Fellow ’90s music lovers, join me in feeling old today: Radiohead’s OK Computer is 20 this year, and Radiohead tickets will never again cost twelve quid. Writer Anwen Crawford was 15 when the late ’90s alt-rock masterpiece was released, and penned a lovely review-slash-analysis-slash-ode to this enduring album in Pitchfork.
The standard gloss on OK Computer, both at the time of its release and in the 20 years since, has been to call it an album about technology. But it seemed clear even in 1997 that it was also—or more so—an album about infrastructure, both the physical infrastructure of “motorways and tramlines,” as Yorke hymned it on “Let Down,” and the more elusive, “soft” infrastructure of global logistics, surveillance, finance, and banking. All those painterly, semi-abstract sounds—guitars that ping and squawk and melt, the wavering Mellotron choir, the glockenspiel, the shimmering cymbals, the quarter-tone violins—create a sense of a world in which human beings are irretrievably tangled inside systems of our own making. There’s so much damn noise (and remember, OK Computer was made several years before Wi-Fi, smartphones, and social media turned us all into twitching, overloaded fools), and sometimes the excess is amusing. Surely no-one can take the prog-baroque gabber of “Paranoid Android” with an entirely straight face. But the laughter is several shades of bleak. Think you can escape all this? Get in the car and drive? The joke’s on you. Capitalism’s insatiable, undead spirit has always arrived at your destination in advance.