The Bends (2009 Collector's Edition)
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/2009
Pablo Honey came around the same time when the revolutionary sound of Nirvana and other bands that formed the alternative sound of the early ‘90s began to feel somewhat familiar. Some bands like Sugar and The Breeders justifiably used this momentum as payback for years of toiling away in dank clubs with their former bands. Other bands formed for the sole purpose of capitalizing on a new sound. But by the time 1995 came along, a lot of these bands were already starting to be forgotten.
While Radiohead didn’t form for the sole purpose of capitalizing on the grunge movement, “Creep” certainly sounded like they were doing just that. So when The Bends came out, listeners in the United States were already tired of the sludgy riffs of grunge and embracing more bar-friendly fare, such as Hootie And The Blowfish and The Dave Matthews Band. The album barely cracked the Top 100 in the
What many people didn’t realize was that The Bends was an album that represented one of rock’s greatest turnarounds for a band. While Pablo Honey had some ear-pleasing moments, nothing could have prepared listeners for the atmospheric roar of The Bends’ kickoff track “Planet Telex.” Much has been said about Thom Yorke’s vocal and lyrical direction of The Bends, but the album truly excels at simply being an amazing guitar album, one of the best guitar albums you’ll hear in the ‘90s. And the person at the forefront of Radiohead’s guitar assault is Johnny Greenwood. His confidence is all over the album, from full-on rave ups like “My Iron Lung” and “Sulk” to intensely intimate moments of quiet like “Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was.”
It took the release of OK Computer for Radiohead to regain the fans initially won with “Creep” as well as an entirely new legion of fans. From that album, people quickly began to discover the band had already released a masterpiece two years before.
Now that the band has left Capitol/EMI, the record label has reissued the band’s first three albums on Capitol. It’s a crass marketing move, but giving a two-disc deluxe treatment to The Bends and OK Computer will tempt even casual Radiohead fans to drop another $15-$20 for these two landmark albums.
Fear not, though. EMI/Capitol knew they are messing with two albums with a fanbase that ranks as one of the most obsessive in rock today. Stuffing an album full of B-side filler would certainly incur some serious wrath from the group’s followers. With The Bends, the B-sides include songs that were already popular such as “Talk Show Host” and “Killer Cars.” In other B-sides, you can hear ideas that would later be more fully fleshed out in later releases. The most prevalent is the opening of “Lozenge Of Love,” which sounds remarkably close to “Bodysnatchers.”
The live songs are less revolutionary. Acoustic versions of “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was” are effective, but don’t do much in terms of making a strong impression. And thanks to the invention of YouTube, you can hear scores of acoustic versions of these songs. It’s the only time in this deluxe release where you can feel Capitol was stretching for material. A possible better choice would have been one of the remarkable remixes of “Planet Telex.” Another nice touch would have been some narrative in the liner notes about recording the album. Instead, we get almost a virtual reprint of the original liner notes.
Even with a few unnecessary live tracks, the deluxe release of The Bends more than justifies the purchase. The beautiful repackaging of the album is almost worth the purchase alone. Thankfully, the B-sides are so good, they could have either been included on the original disc or in an intensely great EP. It’s likely that The Bends and OK Computer will undergo another release when these albums approach their 25th anniversary, but that’s still more than a decade away. In the meantime, a rerelease of The Bends is still a better investment than almost any album released this year.