The Whispered Warnings of Radiohead’s “OK Computer” Have Come True
Though Thom Yorke insists that “OK Computer” was inspired by the dislocation of non-stop travel, it’s now understood as a record about how overreliance on technology can lead to alienation.
I’ve noticed a nugget of embarrassment buried in the recent avalanche of critical reappraisals and retroactive interrogations of Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” a record that was released in 1997 and is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this summer. Critics (and some fans) approached its reappearance with trepidation—as if we were all about to be strong-armed into reckoning with our pretentious and over-serious past selves. As if someone had just slid an unmarked manila envelope under the door, and it contained photographic evidence of that one time we Scotch Taped a poster of Nietzsche to our dorm-room ceiling, with instructions to await further notice. Even Thom Yorke, the band’s singer, has been nearly sheepish when discussing its legacy. “The whole album is really fucking geeky,” he recently told Rolling Stone.
To mark the anniversary, the band has just released “OKNOTOK,” which includes a remastered version of the original album, plus eight B-sides and three previously unreleased tracks: “I Promise,” “Man of War,” and “Lift.” (In addition, a special vinyl edition, available in July, will offer a hardcover art book, a collection of Yorke’s notes, a sketchbook of what the band is calling its “preparatory work,” and a cassette tape containing demos and additional session recordings.) None of the extraneous material is exactly revelatory—live versions of “Lift” and “I Promise” have been drifting about the Internet for years—though it does help complete a portrait of a band bucking against itself, and learning how to express its fear effectively.