RETURN OF THE MAC!
Last week we coaxed most of a rather reluctant RADIOHEAD out to talk about their astonishing new album. Now THOM YORKE joins in for an exclusive track-by-track run down of 'OK Computer'. Plug in right here...
Originally titled "Last Night an Airbag Saved my Life" in a typically tongue-in-cheek tribute to Indeep's 1983 disco hit, "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life", this makes for a brooding, claustrophobic start to the album.
Colin: "We wanted it to be like "Planet Telex" off The Bends - a start that's not really anything like the rest of the album. It's quite dancey That's cos Phil's been attending drum 'n' bass nights."
Phil: "I told you, I thought it was a line-dancing evening! It was actually DJ Shadow who inspired it - the way he cuts up beats is amazing. The end result doesn't really sound like what we were aiming for, but that's probably a good thing."
Ed: "It's about the wonderful, positive emotion you feel when you've just failed to have an accident; when you just miss someone and realise how close it was and stop the car and just feel this incredible elation. There's something joyous about it - life suddenly seems more precious."
Key Lyric: "In a jack-knifed juggernaut, I am born again."
Thom: "Airbags go off spontaneously, so researchers claim. I think that's a cool judgement, don't you? Driving along in your Mercedes."
Colin: "They're actually quite dangerous things. They can kill."
Ed: "What would you know about it? You can't even drive!"
Hyper-complex, vaguely prog-rock multi-mood epic, ranging from acoustic angst to white noise, yet perversely chosen to be the first single from OK Computer. Perhaps because all those clearly defined segments make it a Bohemian Rhapsody for the Nineties. Apparently.
Ed: "Well, when we wrote it, one of the references was Bohemian Rhapsody But the other was the Pixies."
Jonny: "It's not actually complex enough to be Bohemain Rhapsody - there's only really two different bits there. Plus it's way too tense."
Ed: "It's not a Bohemain Rhapsody for the Nineties - it's just a handy reference point. It's like Creep was meant to sound like Scott Walker... it just didn't come out that way. But Paranoid Android is the song we play to people when they want to know what the album is like, cos it should make them think, "What the Fuck's going to happen on the rest of the album?"
Colin: "Plus it's so long, we have time to make them a cup of coffee while they listen to it."
Key Lyric: "When I am King you will be first against the wall/With your opinions which are of no consequence at all."
Ed: "It's not about the press, if that's what you're thinking. Thom wouldn't be that specific."
Thom: "Everybody has an opinion. people make professions out of it. Most of it is white noise. It is not personal, OK? 'Opinions are like arseholes, everybody's got one.' What liberates Paranoid Android is a sense of humour - Marvin the paranoid android. The blackest things can be said with jokes - re, 'The Fast Show': it's funny."
'SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK ALIEN'
Sprawling, freeform, spooked-out sounding tale of alien abduction. Title is a homage to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues", apparently.
Thom: "Yeah! Jonny's in the basement mixing up the medicine, I'm on the pavement thinking about the government..."
Colin: "When we were doing The Bends, John Leckie told us about this hollow earth theory that John Power of Cast has. Apparently, there's a sun revolving in the centre of the earth and there are holes in the north and south poles that aliens fly into. We, er, weren't completely sold on it to be honest, John."
Jonny: "Americans believe in alien abduction but that's about it. I'm a fully paid-up subscriber to Sceptical Inquirer magazine. If you go into a newsagent in America you'll find 30 mags about UFOs, aliens, the supernatural, etc and Sceptical Inquirer, which has all these scientists providing logical explanations for everything. Thanks to 'The X-Files' and everything, it's become the lazy option to believe in all this stuff, but science fascinates me far more than aliens."
Colin: "Yeah, apparently there is now neurological evidence to prove the existence of the human soul. They've had big meetings in the Vatican, because obviously the Roman Catholic church are very keen to control it. Er, I sound like John Power now, don't I?"
Key Lyric: "I'm just uptight."
Thom: "What do I think of 'The X-Files'? And which Spice Girl do I like?
'EXIT MUSIC (FOR A FILM)'
Brooding ballad specially composed for the movie, "Romeo & Juliet", where it appears alongside another Radiohead song, "Talk Show Host". Significantly, Radiohead are first heard just as the characters are discussing Romeo's "black portentous humour".
Thom: "I like the film very much, it's just my sort of thing - not quite as many bodies as 'Hamlet'."
Ed: "It's the only song we've ever done on demand. We were on tour with Alanis Morissette last September when we got sent through the last half hour of the film. It looked great so we did this song straight away."
Colin: "Soundtracks are a bit naff nowadays: they just stick on some contemporary music. We wanted to be a bit more intelligent than that."
Ed: "The only thing I don't like is "Exit Music..." appears over the end credits, so it will just play to the sound of loads of chairs banging upright."
Key Lyric: "Pack and get dressed, before your father hears us, before all hell breaks loose..."
Ed: "Thom looked at Shakespeare's original text and tried to incorporate it into the song - but he gave up on that quickly. But I still think it fits with the film amazingly well, especially as the lyrics are actually quite personal."
Old school Radiohead song, with Thom crooning away in Bono-esque style. Despite the title, sounds resigned rather than angry.
Jonny: "It's like when Andy Warhol said he enjoyed being bored. It's about that feeling that you get when you're in transit but you're not in control of it - you just go past thousands of places and thousands of people and you're completely removed from it."
Ed: "Feeling let down is just down to your insecurities and paranoia most of the time, which is why the song sounds sad rather than furious. It's about not being in control of the situation."
Thom: "I am fascinated by how insects are squashed, especially wasps - the cracking sound and the yellow gak, just like people."
Key Lyric: "Crushed like a bug in the ground..."
Ignoring the appalling track record of the word "karma" in pop music (Boy George, George Harrison, etc), Radiohead use it to project an Orwellian vision of the future and write a bonzer tune to boot.
Jonny: "It was a band catchphrase for a while on tour - whenever someone was behaving in a particularly shitty way, we'd say "The karma police will catch up with him sooner or later." You have to rely on something like that, even though we're probably just kidding ourselves. But it's not a revenge thing, just about being happy with your own behaviour."
Key Lyric: "This is what you get when you mess with us..."
Thom: "Karma is an important idea. I like it. It makes me nicer to people. It fills me with joy. This song makes me laugh. It was Ed's idea."
A computer speaks a random spiel of modern-living buzzphrases to a soundtrack of tinkling piano, screeching violin and, er, that's it, actually. Weird.
Colin: "Thom didn't want to have to say it, so we were messing around with a computer voicebox. We really liked the way the emotion still comes across, so we kept it."
Thom: "The computer was the most emotional voice I have ever heard, at the time."
Colin: "It sounds like Stephen Hawking is guesting on the album. Maybe he should have been. I used to see him when I was at college, toddling around in his wheelchair."
Key Lyric: "Concerned, but powerless..."
Thom: "Are the lyrics a reflection of my own life? Yes."
Ed: "It's about the lack of naturalness in modern life. I'd like to see the lyrics printed as a full page advert in one of those dreadful magazines like GQ or FHM, cos some people might believe all that stuff."
Colin: "Really, it's an exercise in finding meaning in things that seem to be random and chaotic and out of your control. A bit like life, really."
Big, scary, searing rock track. Nothing to do with Tony Blair and his New Dawn for Britain, etc.
Ed: "Basically, it's about those times when you go out to a territory and have to sell yourselves and sell your record. You can meet some very cool people but, if you're pissed off or tired, it feels like a huge propaganda machine and you feel like a politician - kissing babies, shaking hands..."
Jonny: "We're not a political band, but we are all political people. One of the first thigs I can remember is Margaret Thatcher coming to power, so just the fact that it's changed is revelation enough. We had a hell of a party that night."
Ed: "It was weird all those people going down to Downing Street to mob Blair. He's definitely the first pop star PM."
Colin: "The first New Grave PM more like. He IS the New Seriousness."
Phil: "Where does that leave us then? Perhaps we're the Labour Party of New Grave. New Radiohead, New Danger!"
Key Lyric: "When I go forwards, you go backwards, and somewhere we will meet..."
Thom: "This is about being liberated, this is about getting beyond the dirge, they are all bullshitting, but I'm already laughing. On the other side, I trust I can rely on your vote."
'CLIMBING UP THE WALLS'
Even bigger, even scarier rock track. Thom Yorke does his best to sound demented, but is out-done by the monumental chaos going on behind him.
Colin: "It's quite horrible, isn't it?"
Ed: "We always knew that song had an atmosphere and it was very easy to capture. The white noise is loads of violins."
Colin: "We recorded it in the ballroom of this old stately home. Dare we say there was something Gothic about the environment? It was certainly very New Grave of New Grave."
Key Lyric: "In the crack of your waning smile/15 blows to the skull..."
Thom: " 'Was it an accident that of the 10 largest mass-murderers in American History, eight have occurred since 1980, typically acts of middle-aged white men in their 30s and 40s after a prolonged period of being lonely, frustrated and full of rage and of 10 precipitated by a catastrophe in their lives such as losing their jobs or divorce?' "New York Times October 17 1991 - quoted by Eric Hobsbawn in 'Age of Extremes'."
In contrast, the simplest, most stadium-friendly song on the album. Built around the chimes from a jewellery box. Lovely.
Colin: "Scare the living daylights out of 'em, then soothe their brow: that's the Radiohead way."
Ed: "Strangely, it was the very first song we did for the album. Didn't exactly set the tone, did it? If it had been the first single it wouldn't have been a very true representation of the album. It's a bit like Louis Armstrong's 'Wonderful World.'"
Colin: "We'd like it to be a single at some point but we're not making any promises. We are the New Labour of Rock, after all."
Key Lyric: "A heart that's full up like a landfill..."
Thom: "What is fad today is rubbish tomorrow. I am an emotional dumping ground."
Highlight of the Bosnia-aiding "Help" album, included here largely out of embarrassment at the way it fared when released as a single.
Ed: "Yeah, number 53 with a bullet or something. That was pretty bad considering it was for charity and it was the best song we'd ever done. It did seem to make a difference to how people perceived us though - the broadsheets started to get interested in us and stuff. And it was a brilliant thing to be involved in. We're very proud of it, especially as we took the hard option and recorded a new song. Although, admittedly, that's only because we're so bad at covers. Always have been - even when we were a school band we couldn't do them."
Key Lyric: "I'm on a roll..."
Thom: "It's our song, we want it on our album and it fits exactly where it is."
Written by Jonny, the calm after the storm. Features minimal vocals and maximum mellow Eric Clapton-esque guitar.
Jonny: "I'm still amazed that everyone else in the band let it on the LP It was a bit of a late runner. We were packing up and leaving when we decided to do it."
Thom: "What do I think of Jonny's songwriting? Whenever I am tired, he is there and awake."
Key Lyric: "Hey man slow down/Idiot slow down..."
Jonny: "We just wanted a song where we weren't paranoid about making something happen every three seconds and where we could record it with space."
Colin: "But not record it with Space. That would never have worked, frankly."