Radiohead – The Bends
If Pablo Honey hinted at Radiohead’s cerebral, cathartic sound, then The Bends was the breakthrough, a quantum leap forward for the band in terms of composition and songwriting. The band synthesizes a multitude of influences ranging from R.E.M. and Pixies to The Smiths and My Bloody Valentine into something new, creating sweeping anthems of despair and alienation. But compared to the sullen, paranoid roads the band would later travel, The Bends feels bright and alive, even if Thom Yorke’s lyric sheet would state otherwise. The trick is that even when the music takes left turns, it always lands on a strong, focused melody, making the band’s envelope-pushing experiments seem exciting rather than ponderous. “Just” and “My Iron Lung” are muscular rockers that display the band’s more visceral side, even when the songs explore unconventional structures. Meanwhile, the haunting “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” is memorizing and dark, riding Ed O’Brien’s instantly memorable guitar riff. Yorke’s lyrics also considerably developed, providing social commentary while becoming more cryptic and memorable. This is seen most notably on the album’s biggest stand out, “Fake Plastic Trees,” a sparse, melancholy acoustic track that bubbles over into an exciting, cathartic blowout. Though the band would continue to refine and innovate, The Bends stands as Radiohead’s first real demonstration of their talent and remains a classic of alternative rock.