Radiohead: Where do we go next?
In connection with the 20th anniversary of the album “The Bends” John Harris recalls the difficult story of the creation of Radiohead’s masterpiece.
It was February 1994, and Radiohead had two minor problems: Britain and America. Oasis was quite successful in their homeland, and their Blur label mates were preparing to release Parklife. What we now know as Brit pop was gaining momentum at that time, and the five outsiders of the indie rock from Oxford had no idea what to do with all this.
“I was overwhelmed with paranoia,” Tom York later recalled. “Blur decided to be mods, we had to become something else. But I just couldn’t figure out what.”
There were problems in the USA. Or, more precisely, one big one: how to maintain the fame that Creep won and create another hit. Radiohead’s American label, “Capitol”, was so preoccupied with it that it demanded to provide samples of new songs before agreeing to release a second album, which didn’t help the case. Even worse, in London, Parlophone representatives decided that work on the new album should begin with potential singles.
Radiohead went to RAK Studios in Regent’s Park with John Lecky, who had just finished the painful work on “Second Coming” The Stone Roses. Along with him was the unknown soundman Nigel Godrich. And so they all, fixated on the idea of creating a single, began to work actively on four songs. There are different opinions about “Killer Cars” or “Sulk”, but among them there were definitely “The Bends”, “(Nice Dream)” and “Just”.
“We had to give them all our attention, make them amazing, instant hits, number one in America,” said Leckie. “Everyone tore their hair and said,“ This is not enough! ”We just climbed out of our skin.”
For a band such as Radiohead, so prone to panic and self-doubt, working in such conditions meant inevitable difficulties. Some of the versions of the songs were “too crazy,” although some thought otherwise. Ed O’Brien later recalled a discarded piece of “string and heavy guitars … which sounded like“ November Rain “Guns’n’Roses”. The atmosphere of uncertainty and tension continued to thicken, and manager Chris Hufford reached what he later called “the lowest point of our relationship with Tom.” He was close to leaving. It is probably no coincidence that when “The Bends” was finally released, York’s first words to the world were: “You can use force, but nothing will come of it.” Even in the worst moments, he knew what all the problems were, but at first he could not formulate it.
“I was afraid that I needed to prove so much,” he said. “We knew we needed to do something ingenious, and we knew that we were capable of it, the question was whether we could succeed.”
“The Bends” remains a favorite Radiohead album by many listeners. Already alluding to the experiments that the group will embark on later, some part of it consists of a straightforward alternative rock full of guitars, although this can not be called a minus: thanks to their love for Pixies, Radiohead was pretty good at that. This album undoubtedly inspired many: its high-profile moments had a noticeable impact on future Muse stadium kings, and much of Coldplay’s early work is an attempt to capture the emotional magic of slower, thoughtful moments.
If David Brent has a Radiohead album, then most likely this is it. It has powerful chords, catchy riffs and an airy ballad, a cover for which Jamie Callum will later record. But it also has a lot of touches that destroy the sound characteristic of traditional alternative rock, and create that oppressive atmosphere that is characteristic of Radiohead.
This is partly due to the tension that is felt in the music: the sound of the group, which, under the influence of unexpected success, was under the pressure of high expectations, but continues to record so good music that the problems do not disappear. One of the best examples is the album of the same name. From the beginning of the guitar to the screaming solo of Johnny Greenwood, high-quality and biting rock that gives rise to an era of experimental musicians on MTV and makes labels delightfully talk about synthesizing genres. The text paints a frightening picture – what it feels like to be a musician in his twenties, who turned out thousands of miles from home, and who has no idea how this happened. Plus all the pressure that drove Radiohead crazy. The first lines of the song say everything: “Where do we go next? Words come out so strange …”.
After a month of doubt and unaccountable fear spent at RAK, it was decided that the need for singles was not so strong, and then the group began to look for more creative solutions. “(Nice Dream)” and “Just” were finished. When the process of creating “Fake Plastic Trees” got stuck, Lecky drove the group to the Jeff Buckley show, and inspired York recorded three doubles of the song and then began to sob.