If Radiohead had only released Pablo
Honey, their first album, today they would only be remembered as a ‘one hit
wonder' band that emerged from the huge shadow created by Nirvana. In Creep Thom Yorke sang that he would like to
be special, but it was with The Bends
that he really achieved it. This was the first masterpiece of the most oustanding
group in the last thirty years.
Launched in the midst of the 'britpop' fever, Yorke’s band could not have been more opposed to their compatriots, with their reference groups being American bands like R.E.M. and the Pixies, as well as groups that were widely despised for their alleged pomposity like Pink Floyd and U2. Both Yorke and Jonny Greenwood bring extra originality to their respective instruments, voice and guitar, making the band one of the most influential of recent times. After The Bends the band would reach new peaks, but this was the album on which the career of the band was built, and it was going to define the sound of the following decades.
From the moment that the sinuous Planet Telex starts, it feels certain that this is something special, especially when a wall of distorted guitars makes its appearance almost at the same time as Yorke's voice. It seems clear that the band had found its own place, the sacred loud/Quiet/loud formula of the Pixies is avoided, and instead there are many more layers of sounds, courtesy of their guitarists, Ed O'Brien and, above all, Greenwood. As you can hear in the title track, the rock world had found a guitarist with new things to say.
With the producer John Leckie at the controls (responsible for the debut album of the Stone Roses) the Englishmen found a new source of inspiration in the studio, without ceasing to be a rock band, giving the genre a new impulse from which hundreds of bands took advantage... although with much less impressive results.
It is difficult to highlight particular songs on such a tight album, in which none of its 12 songs falls below ‘outstanding’, but one can speak of the calm in High & Dry, upon which Coldplay or Travis have made a career, the delicate Fake Plastic Trees in which Yorke shows his incredible voice on his acoustic Takamine EN10C, and, at the end, a section of strings and raw and visceral guitar-playing by Greenwood and O'Brien.
Nor can you ignore the incredible sound that Greenwood gets from his Telecaster Plus with a DigiTech Whammy and a combo of Vox AC-30 and Fender Deluxe 85. Some of the best riffs and solos of his career are on this album, like those of Bones, Just or My Iron Lung (the song on which Muse was built). Songs on which Ed O'Brien adds that ‘special something’ that is so difficult to describe, evoking textures and different sounds that are used to colour the song with his guitar, a handmade Plank, between himself and his sound technician, although he also used a Squier Japanese Stratocaster. The album ends with Street Spirit (Fade Out); the song with which Yorke found himself as a lyricist, making it clear that, as he defined it, "there is no light at the end of the tunnel". A shocking end to a record close to perfection.
Later would come new landmarks like Ok Computer, Kid A and In Rainbows, but The Bends was the album that showed us for the first time all the potential of a band that was not satisfied with just repeating past schemes, in order to bring a breath of fresh air to a type of music that had previously been looking backwards instead of forward.