, to the point where he fantasizes about being abducted by aliens because he thinks it'll give him some sense of closure in his search.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The narrator of "Karma Police" asks for the titular police to arrest a couple for the most trivial reasons, only to come to their senses when they realise that they too are not immune from karma.
- Easter Egg:
- The CD release has some text hidden on the inner tray art, on the inner right edge, which reads as follows:I like you.
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.
- The CD release has some text hidden on the inner tray art, on the inner right edge, which reads as follows:
- 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 end of "Exit Music (For a Film)" segues into the start of "Let Down".
- The sirens at the end of "Karma Police" trail off into "Fitter Happier", which then fades into "Electioneering". As the former two are separated on the double-LP release, the sound of a radio shutting off at the end of "Karma Police" instead serves to signal the end of the Meeny/Skip side.
- Fake Loud: "Climbing Up the Walls" consists of two vocal tracks of Thom 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.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Electioneering" briefly slows down to a stop near the end, as if the song's ending, only to suddenly pick back up again for the real outro.
- 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 (For a Film)" describes one inspired by Romeo and Juliet (having originally been featured in the 1996 film adaptation), describing what would've happened if they tried to escape the morning after consummating their marriage.
- Idealist vs. Pragmatist: Invoked on "Fitter Happier"An empowered and informed member of society (Pragmatism not idealism)
- 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......
- Similarly, the band confirmed that "No Surprises" was written as a pastiche of The Beach Boys, specifically of Pet Sounds.
- Laser-Guided Karma: "Karma Police" revolves around a man attempting to inflict this on others via the titular organization, eventually realizing that he too is suspect to their wrath.
- 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.
- "Fitter Happier" closes with a synthesized downward whoosh as the narrator's monologue closes with its darkest lines, giving the impression of the song and the setting it paints as collapsing in on themselves.
- "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?!"
- Light Is Not Good: The abundance of white and otherwise bright colors on the cover and throughout the liner notes are designed to look dissonant and unsettling rather than reassuring, with Stanley Donwood describing the front cover in particular as his attempt at approximating the appearance of bleached bone.
- 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:
- "Karma Police" contrasts a brooding, minor-key melody and doomy sound with lyrics that the band states are meant to be comedic.
- "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.
- Missing Child:
- A couple lines in "Fitter Happier":Baby smiling in back seat
Shot of baby strapped in back seat.
- The phrase "Lost child" is visible on the album cover above the blue-orange figure.
- A couple lines in "Fitter Happier":
- 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)
[...](No killing moths or putting boiling water on the ants)
- Which is subverted at the end with a reference to factory farming:A pig, in a cage, on antibiotics.
- Which is subverted at the end with a reference to factory farming:
- Non-Appearing Title: "Subterranean Homesick Alien", "Exit Music (For A Film)", "Lucky", "The Tourist"
- 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.
- 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.
- "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 either their parents or Friar Laurence, all of whom are integral to the couple'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.
- Rhyming Title: "Paranoid Android".
- Rule of Cool: According to Thom Yorke, the line "kill me, Sarah" in "Lucky" was included simply because he thought "Sarah" was a neat name.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Climbing Up the Walls" was based on Thom Yorke's time working in a mental ward, and the lyrics reflect this.Either way you turn
I'll be there
Open up your skull
I'll be there
Climbing up the walls
- Self-Backing Vocalist: Two different vocal tracks by Thom play 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.
- At least 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.
- A possible third one is the line "When I am king, you will be first against the wall," also from "Paranoid Android." A joke in several different versions of the Hitchhiker's Guide concerned the marketing department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation (creators of Marvin, incidentally), whom the eponymous Guide described as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes." Later, a copy of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that "had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future" described the same marketing department as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."
- 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.
- The technique at the end of "Let Down" where two vocal tracks singing different lyrics and counter-melodies overlap is a nod to R.E.M., one of Radiohead's influences, who frequently used this trick on their 80's albums (albeit with multiple band members singing at once rather than using overdubs). Radiohead previously supported R.E.M. during their tour for Monster and wrote "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" as a musical homage to them.
- 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 (1975); 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".
- 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 wings
A chemical reaction
- World War III: "Airbag" opens with a mention of "the next world war," which is described as a moment of rebirth for the narrator.