Album Review: Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017 (Parlophone)

Everything in the same place

OK Computer was the album that put Radiohead on the map, they had cult success with the single Creep but it wasn’t until this seminal album was released to not entirely enthusiastic critical reception that their ascent to fame began. And well deserved it was too, OK… remains the strongest title in the catalogue and the most popular with fans, you only had to witness the reception that their Glastonbury set received this year to realise as much. This twentieth anniversary release combines remastered versions of all 12 original album tracks alongside three songs that were recorded at the same time and eight B sides. The album has its own webpage where it’s explained that the reason for the remaster “from the original analogue tapes” is that mastering technology has moved on a bit over the last two decades. What’s surprising is that it was recorded on analogue tape in the first place, it didn’t and still doesn’t sound particularly analogue. In fact it has an edgy, grungy and often bright sound that seems typically digital, but producer Nigel Godrich clearly knows his onions because despite this it’s a blindingly brilliant album that everyone should have in their collection.

The benefits of OKNOTOK for the Radiohead fan lie largely in those three extra tracks, all but two of the B sides were gathered on the Airbag/How Am I Driving EP from 1998, they are Lull and How I Made My Millions, neither of which are on a par with the actual B sides. Of those Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2) and Pearly come close to the energy of Creep with blazing guitar work that’s while not as tight as the A sides is a lot of fun.

Of the three session tracks I Promise sounds borderline romantic after the album tracks and could at a pinch have been a U2 tune with its use of strings, apparently they haven’t played it live in 21 years. No comment. Man Of War features some nice rock guitar from the never aging Jonny Greenwood (does he have a portrait in the attic or what?) and Lift which is the closest in style to OK Computer but was such a hit with Alanis Morisette’s audience when they toured with her that it was shelved. Clearly it’s too accessible.

The best reason for buying this is that it you can hear a lot more of what’s going on, the acoustic sound sources benefit the most with the drum kit being the main winner. You can hear what Philip Selway was doing with far more ease than on the original, which makes the unusual time signatures he plays that much more impressive. Bass lines seem a bit more juicy in places but nothing has been done to open up the compression, this presumably because it gives the album a claustrophobic feel to suit the songs. The remaster sounds quite bright with detail well up in the mix but going back to the original the balance is very similar, this is not a sweet or polished recording and it was never meant to be. Rather it is a dystopian vision of things to come, one which has in part been proved correct. That it is also one of the greatest albums of the nineties is more important and this version is available in high res download and vinyl forms, so what are you waiting for?

-Jason Kennedy

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