The Bends is the second album by the English alternative rock band Radiohead. It was released on 13 March 1995 in the United Kingdom and on 4 April 1995 in the United States. The album was the subject of much greater critical acclaim than their debut Pablo Honey, and reached number 4 in the UK album charts. It failed however to build on the commercial success of their single "Creep" outside the UK, and its peak on the American charts was Radiohead's lowest position there, at number 88.
The Bends was produced by John Leckie, and engineered by Nigel Godrich who went on to produce every subsequent Radiohead album. The album marked the beginning of a shift in musical style for the band. The introspective post-grunge style of Pablo Honey was replaced by experimental alternative rock with cryptic, social lyrical themes.
Although The Bends did not achieve the chart success of later Radiohead albums, it has achieved triple platinum sales certifications in the UK and Canada, and platinum sales in the US and the EU. It has repeatedly appeared in lists of the greatest albums of all time in music magazines, including Rolling Stone and Q magazine.
Radiohead nearly broke up due to the pressure of sudden success as the tour extended into its second year. The band described the tour as a miserable experience, as towards its end they were "still playing the same songs that [they had] recorded two years previously… almost like being held in a time warp."
Thom Yorke wrote "High and Dry" with his previous band at Exeter University, the Headless Chickens. The Radiohead version came to being after drummer Phil Selway was testing his new bass drum. The song was demo-recorded before Pablo Honey came out, and the band had no plans to release it until they received pressure from the record label. In 2006, Yorke said it was the only time he had had his "arm twisted", to "put it anywhere". In 1998, Jonny Greenwood said, "Seems like there's always a song or two on every album, which is kind of a dead end, and isn't going anywhere... I always felt that 'High and Dry' on The Bends was a good pop song, and is alright, but it felt like it was the end of something, like we'd finished that kind of thing." "Planet Telex" was recorded when Thom was drunk after they had all gone out to a restaurant because the catering staff at RAK [studios] were having a day off. Thom was slumping on the floor and a microphone was placed near his mouth. It was the only song written in the recording studio. It was originally going to be called "Planet Xerox", but this was changed to avoid legal issues. The lead vocal take of "Fake Plastic Trees" was recorded immediately after the band had seen Jeff Buckley playing upstairs at The Garage in London. Thom went straight to the studio after the concert and recorded the vocal in two takes. Producer Paul Kolderie missed a cue during the final verse (the distorted guitars were meant to come in at the beginning of the bar), but the result was so pleasing that the mistake was left on the final mix. The second of screaming feedback that can be heard in the second chorus of "Black Star" (at the 2:00 minute mark) was actually a mistake made during recording, but was kept due to Thom and Jonny's insistence. Radiohead finished recording The Bends in late 1994, releasing it in May 1995.
The band credited producer John Leckie (The Stone Roses, The Fall, Pink Floyd) with allowing them the freedom to do things their own way on The Bends. Trying to follow-up the success of their 1992 single "Creep" with further hits, the band also developed their style in more subtle directions after the over-the-top sound of their debut Pablo Honey. Lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood said, "We did what we wanted for our second album, and we ignored all advice, unlike the first record." Key influences cited by the band during the recording were Jeff Buckley, Magazine, Morrissey, R.E.M. and the Pixies. The band also covered songs by Carly Simon and Tim Buckley during this period.
The album's title, which refers to decompression sickness, is one of many references to physical illness and brokenness on the album, but has also been seen to tie into the band's own career trajectory. According to one biography, "For their second album, Radiohead chose an extremely symbolic title... Radiohead rose too soon (due to the success of 'Creep', which they were hardly prepared for) and had to suffer the unpleasant consequences (critical backlash, record company pressure, general confusion and dismay about how to continue meaningfully).
The Bends's lyrics, particularly those of "My Iron Lung", were cited in the British music press as an example of Thom Yorke's alleged depression. Melody Maker ran an article during The Bends period suggesting Thom would be the next "rock 'n roll martyr" or suicide, a la Kurt Cobain and Richey James Edwards.
Jonny Greenwood said,
It's funny, on one side ['Creep'] sped things up for us, because... we never felt that Radiohead was successful, we felt 'Creep' was successful, but it got our name put about, so that sped things up for us. But at the same time it meant that we recorded our second album about a year late, The Bends, most of it was written within months of recording our first record, and we had to tour and tour and we couldn't stop to record. So that slowed things down for us.
While it was only an under-the-radar alternative success in the United States, where none of its singles caught on (the album eventually reached #88 on the Billboard charts in 1996, the band's lowest ever showing), in the UK The Bends remains a bestseller. In summer 1995, Radiohead toured as an opening act for R.E.M. playing songs from The Bends and extending their popularity with a mass audience.
The band commissioned several surreal music videos which received airplay worldwide. Among the videos released to promote the album was an enigmatic clip for "Just", directed by filmmaker Jamie Thraves, which remains one of the most talked about rock videos of the 1990s. Jonathan Glazer, who would go on to work with the band on "Karma Police", created a dreamlike and award-winning black-and-white video for "Street Spirit". The band also worked with Jake Scott on "Fake Plastic Trees", a video that depicts the band being pushed around a neon supermarket. These, along with a Pulp Fiction-inspired video for "High and Dry", were released later on the home video and DVD 7 Television Commercials, along with several taken from OK Computer.
The Bends had an influence on the subsequent generation of British pop bands. In 2006, The Observer listed it as one of "the 50 albums that changed music", saying, "Radiohead's Thom Yorke popularised the angst-laden falsetto, a thoughtful opposite to the chest-beating lad-rock personified by Oasis's Liam Gallagher. Singing in a higher octave-range and falsetto voice to a backdrop of churning guitars became a much-copied idea, however, one which eventually coalesced into an entire decade of sound. Without this, Coldplay would not exist, nor Keane, nor James Blunt". Radiohead members said they later distanced themselves from their mid '90s sound partly because they felt little affinity for those that adopted the sound.
The Bends took second place behind Radiohead's OK Computer in both 1998 and 2006 reader polls of Q magazine for the best album of all time. Rolling Stone initially gave the album an average rating. In 2000, Virgin's Top 1000 Albums of All Time ranked "The Bends" at number two, second only to "Revolver" by The Beatles. In 2006 The Bends was placed at number 22 in Channel 4's listener-voted list of the all-time best albums.
|United Kingdom||13 March 1995||Parlophone||LP||PCS 7372|
|United States||4 April 1995||Capitol||CD||CDP 7243 8 29626 2 5|