Their debut effort, Pablo Honey (1993), was met with a general shrug by the masses, considering its grungy sound was awfully akin to that of Nirvana, and no one really found the tracklist memorable save for "Creep", the band's first hit. This new album saw a change in direction for the band, introducing more layered sounds and more fleshed-out, cryptic, and considerably more depressive lyrics.
The Bends saw a much more positive response than its predecessor, peaking at #4 on the UK Albums Chart and reaching triple platinum sales in the UK and Canada as well as platinum sales in America and the European Union.
In retrospect, it is frequently seen as one of the greatest and most groundbreaking albums ever made, and turned Radiohead into a band that would spawn a movement of rock bands emulating its likenesses (Muse, Coldplay, etc). Rolling Stone gave it the #111 spot on their "500 greatest albums" list, and Q Magazine gave it the #2 spot on their "greatest albums" list... Defeated only by Radiohead's own OK Computer. Despite this, no single from the album was able to surpass or even match the gargantuan success of "Creep".
- "Planet Telex" (4:19)
- "The Bends" (4:06)
- "High and Dry" (4:17)
- "Fake Plastic Trees" (4:50)
- "Bones" (3:09)
- "(Nice Dream)" (3:53)
- "Just" (3:54)
- "My Iron Lung" (4:36)
- "Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was" (3:28)
- "Black Star" (4:07)
- "Sulk" (3:42)
- "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" (4:12)
Immerse your soul in tropes.
- Alliterative Title: "Street Spirit".
- Brown Note: The music video for "Just" begins with a man lying down in the middle of the street and refusing to budge. As people gather, they ask him (all the dialogue being in subtitles, as they are drowned out by the music) why he's lying there, and after refusing over and over again, he finally caves in. The camera zooms in on his mouth as he's speaking, but with the subtitles suddenly removed, the audience has no idea what he's saying. (It doesn't help that this is shot from a variety of angles to make this more difficult to comprehend.) The final scene of the video is of all the people around him lying on the ground in the same posture, his words presumably having had the exact same effect on them as on him.
- The closeup has him repeating "God help me, I'll tell you." and it's implied that he's actually saying it during the shot of Radiohead looking out the window.
- Contemptible Cover: Downplayed a tad; the medical dummy on the cover looks as if he's receiving oral pleasure. Admit it, you know it's true.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The video for "Street Spirit".
- Deus Angst Machina: This is a really angsty album, dealing with everything from stagnant relationships to self-loathing to how futile life is.
- Downer Ending: "Street Spirit" is in the running for being one of the saddest album closers of all time, even though it's on a pretty brooding and moody album. This can be attributed to its somber sound and its lyrics that deal with how life is pointless, death is inevitable, and resistance is futile.
- Driven to Suicide: The "lead fill the hole in me" line in "Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was". Melody Maker published an article around the time using the lyrics of the track as evidence that Thom Yorke was destined to go the way of Kurt Cobain.
- Establishing Character Moment: "Fake Plastic Trees" was this for the band as a whole. The themes of decay, alienation, and pollution, the falsetto vocals, the tearjerkiness, and the accompanying Surreal Music Video would all become part of the band's Signature Style in the years to come.
- Everything Is An Ipod In The Future: "Fake Plastic Trees" bemoans and laments this trope, implementing it into a relationship with a "fake girl".
- Grief Song: "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", which Thom claims is about "staring the fucking devil right in the eyes, and knowing, no matter what the hell you do, he'll get the last laugh."
- Hope Spot: "(Nice Dream)" is the only relative area of a lack of angst-fueled sadness on this album, but even then it's the narrator retreating into an oasis of happiness that's only accessible in their mind.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Ranges from 2 ("Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was", "Street Spirit (Fade Out)") to 6 ("The Bends", "Just") "My Iron Lung" goes back and forth from 4 to 7. Other songs like "Planet Telex" and "Black Star" are a 5.
- Mood Whiplash: Occurs within "My Iron Lung" between the quietly grim verses and distorted choruses.
- Mundane Made Awesome: "Fake Plastic Trees", possibly the most angsty song about artificial trees - which are only mentioned incidentally.
- Obligatory Bondage Song: A case could be made for the first verse of "Sulk".
- One-Word Title: "Bones", "Just" and "Sulk".
- Piss-Take Rap: "The Bends" has a post-chorus section that has Thom doing a bit of this. It was intended as a joke, but it was written too well for anyone to notice.
- Refrain from Assuming: "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" is often shortened to "Fade Out" for no reason. Similarly "Just" is sometimes appended with "(You Do It to Yourself)".
- The Show Must Go Wrong: The guitar riff that starts at about 2:50 into the song "Fake Plastic Trees" was supposed to start a half measure later, but was put in at the wrong time in mixing. The band decided that it sounded better the way it was, and left it in.
- Surreal Music Video: "Fake Plastic Trees" and "Street Spirit".
- Title Track: The second track off of this album.