- 13 Mar 20
25 years ago today, Radiohead released their second studio album, The Bends. To celebrate, we're revisiting Patrick Brennan's review of the classic album – originally published in Hot Press in 1995.
On the evidence of The Bends, Radiohead have become one of those few bands who make you feel privileged to know and love them.
They are not a band you can either take or leave. This is music which forces the listener to commit him or herself totally and forever. The reward for such devotion is that you will be taken away into another world as you are so overwhelmingly on the opening track 'Planet Telex', where Thom Yorke compassionately intones "Everything is broken', everyone is broken, why can't you forget?"
One reason why you can't ignore the collective wound of humanity is because we have people like Yorke creating such gems of altruistic charm as 'Fake Plastic Trees', a tune of haunting simplicity that owes its social conscience as much to The Kinks as it does to Morrissey.
Radiohead's bruised and restrained rock pyrotechnics and Yorke's sad yet egoless vocals are also nowhere better exemplified than on the hushed tones of 'Bullet Proof', a tune so quietly delivered that it threatens to be a panegyric against all the vast, inhumane hustle and bustle and violations of the self perpetrated by the post-productive mass. It screams as it whispers.
What make Radiohead and Thom Yorke deserving of deity status, though, is the way in which Yorke can switch from songs of illuminating personal observations that genuinely could be said to speak for a generation ('My Iron Lung') to tunes like 'Black Star' and 'Street Spirit' that simply blur the distinction between the personal, political and social and carry such elegiac beauty along in their wake.
On the title track, the roaring, soaring and tormented The Bends, Yorke finishes by singing "I want to live and breathe / I want to be part of the human race". Nice dream, Thom. The only thing is Yorke's wish hasn't got a chance of coming true if he persists in making records that resemble minor miracles and which only Gods can create.