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the-bends

The Bends

[bend]

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.

Background

By the time Radiohead began their first United States tour in early 1993, their single "Creep" (1992) was in heavy rotation on MTV and had achieved top ten chart positions in the UK and the US when reissued in 1993. The grunge sound of their debut album Pablo Honey (1993) had led to the band being described as "Nirvana-lite", and neither the album nor the singles "Stop Whispering" and "Anyone Can Play Guitar" (both 1993) matched the chart success of "Creep".

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."

Recording and production

After the American tour, Radiohead began work on their second album. The Bends was the first Radiohead album to include production assistance from engineer Nigel Godrich, though its main producer was Abbey Road veteran John Leckie. The Bends is one of a minority of the band's albums to be recorded mostly in a traditional recording studio. Tensions were high, as the band felt smothered both by "Creep"'s success and the mounting expectations for a superior follow-up. The band sought a change of scenery, touring Australasia and the Far East in an attempt to reduce the pressure. However, confronted again by their popularity, Yorke became disenchanted at being "right at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle" he felt he was helping to sell to the world. The 1994 EP My Iron Lung, featuring the single of the same title, was Radiohead's reaction, marking a transition towards the greater depth they aimed for on their second album. The single was promoted through underground radio stations; sales were better than expected, starting a loyal fan base for the band.

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.

Musical style

Sound and influences

While Radiohead's debut, Pablo Honey, was a more traditional post-grunge, upbeat rock album, The Bends showed some movement toward the art rock that was soon to be explored (though this went largely unnoticed at the time). The Bends balances such hard-rocking songs as "Just" and "My Iron Lung" with slow and atmospheric ballads such as "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" and "High and Dry". Meanwhile, songs like "Planet Telex" showed increased experimentation with keyboard textures. That song also led the band to commission their first remixes, which appeared as b-sides. In contrast, "My Iron Lung" displayed heavily distorted screamed vocals and guitar soloing, but with a multi-part song structure, tempo changes and loud-to-soft dynamics, all of which marked a change from their previous rock sound. The Bends also brought the group a wider audience with singles like "High and Dry", "Fake Plastic Trees" and the hypnotic "Street Spirit (Fade Out)", the latter a surprise hit which earned Radiohead's highest UK chart placement to that date.

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.

Lyrical themes

According to the band, The Bends also marked the start of a gradual turn in Thom Yorke's songwriting from personal angst to the more cryptic lyrics and social and global themes which would come to dominate the band's later work. Although most of the album was seen to continue the lyrical concerns of Pablo Honey, albeit in more mature fashion, the songs "Fake Plastic Trees" and in particular "Street Spirit" (together with that single's popular, more experimental b-side "Talk Show Host"), are often seen as a precursor to their next album OK Computer. "Fake Plastic Trees" was partly inspired by the commercial development of Canary Wharf, while "Sulk" was written as a response to the Hungerford massacre. According to Thom Yorke, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" was inspired by the book The Famished Road by Ben Okri. (Though Thom has said he was merely a catalyst for the song's writing. That it would eventually have itself be written by someone if not him.)

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.

Artwork

The Bends was the first of the band's full length records with artwork by Stanley Donwood, in collaboration with Thom Yorke, who went under the name "The White Chocolate Farm" (later shortened to Tchock). Originally Yorke had wanted to use an image of an iron lung as the cover, but he lost it. The eventual album cover was created at the last minute by morphing a Donwood photograph of a medical dummy with Yorke's own face. It is also the last Radiohead album whose liner notes and artwork include pictures of the band members.

Reception

The Bends met with much greater critical acclaim than Pablo Honey, appearing on many end-of-year lists in 1995. Within the UK, it assured Radiohead's role as a standard-bearer of "indie" Brit-rock bands. The album was released during the height of the '90s Britpop movement, benefiting from renewed press attention to British guitar music. However, in the band's home country, Radiohead's music was rarely grouped with Blur, Pulp and other so-called "Britpop" acts, instead receiving some acclaim for diverging from the fashionable aspects of the scene.

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.

Track listing

All songs written by Radiohead.

  1. "Planet Telex" – 4:19
  2. "The Bends" – 4:04
  3. "High and Dry" – 4:20
  4. "Fake Plastic Trees" – 4:51
  5. "Bones" – 3:08
  6. "(Nice Dream)" – 3:54
  7. "Just" – 3:54
  8. "My Iron Lung" – 4:37
  9. "Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was" – 3:29
  10. "Black Star" – 4:07
  11. "Sulk" – 3:43
  12. "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" – 4:12

Personnel

Information from AllmusicRadiohead


Additional musicians

Production

  • Nigel GodrichProduction, engineering
  • Chris Blair – Mastering
  • Chris Brown – Engineering
  • Stanley Donwood – Illustrations
  • Paul Q. Kolderie – Mixing
  • John Leckie – Production, engineering, mixing
  • Guy Massey – Engineering (assistant)
  • Sean Slade – Mixing
  • Jim Warren – Production, engineering

Release history

Country Date Label Format Catalogue number
United Kingdom 13 March 1995 Parlophone LP PCS 7372
CD CDPCS 7372
United States 4 April 1995 Capitol CD CDP 7243 8 29626 2 5

Sources

References

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