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“I May Be Paranoid, But Not An Android”: Celebrating 25 Years Of OK Computer

 

On May 21st, 1997, Radiohead released their third album: OK Computer. Radiohead had found success from their outcast anthem “Creep” from Pablo Honey. They would drift from that style to more depressing tunes in their second album, The Bends. But OK Computer changed everything you knew about Radiohead. The depressing nature of The Bends was still there, but now all of Radiohead’s energy was focused on one subject: technology. The album blends instruments with technology in a musical war for individuality. OK Computer is Thom Yorke’s warning for society that still hold true 25 years later.  

The album starts on “Airbag”, which welcomes you in with a great guitar rift. “Airbag” tells the story of a car crash that Thom Yorke and his girlfriend had in 1987. Yorke sings about how he is “born again” from the crash because “the airbag saved his life”. The song has a darker undertone as even though the technology of the airbag saved his life, the technology of the car almost killed him. “Airbag” is the perfect starting song for the tone of this album: the fear of technology and its effect on society. In the next song “Paranoid Android”, Yorke sings about his paranoia and his experience in a bar in Los Angeles. Yorke compares the masses in the bars to mindless idiots and demons who look towards conformity. Because of this, Yorke feels isolated from the world, comparing himself to Marvin the paranoid android from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The song is amazing, doing three theme changes throughout. Yorke describes the song as “50 percent “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and 50 percent “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”  

The album continues with “Subterranean Homesick Alien” where the lyrics talk about feeling like an alien and wishing to leave this planet. “Exit Music (For a Film)” is a story of two lovers trying to escape their lives together and make a new one. It was made for the film Romeo+Juliet and was built around the Shakespeare tragedy. But Yorke flips the script as he end the song on “we hope that you choke” implying that the couple escapes and their persecutors might die instead. “Let down” is about sentimentalism and how we can have feeling for anything. Radiohead puts out the idea that every emotion is equal no matter what you’re emoting for. They then ask the idea if every emotion is fake or valid. The song ends with a battle against man and technology as they struggle to get the last note. “Karma Police” talks about a man who has a twisted since of karma. The first two verses ask for karma to arrest people who are annoying him, while the third verse shows that the man is a employee in a company who feels like he gives all his effort for nothing. Eventually the man realized that karma goes both ways and that he shouldn’t be putting out negativity in the world. York says that “It’s for someone who has to work for a large company. This is a song against bosses.” “Karma Police” ends with technological dissonance, leading to the point of technology taking over.  

“Fitter Happier” is a transitional tune where a robotic voice tells us how to live a longer, happier, and more productive life. In the end, the robotic voice compares the “fitter, happier, and more productive” life to a “pig in a cage on antibiotics.” The next song, “Electioneering”, talks politics and how each leader promises things they will never keep. The song has a catchy yet haunting chorus saying “when I go backwards, you go forwards and somewhere we will meet.” Yorke is trying to say how the politicians gain money and power and the people lose that yet are promised that they will be equal.”Climbing Up The Walls” is a song about paranoia and anxiety. It talks about a man who is inside your house lurking around every dark corner that the narrator imagines. No matter where the narrator turns, this monster is there. The phrase “climbing up the walls” is used as a desperation move by the narrator to get away from this monster. 

“No Surprises” is the next song on the album that talks about a man contemplating suicide. The man talks about how his body hurts and his job sucks and drains him of life. He wants to escape to a world with “no alarms and no surprises.” The penultimate song is “Lucky” which tells the story of a man who feels like his luck will finally change until he gets into a plane crash. The song is truly about Yorke’s fear of planes but also features an cocky narrator who feels like he’s on top of the world. The last song on the album is “The Tourist,” which is about a man who is constantly traveling to the point where his dog doesn’t recognize him anymore. The chorus is “Hey man, slow down, slow down. Idiot, slow down, slow down.” Yorke is using this song to tell the world to appreciate life and to not rush through everything. 

OK Computer is a narrative masterpiece that takes the best parts of Radiohead’s previous albums and combines them with technology. Its Thom Yorke telling the world to slow down and not to get sucked in but technology, because then we lose our individuality. 25 years later the messages in OK Computer still hold true if not truer in today’s world. As a society, we now judge our happiness on social media and if we have the newest phones or fashion. But the message Yorke is trying to tell us is to appreciate the good and the bad in life because that’s what makes you yourself.  

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