Sound — 9
With the reissue of Radiohead's first 3 albums Pablo Honey, The Bends, and OK Computer, it becomes distinctly obvious just how far the British alternative group came in the course of just a few releases. The most evident musical leap arrives with the second record The Bends, an album credited with changing the course of alternative music. Whether or not you assign that much responsibility to the album, The Bends still does what many albums are unable to accomplish balancing melody with instrumental inventiveness. The 2-disk reissue of The Bends features the original release, as well as 21 bonus songs that had previously been B-sides, acoustic takes, or BBC Sessions. While many of Pablo Honey's reissue highlights come from the second disk, The Bends' original 12 tracks are still the driving force. From the opening track Planet Telex, it's evident that guitarists Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, and Thom Yorke have delved deeply into the world of effects. The heavy digital delay heard on the first track and so many others are one aspect that builds the huge wall of sound on the record. My Iron Lung marks one of the huge standouts on the album, accentuating all the best about Radiohead, whether that be the unusual effects, the interaction between the guitars and vocals, or the explosive finale. Apparently Radiohead felt extreme pressure/stress while making the album, namely because there was a push to live up to the success of Creep. Whatever went down in the recording studio worked tenfold, as the band has a stronger sense of melody all the way across. It's readily apparent in the stripped-down singles High And Dry or Fake Plastic Trees, but even the bigger productions show off the band's songwriting prowess. Another story says that Yorke recorded the vocal track for Fake Plastic Trees directly after seeing Jeff Buckley, known for his cherubic vocals, perform in concert. Whatever Yorke's influence, the album thrives on the singer's falsetto, which peaks in the haunting Street Spirit (Fade Out). The rarer tracks on the second disk are no throwaways, and it's pretty amazing how B-sides could match the quality of some of the singles. Included in the extra material are various B-side songs from the EP singles My Iron Lung, High And Dry/Planet Telex, Fake Plastic Trees (several acoustic tracks are featured on this selection), Street Spirit (Fade Out), as well as 4 songs recorded during a BBC Session from 1994. At the top of the list are the Middle-Eastern-tinged Molasses and the mid-tempo India Rubber, which features harmonies that show off Yorke's lower vocal range.
Lyrics — 10
Radiohead didn't just leave the musical comfort zone on The Bends. The lyrical content is no longer quite as focused on internal conflict (I.e., Creep), and instead takes an outward glance. The focus is much more on those with hang-ups around Yorke, whether it's in High And Dry (Two jumps in a week; I bet you think that's pretty clever don't you boy; Flying on your motorcycle: Watching all the ground beneath you drop), or Just (Don't get my sympathy; Hanging out the 15th floor; Changed the locks three times; He still comes reeling through the door). Regardless of who the songs are about, it's the overall lyrical layout that set songs truly apart from Radiohead's previous works.
Overall Impression — 9
Plenty of time has passed since it's release in the mid-90s, but it's hard to not once again be impressed by The Bends. The record didn't receive quite as many accolades as it's successor OK Computer, but it did mark a turning point for Radiohead. The band no longer relies on the traditional rock song format, and in many ways The Bends is fueled by those quiet, introspective numbers. Yes, there does seem to be a huge increase in the amount of effects used, but for every sonic-sounding tune there is a stripped-down acoustic. The original record is powerful enough to make the reissue memorable, but when you have bonus tracks that could stand on their own, it only reinforces why Radiohead has the clout that it does today.