Album: OK Computer
. . .
OK. Here we go.
Two-plus decades down the line, OK Computer is universally considered one of the all-time greatest albums ever recorded, and I am certainly not here to rain on its parade. That said, like Marquee Moon, it’s kinda front-loaded: most of the greatest songs appear in the first half of the record. And by “greatest,” I of course mean “my favorite.”
Like the opening track, “Airbag,” which sets the tone for the record. Driven by Phil Selway’s jumping, cut-up beat — influenced by DJ Shadow, and then cut up and looped by Selway & Thom Yorke — “Airbag” immediately drops you into a universe you’ve never heard before. A universe full of shimmering arpeggiated guitars, mellotrons, tape effects and a Colin Greenwood bassline that plays hide-and-seek with the rest of the song.
It’s so fucking weird. It’s so fucking awesome. In the midst of all of this, Thom Yorke sings about a car wreck he had a decade previously.
In a deep, deep sleep
Of the innocent
I am born again
In a fast German car
I’m amazed that I survived
An airbag saved my life
Throughout, “Airbag” starts and stops at will, as soaring airy guitars drift in and out seemingly at random. Like they’re trying to get at the exact moment in time that the car was just about to crash, and freeze it forever, while Yorke pretends that being spared was part of some cosmic plan.
In an interstellar burst
I’m back to save the universe
It could have all been too much. And in fact, it was all too much, at least at first: OK Computer didn’t make my 1997 Pazz & Jop ballot, but a decade later, when I ranked my favorite albums of 1990s, it was my second favorite album from that year — and in my top 25 — as the subsequent decade showed just how ahead of its time it really was.
“Airbag” live in New York, 1997
“Airbag” live in San Francisco, 1998
“Airbag” live on Jools Holland, 1998
“Airbag” live at Glastonbury, 2017
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