- AIRED MAY 21, 2022
- Matt Wilkinson celebrates 25 years of Radiohead's 'OK Computer.'
More than a band, Radiohead is a symbol—an avatar for the idea that rock music can be both genuinely popular and genuinely experimental at the same time. Capital-A art, scaled up for the arena. Though not necessarily the first to bridge that gap (Bowie did it; Pink Floyd and The Beatles, too), Radiohead might be the most uncompromising, yanking their listeners into soundworlds so anathema to pop (Krautrock, 20th-century classical, techno, and ambient) that their music almost felt like a dare—or, as one executive at Capitol Records put it during the lead-up to 2000’s Kid A, the job wasn’t to nudge Radiohead toward the center, but bring the center toward them. Formed in 1985 in Oxfordshire, England, the band started playing together while still teenagers (their original name, On a Friday, denoted when they met for practice—a pretty literal move, given what they went on to). Influenced by British post-punk (Joy Division, The Smiths) and early American indie rock (R.E.M., Pixies), their initial sound was lumped in, fairly or otherwise, with grunge, a scene the band was lost in. Hard as it is to believe now, “Creep”—a signature not just for them, but also for ’90s guitar music in general—didn’t hit until nearly a year after its release, recasting the band as inheritors to the kind of alternative anthem championed by U2. From there, they dug a rabbit hole and dove down, delivering a string of increasingly ambitious albums (starting with 1997’s OK Computer) that pushed the possibilities of a conventional rock-band setup to the brink while still retaining an audience—a balance owed in no small part to singer Thom Yorke, who made politicized alienation feel eerily familiar, almost cozy. A few decades into their career, they continue to change, from the rhythmic meditations of 2011’s The King of Limbs to the strings-heavy, almost pastoral disquiet of 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool. As experimental as the band has been when it comes to the actual business of music-making, they’ve been pretty unconventional with its presentation, too: Kid A, for example, was one of the first albums to be promoted through the internet (not to mention that it was delivered entirely without singles), while 2007’s In Rainbows was offered as a pay-what-you-want download—a first for a band of their stature. When OK Computer celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017, Radiohead reached a status few do: A classic that was still finding ways to press into the unknown.