Before & After Radiohead’s OK Computer
It’s a pop cultural truism that OK Computer is in the upper echelons of the modern rock canon, so it makes sense that the venerable Charles Aaron would plunge into Radiohead’s masterpiece in The New York Times. According to Aaron, this is the “Sound of Rock Being Deprogrammed” and he dives into each track to prove just that by tracing the song’s source material (“the before”) and its reverberating effects (“the after”). While there have been plenty of pieces dissecting the inner workings of Radiohead’s monumental third album, few have put their analyses to playlist form.
In the article, Aaron elaborates on his picks, using his own discerning ear alongside Radiohead’s own stated influences (Miles Davis, Ennio Morricone, The Beach Boys) and other critics’ constant comparisons (Wilco, Muse, Coldplay). He links Jonny Greenwood’s Mellotron on tracks like “Exit Music (for a Film)” to Genesis’ “Aisle of Plenty,” Phil Selway’s blurred breakbeats on “Airbag” to DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” and the computer speak of “Fitter Happier” to Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” His “afters” tend to be even more straightforward, as he connects Coldplay’s tear-jerking “Fix You” to “Let Down,” Grizzly Bear’s woozy “Knife” with “No Surprises,” and the Selway drum sampling of Lloyd Banks’ “Cold Corner 2 (Eyes Wide)” to “Climbing Up the Walls.”
His selections are mostly based in sound rather than cultural context, so even without knowing the reasons for his picks, the playlist flows fairly seamlessly. That said, there are a few jarring transitions, from the maddening rock opus “Paranoid Android” to Queen’s sillier multi-part beast “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or from the doomy “Fitter Happier” to Daft Punk’s heart-pumping “Harder Better Faster Stronger.” But overall, this works as a solid aural document of rock at some of its most daring and cerebral yet emotionally moving moments. And if you don’t buy that, just take a listen to the moody, slinky stretch of “Karma Police,” “Sexy Sadie,” and TV on the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun” and try to convince us otherwise.