Music Challenge Day 19 – A Song From Your Favourite Album

The people have spoken.  At some point over the next couple of weeks, the Craven Hermit blog will start to feature record reviews.  Expect the blogs to try to describe what the albums sound like, which should be a daunting challenge.  Many of the records I listen to are difficult to pigeon-hole into one particular genre or style.  To compensate, I’ll try to offer some perspective on how the artist and the album fits into the musical spectrum.

I’m also toying with assigning each record a quasi-numerical ‘rating’.  It’s a little cliché, but unless I come up with some brilliant new idea I may just default to the classic 0-to-5 scale.  A score of zero would be akin to “Sure, go ahead and buy this record if you want, but you’d get more entertainment value by just taking out your wallet and setting fifteen dollars on fire”.  Meanwhile, a score of five would be reserved for those very special records, the ones that should form the cornerstones of a collection, the proverbial ‘desert island discs’.

I would have to be very selective, but I think I could pare my collection down to ten essential albums.  The most essential album on this list, no question, would be Radiohead’s OK Computer.  In the mid-1990s, I was aware of Radiohead but not (yet) a total fanboy.  I knew the song “Creep” from the radio, but thought it was kind of ‘meh’.  I picked up The Bends in 1995 on the strength of the single “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, and thought the album was really cool.  But when I heard OK Computer for the first time, I was stunned.  Everything I thought I knew about modern rock music was shattered to bits, burned to the ground.  It was like someone set off a bomb between my ears and reset my musical landscape forever.  This sounds like hyperbole, but I swear it isn’t; it really did change my life.

My favourite song from OK Computer is called “Paranoid Android”.  I’d love to go into a long, deeply involved essay about what this song is about.  But I can’t, because I have no idea what the f*ck Thom Yorke is on about.  This lyric, like a lot of Radiohead lyrics from 1997 onward, is cryptic and disguised.  I think that’s what I love about them.

They may not be literal, but the music, the words, and the vocal melodies are very suggestive of certain moods and emotions.  Aside from paranoia (naturally), you can hear a lot of frustration, confusion, menace, resentment, disenchantment, and even melancholy and resignation if you listen between the lines.  I don’t think Yorke was referencing Marvin the Paranoid Android from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy specifically – that’s probably just one free-associating idea in a whole ethereal stream-of-consciousness soup.  To me, the words are meant to evoke the inner dialogue of someone that’s struggling with whether to be emotionally attached or detached from such a schizophrenic, screwed-up society.  On that level, I can totally relate.

The song unfolds in three movements.  The first section features arpeggiated and strummed guitars in a somewhat strange, uneasy time signature.  The brief second movement blows it all apart with explosions of crunchy guitars and waves of squall.  The third section switches back to something almost serene and melancholy, accentuating the manic mood swings of the words.  There’s a brief reprise of the second movement in the last several bars of the song, and then a train-crash ending.  It leaves the listener breathless, shocked, and wondering “what the hell was that?”  It’s brilliant.

You can check out the official video on the YouTube link above.  Maybe it will help you develop your own ideas on what “Paranoid Android” is about.  I think my favourite thing about the video was what MuchMusic et al had to edit back in the day to play it on the air (note: the YouTube link is unedited).  There’s a brief scene towards the end that features topless mermaids; to protect the innocent eyes of any children that might be watching, the mermaids’ nipples had to be covered with black boxes.  Meanwhile, the evil, porcine politician in bondage gear starts to lose some limbs, but that part wasn’t edited for tv.  So, for those of you scoring along at home, here’s the broadcast industry guideline on how to avoid disturbing the kids:

  1. Boobies = bad.
  2. Slicing off one’s own limbs with an axe = totally fine!

Only a paranoid android with a short-circuiting mother board could ever hope to make sense of that.  No wonder Radiohead feel so disenchanted.


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