College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1995, 4

4 bends

4. Radiohead, The Bends

In 1995, Radiohead wasn’t yet Radiohead. Yes, it was absolutely comprised of the exact same five members who persist in the lineup to this day, and any cursory listen to their earliest albums indicates that they were already engaged in some of the same sonic explorations that would define them in years to come, although it was definitely in a nascent version. That noted, the band wasn’t yet burdened by the stultifying reputation for modern pop distilled down to high art that began a couple years later, with 1997’s excellent OK Computer, and proceeded with a series of albums that grew increasingly tedious in their cloistered, icy deconstructionist tendencies. When they recorded The Bends, Radiohead was still just a band, coming off a debut album that included a couple out-of-left-field quasi-hits, led by “Creep,” which for all the band’s monumental impact and influence, remains one of only two singles they’ve been able to push into the Billboard Top 40 (the other, amazingly, is the arch and angular “Nude,” off of In Rainbows). The Bends is the sound of a group still finding their voice, largely free of the external expectations of headphone-friendly greatness in every sliver of song.

Part of Radiohead finding that distinctive voice is offering up a handful of songs that comes across somewhat as reactions to what was happening around them. Album opener “Planet Telex” has echoes of Smashing Pumpkins’ lushly self-satisfied neo-psychedelia, and it’s followed by the title cut, which fits surprisingly snugly up against the bounding pop sensibility Oasis was using to enthrall the music press. Even the single “My Iron Lung” is exploratory in fascinating ways. It is simultaneously relaxed and probing, with unexpected flares of aural complication that almost sound like they’re emanating from a less caustic Sonic Youth. It’s possible that Radiohead never again filled an album with so many unexpected turns, not just bending signature sounds in daring new ways, but operating utterly unmoored from a musical home base. It may be my own diminished interest in Radiohead’s refined art pop, but I find The Bends to be abundant with strange satisfactions. I like the more direct churn and grind of “Bones” better than anything I can think that they’ve delivered during roughy the past decade-and-a-half.

There is plenty on the album that forecasts the Radiohead to come. The single “Fake Plastic Trees” is maybe the clearest indication of future directions: precise, fragile, airily epic. And “Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was,” with its ruminative acoustic guitar, is like a first pass at “Karma Police.” Then there are the last few cuts on the album, which are the equivalent of a liquified soul going down a drain slowly. While hindsight draws those tracks into the fold of what Radiohead created later, strictly within the confines and context of The Bends, they come across largely as an appealing variance from other material on the record. In the respect, The Bends is less vital for what it presciently offers and more for what it is entirely on its own terms.


An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread
— 18 and 17: Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and Rainbow Radio
— 16 and 15: Let Your Dim Light Shine and Day For Night
— 14 and 13: Tales from the Punchbowl and Sleepy Eyed
— 12 and 11: Post and Deluxe
— 10: Yes
— 9: To Bring You My Love
— 8: Garbage
— 7: 100% Fun
— 6: Only Everything
— 5: Brainbloodvolume

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