1997, 2017

OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 – 2017 by Radiohead

I don’t normally review reissue editions of albums, whether or not I like them. And I wouldn’t review this either only I am going to record a podcast episode about OK Computer shortly and I was advised to listen to the rarities disk. So here goes…

First off, I should note that I streamed this so whatever magnificent package it comes in, I haven’t seen it.

Second, I should note that I am not enamoured with rarities from the bands I love like I used to be. When I was a teenager, I got very obsessed with The Beatles’ rarities. A little later, I got obsessed with The Who’s rarities. And some other bands… At some point I learned a valuable lesson: rarities (b-sides, unreleased songs and, worse, demos) are rarities for a reason, more often that not. That reason? The band disliked the song at the time.

I make this latter point because it’s clear to me (if nobody else, given the glowing reviews) why these songs were issued only as b-sides or not released at all. And it’s not because the songs are bad. The songs are not bad, in some cases they are quite good.

Rather, it’s because none of them really sound like OK Computer. Rather, they run the gamut from songs that sound like Bends outtakes (albeit very good ones) to songs that should have been on a slightly less risky/difficult Amnesiac. In fact, a number of these songs sort of presage the sound of Radiohead in the 21st century in a sense that they fill like an attempt to find some kind of middle ground between their extreme post rock (or whatever) impulses and their desire to write actual songs. More than the actual album they were eliminated from, they indicate a band unsure of where to go after a pretty big hit record (The Bends). Frankly, I think OK Computer is a better album for not having any of these songs on it. (Though I will grant that, if one of these songs were rearranged to fit in with the overall aesthetic of OK Computer, I would prefer that in the place of “Fitter Happier.”)

But, as for the songs themselves, it is a remarkable testimony to Radiohead that they are as good as they are and, had they released this disc as a separate album in, say, 1998, it probably would have been considered ‘pretty good.’ “Sure, it’s no OK Computer but it has its charms.” And that’s kind of surprising, to learn (as someone who doesn’t purchase or listen to singles) that this band had so much other decent material in them, and that they decided to just throw it out there willy-nilly, and move on to other, not necessarily better, things.

I don’t know what grade to assign this because it combines one of the best albums of the 1990s with a bunch of rarities tracks that are better than they should be but absolutely inessential to that album.

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