Radiohead – ‘OK Computer’

I’ve never been the most ambitious person. No grand plans or aspirations, just a little comfort and finding happiness in experiences rather than material things. Most importantly I have to enjoy working. As Bob Dylan once said: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” I was enjoying my job at MVC but to increase the job satisfaction I wanted to manage my own shop. As that wasn’t available at Bournemouth or Poole I had to look elsewhere. I ended up in Penzance.

Living along the coast in the quaint and idyllic Marazion I lucked out on location. I was there for about nine months and during that time one album shines brightly in my musical memory alongside coastal walks, Vespa rides and jaunts over to St. Michael’s Mount. Radiohead’s OK Computer was an extraordinarily magnificent collection of fiercely intense, sometimes agonisingly sublime songs. Easy listening it was not, but most of the best albums aren’t. Thom Yorke seemed and sounded genuinely anguished, absorbed and suffocated within these songs. I absolutely loved it.

Their first album Pablo Honey was known to me by name only. Follow up The Bends I knew just because of the singles, which I liked but paid little attention to. But what was impossible to ignore and turned me most definitely on to OK Computer was their astonishing performance on Jools Holland’s Later… I think the album had just been released, so I and a queuefull of eager Penzance punters swept it up on the back of that performance.

Ok Computer is another of those albums where words don’t seem anywhere near enough to do it justice. Here’s a crappy stab… Complex, textured and ambitiously contemporary. A pulsating, guitar-driven voyage into the synthetic nature of ‘90s Britain. Alt-rock. Art-rock. Yada Yada. How does it make you FEEL? Or perhaps more relevant to OK Computer, how does it make you think?

It’s an album that begs for headphones, for the listener to be all consumed in its infinite depth, to fully commit to the ride. Clearly this was five men at their experimental peak, pushing boundaries and creating new sounds, but that’s Radiohead all over isn’t it? Constantly innovating, pioneering and futuristic. Always fucking with the music industry. Zero compromise. The best band since, well… OK Computer.

Cool, memories of an album without naming one track. That said, I loved this line from Paranoid Android

“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing Gucci little piggy”

Counting Crows – ‘August And Everything After’

By mid ’94 and with my MVC career a whopping few months old, many new artists and albums were being discovered. The two managers had a thing for country, which opened up a whole heap of new options for me, most of which I dismissed but already my ears were taking in sounds I’d previously pushed aside due to nothing but ignorance. That’s the good thing about shop play; you can’t turn it off just because you don’t like it. You have to listen to it, sometimes endlessly even if it was something you’d never usually consider. Unless it’s Robbie Williams or the Spice Girls. Or Toploader. Average albums would be come good albums and could become great albums. Sometimes it’s the best albums that just take time to win you over. My social life was good too, with new friends, a new flat and post-work drinks in the Hogshead, which was to become our very regular watering hole. My flat was three minutes up the road, which helped.

August and Everything After by Counting Crows was released late the previous year, and it became a very regular player at MVC. I’d heard the single Mr.Jones and dug its driving American alt-rock country jangle, with romantic imagery of the dreams of undiscovered musicians…

“Mr Jones and me
Stumbling through the Barrio
Yeah, we stare at the beautiful women
She’s perfect for you
Man, there’s got to be somebody for me
I wanna be Bob Dylan
Mr Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
When everybody love you
Oh son, that’s just about as funky as you can be.”

More than anything it was the strained, vulnerable and downright anguished vocals of Adam Duritz that got to me. Man, he sounded hurt. I loved it. Nothing sounds anything less than pained and a focused, uninterrupted listen would be a strain emotionally, but worth every agonising second. The production was flawless, courtesy of the legendary T Bone Burnett who despite the lyrical down regularly kept the tempo or musical mood upbeat. Mr Jones, Rain King and Murder Of One are romps compared to the starkness of Perfect Blue Buildings or the stunning Raining In Baltimore. But, as was my want it was the more downbeat that really grabbed me:

“I wanted the ocean to cover over me
I want to sink slowly without getting wet
Maybe someday, I won’t be so lonely
And I’ll walk on water every chance I get.”

– Time And Time Again

And the brutal simplicity of Sullivan Street. I’d sing it with as much emotion as I could, knowing it would make me sad.

“I’m almost drowning in her sea
She’s nearly crawling on her knees
It’s almost everything I need
I’m down on my knees
I’m down on my knees.”

Their ’96 follow-up Recovering The Satellites had a near-impossible job in matching its predecessor. It very nearly did, but for me the time, the place and the excitement of the discovery could not be matched. That summer, Blur released Parklife and Oasis Definitely Maybe. Both were selling bucketloads and epitomised the Britpop scene with an iconic, quintessentially English sound. Like the Mondays and Roses five years earlier I listened loads and liked lots, but couldn’t fully get on board with the hype. For a fella that was enjoying his job and a new lease of life, whose social life and friends were bringing such happiness, I still had a yearning for music that hit my emotions the hardest. Songs of heartache are such sweet joy.