Monday, January 21, 2008

Open Up Your Skull, I'll Be There

It's been said by minds far more brilliant than mine that music is the soundtrack to our lives. As such, certain recordings, songs and albums have the ability to stick with us in a very tangible and meaningful way. Music is a very subjective form, and what some consider brilliant others would label as pedantic and dull. As such, there is no easy way to define what is great in the realm of music. The best that can be offered is opinion. And offer it I shall.

There are a handful of albums that I consider absolute masterpieces. Myself, I tend to find complicated music very interesting. I like a lot of different soundscapes and sounds to be thrown at me at once, and I appreciate a stylistic and thematic lyrical approach to go with that confusion. Also of great interest to me is imagery and poetry that I find applicable to my own life, whether it be from mindset, ideology or philosophy. If I had to rate one of the greatest albums on earth for matching all of the above, it would be OK Computer by Radiohead.

OK Computer is a very loose musical interpretation of 1984 by George Orwell. It lacks a cohesive, structured narrative, but builds on the idea of repression, oppression, fascism and loss of identity in the modern world. It openly expresses raw terror and feelings of disassociation without stumbling into the realms of bad poetry.

Musically it weaves a dense soundscape, filled with enough activity that even after 10 years of listening new bits are heard each time. Every song is varied, with no one style representing all that the album has to offer. OK Computer covers the entire gambit. From sonically dense songs (Airbag) to the uncomplicated (Exit Music For a Film). From a quasi-lullaby (No Surprises) to the foreboding (Climbing Up the Walls), OK Computer manages to reinvent itself on a track by track basis without ever feeling like the band is trying too hard.

Lyrically the album maintains that same lack of cohesion, with Thom Yorke's lyrics switching between oppressed and oppressor, seamlessly interweaving thoughts of terror with implied threats. Though there is no overarching narrative to the album, there is an implied story, involving the capture, re-education and rehabilitation of a disaffected citizen.

Yorke finds oppression in the modern world that many of us take for granted, feeling isolated and out of place in the most mundane of settings. (Let down and hanging around / Crushed like a bug in the ground) His lack of respect for the authority that exists culminates in his capture and ultimate re-education. (This is what you get when you mess with us) Turned into an automaton by the process, the ablum continues in a mechanical voice stating in monotone the virtues of a life lived properly. (Fitter, happier, more productive) Even this voice is ultimately decayed and destroyed as the album corrupts into its second half.

The second half of the album involves the re-emergence of Yorke, with the discovery of identity being key. Yorke's character struggles to determine just who he was prior to his capture and ultimately begins to remember, with the realization that this was a world he didn't fit into sinking in as the songs progress.

Ultimately, his fate is ambiguous. We are left believing at the end of the record that he has intentionally attempted to kill himself in a car crash. (Idiot, slow down) As the album closes you are not to know if this was successful. However, this album, much like life is cyclical and as the album re-opens his fate becomes more clear. (An airbag saved my life)

Did the events portrayed occur? Were his actions invalidated by the fact that he finds himself repeating the same destiny? Is it possible to escape the events that life has planned out for you? This album will answer none of these questions. It seeks to leave you with as many questions as it does answers and ultimately is the better for it.

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