The Friday Morning Listen: Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

I have been spending an awful lot of time lately listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love. And by “awful lot” I kind of mean any. But it’s all for a good cause, which is to get that piece of crap out of the way give my writer self an opportunity to understand why, exactly, I never liked the record. Am I getting any closer to the truth? Yes, I think so. But it’s not really a surprise: it’s the music. I just don’t like it. But this isn’t really what I want to talk about.

In some of the comments coming in, and in the topics I’ve seen floating around the Springsteen fan boards, a very good point has been made. Listeners have said that sometimes your ideas about a piece of music can change over time. The idea is this. That maybe the album didn’t resonate with you when it came out, but over the years your life experience changes you…and you look at the music and the stories being told in a different light. With regard to Tunnel of Love, many people related that they’d had no issues in the relationship department at the time, but then later on a breakup made them see just what Bruce was getting at.

Since this particular phenomenon never happened to me (and I went through a king-hell, disgusting, lying, cheating, Oh gawd I want to kill everybody-style breakup), it got me to wondering if there are any albums in my collection that have gone through this transformation. I used to hate it, but now I love it? Can I make that statement apply?

Uhm…I’m not sure that I can. There are definitely artists that went from the minus to plus category in my head: Boz Scaggs and John Mellencamp come to mind. While (secretly) loving “Lido Suffle,” I professed my hatred of “Lowdown” and “Georgia.” Years later, I came to my senses. Similarly, I really did hate “Jack and Diane,” but Mellencamp’s songwriting goodness won me over. And then there’s David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Bowie? I grew up with all of Bowie’s hits on the radio but never bought an album. Peter Gabriel got lumped in with early Genesis as something that just left me cold. Then I heard a song (wish I could remember what it was) and went out and bought all of his solo material…which I now never listen to. I guess these changes of heart (or ears) are not permanent.

But albums? That’s a tough one.

The closest I’ve come is probably Radiohead’s OK Computer. It was the first Radiohead album I bought, picked up on the strength of a lot of press and one particular radio interview with Terry Gross. Thom Yorke seemed like quite an interesting fellow, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. And fuss there was. By the time I launched into the first listen, I’d read so much hype about the record that it didnt’ stand a chance — there are people out there who consider this record to be among the top ten rock albums of all time. Look, I can take that sort of hyperbole, but of all time? Couple that with the idea that the band were somehow pioneering and/or groundbreaking and what you ended up with was me proclaiming Radiohead to be nothing more than low-rent King Crimson.

Since that record came out, Radiohead took a left turn of sorts. Both Kid A and Amnesiac took on a kind of otherworldly quality that really drew me in. This made me go back and give OK Computer another listen. The music is full of the kind of layering that really gets my attention. Lots of people have written about the lyrics and the album’s theme and structure. These things are of lesser importance to me because the music always comes first. To my ears, that’s where Radiohead shines. Long-form melodies, sonic oddities that make perfect sense, and tension & release song dynamics that give the music a difficult to categorize edge.

So there. I’ve admitted to enjoying OK Computer. Do you have an album you used to hate?

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.