Friday, March 13, 2015

the bends


Radiohead came like a comet, creeping away from one hit wonder into a cynical polystyrene weirdness with this brilliant existential decompression.   The group had found a measure of success with the single "Creep" from their debut album 'Pablo Honey'; but were discouraged as the tour went on and on, delaying the recording of their new album.  Guitarist Jonny Greenwood looks back:  "It's funny: on one side it sped things up for us, because it meant that Radiohead became...we never felt that Radiohead was successful,..we felt Creep was successful, but it got our name put about, so that sped things up for us. But at the same time it meant that we recorded our second album about a year late, The Bends, most of it was written within months of recording our first record, and we had to tour and tour and we couldn't stop to record. So that slowed things down for us."

John Leckie and Nigel Godrich were instrumental in the production and engineering of the sessions that began at RAK Studios in London and continued at  The Manor in Oxfordshire and finished up at Abbey Road Studio in London.  The recording featured Thom Yorke on vocals, guitars, piano, string arrangements, songwriting, artwork, and illustrations;  Jonny Greenwood on guitars, organ, keyboards, synthesizer, piano, recorder, string arrangements, and songwriting;  Colin Greenwood on bass guitar and acoustic guitar;  Ed O'Brien on guitars and backing vocals;  and Phil Selway on drums, percussion, and acoustic guitar;    with   Caroline Lavelle on cello and John Matthias on violin and viola.   

Philip Selway considers:   "I think when we started work on The Bends it was kind of like pausing for a breath. So much had happened over the course of Pablo Honey, from the recording to the tour and all that, and then “Creep” doing what it did. It felt as though things moved very quickly for us. The band went from touring around the UK in a small spitter van to these large tours in the States in a matter of a couple of months. So it felt like we had to play catch-up. It felt quite intimidating in a lot of ways. It was undoubtedly exciting, though, as well. But when we started to record The Bends, that felt like clear time again. We were riffing and writing around Oxford, so we were back at home and actually felt like a very recognizable process. It’s something we’ve done for years, getting together and shutting ourselves away in a rehearsal room and writing and arranging material. That felt as though, from my point of view anyway, that we were reconnecting with ourselves after having been in very, very unfamiliar territory...We were still wet behind the ears at the time, and perhaps actually having that kind of reassurance in working with somebody who was that musical and had that breadth of experience and actually wasn’t going to be phased by anything, that gave us a very secure basis to work from. It took a little while to get there. The initial sessions probably were a little fraught from our point of view, but we got there, and John guided us through that process. So he was fantastic to work with...We had high expectations of what we could do at that point. I think we were still relatively inexperienced in the studio, so our studio chops probably weren’t quite up to it at the time. And I think we wanted to be ambitious with the record. So you get all those things, and probably the initial sessions we were just feeling frustrated with ourselves, and it showed in what we did at the time. But it was part of the process. We needed to go through that to get to the good takes on the songs...We started recording at RAK Studios in London. That’s where the first sessions were, fantastic studio, and Nigel was one of the in-house engineers there. He had come up through the kind of trainee system there, so he was a very, very knowledgeable engineer by that point, and experienced...[When] we went to a studio called the Manor, which is not far away from where we lived in Oxford. We’d upped stakes from RAK Studios and just went off tour and just played material live in New Zealand and Australia and a couple of festivals on the continent in Europe. And so it kind of felt like replaying the material as a band over those shows, and going back into the Manor studios, I think things really fell into place quite quickly...At the time, it felt like a very, very long process. But looking back on it, it was actually probably about four months of recording, which is not really that much actually."

Tensions during recording continued to build until they had to break for a tour in Mexico.  Ed O'Brien says:   "It was like that typical Radiohead thing, things had been brewing.  We're not really confrontational with another. Things had been brewing and they basically came to a head. We were all completely knackered on this Mexican tour bus, 12 of us, with six bunks and they were about 5ft 6inches long, so you're getting no sleep. It was just ridiculous. It was something we'd been spending eight or nine years working towards and it was like, we'd never been totally honest with each other in terms of... We're not into bonding, we're friends and everything, but because of maybe our upbringing or the school that we went to we don't tell each other our problems. We deal with them ourselves. It's the only way you can deal with them."

Thom Yorke adds:    "It all just came out; all the stuff that we'd always been fighting and I think, when we started our little band , when we were kids at school, it was never really about being friends or anything. We were playing our instruments in our bedrooms and wanted to play them with someone else and it was just symbiotic. We never really thought about it.  Years and years of tension and not saying anything to each other, and basically all the things that had built up since we'd met each other, all came out in one day. We were spitting and fighting and crying and saying all the things that you don't want to talk about and I think if we hadn't ever done that...I think that completely changed what we did and we all went back and did the album and it all made sense ... It's all a reflection of us.  It's cynical and nervous, and it doesn't make sense. And you get the feeling at the end of it that something's wrong, but you can't quite work out what it is."

'The Bends' rose to number eighty-eight in the US, seventy-three in Germany, thirty-five in France and Ireland, twenty-three in Australia, twenty-one in Canada, twenty in the Netherlands, eight in Belgium, and number four in the UK.  Colin Greenwood:    "The weirdest people in the weirdest places are united by that record.  We've heard so many stories about how its really popular with ravers, who play it during their post-rave comedown spliff. And The Daisies, who share the same management as us, got stopped in their van in London on the day of an IRA bomb. They were surrounded by armed police who wanted to know who the hell they were. Then they mentioned our name and this copper with a gun goes, 'Oh 'The Bends' is brilliant, and the mood relaxed instantly...Abroad we were asked endless questions about it, as if we really fitted the Britpop blueprint. 'The Bends' was many things, but it wasn't really, chirpy was it? lt was more like a darkness lumbering over the horizon with gun turrets strafing the Britpop hordes with misery. Er, sorry. Got a bit carried away there."

"Just" went to thirty-seven on the US alternative chart and nineteen in the UK.

"High and Dry" went to seventy-eight on the US pop chart, sixty-two in Australia, forty in Ireland, thirty-one in Canada, eighteen on the US alternative chart, and seventeen in the UK. 

"Fake Plastic Trees" grew to sixty-five on the US pop chart, twenty in the UK, and eleven on the US alternative chart.

"My Iron Lung" hit one hundred in Australia and twenty-four in the UK.

"(Nice Dream)"

"Street Spirit (Fade Out)" made it to fifty-nine in Canada, forty-seven in Ireland, twenty-six in the Netherlands, and five in the UK.

"Fake Plastic Trees"


'The Bends'
full album:

All songs written and composed by Radiohead. 

1. "Planet Telex"   4:19
2. "The Bends"   4:06
3. "High and Dry"   4:17
4. "Fake Plastic Trees"   4:50
5. "Bones"   3:09
6. "(Nice Dream)"   3:53
7. "Just"   3:54
8. "My Iron Lung"   4:36
9. "Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was"   3:28
10. "Black Star"   4:07
11. "Sulk"   3:42
12. "Street Spirit (Fade Out)"   4:12

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