OK Computer was Radiohead's third studio album in four years, released after Pablo Honey and The Bends, the latter of which garnered a significant amount of critical praise, although it has to be said, not nearly as much as OK Computer.
When it was released, OK Computer was almost universally lauded (although some, as noted above, heralded it as "More music to slit your wrists to", completely missing the point to the whole frickin' album), and has come first in various "Best Album Ever" polls ever since, most recently on the British TV channel Channel Four (full results). Many called it the defining album of the 90s.
Five places below OK Computer in the C4 list is Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, an equally defining album, and an easily recognisable one (it has been estimated that one in every 14 people below the age of 50 in the USA owns a copy of DSotM), if not for the music then for its (now famous) cover art. The two albums have similar concepts at their root; both OK Computer and Dark Side have as concepts the little things that drive you insane, the triggers of a slow descent into madness. On DSotM these triggers are rather basic; Money, Time and war (Us and Them). On OK Computer they are something which, relatively speaking, a modern audience would be more acquainted with, the generic pitfalls of modern life; the corporate world of endless servitude and eventual redundancy (Karma Police), the monotony of everything and the desire to escape (Subterranean Homesick Alien), the feeling of entrapment (No Surprises), the constant fear of the world outside your door (Climbing Up The Walls). Both albums chronicle, in exceptional detail, exactly what makes life in a contemporary world so utterly unbearable.
However, OK Computer talks about one angle DSotM fails to cover. That angle is that it is impossible to escape. DSotM suggests that insanity is the eventual result of all of this unhappiness; the album follows a linear path, from start to finish, the way in of life to the way out of insanity-even if you don't have any marbles, at least that will be your release from it all. OK Computer however loops; it starts with a car crash survivor, and ends with the same car crash. It is cyclical, suggesting that modern life as showcased on the album is immutable. There is no insanity, there is no way out; the album is basically the sign above your desk saying "Don't forget, you're here forever". In this sense, OK Computer is less positive than Dark Side...this is your life, there is no escape, try if you might but you can't.
The things that drive you mad - Dark Side Of The Moon
- Speak To Me/Breathe - work
- On The Run - trying to get away
- Time - aging
- Great Gig In The Sky - death
- Money - the bleeding obvious!
- Us And Them - war
- Any Colour You Like - endless choice
- Brain Damage/Eclipse - the eventual escape into insanity
The things that drive you mad - OK Computer
- Airbag - second chances
- Paranoid Android - not too sure actually, probably politics
- Subterranean Homesick Alien - monotony, a wish for something exciting to happen
- Exit Music (for a film) - ???
- Let Down - destruction of your hopes and dreams
- Karma Police - work/corporate existence/orthodoxy
- Fitter Happier - middle class existence making life bland
- Electioneering - the bleeding obvious
- Climbing Up The Walls - fear
- No Surprises - entrapment within life
- Lucky - luck (and the lack of it)
- The Tourist - fast pace, "living in the fast lane"
Note: this is just my interpretation, as with everything about song meanings your mileage may vary.