Updated: Aug 27, 2021
“The Bends” is the second studio release from britpop band Radiohead, released on March 8, 1995. Following the debut success of “Pablo Honey” and their breakout alternative smash “Creep,” Radiohead went from being a relatively unknown, underground band with street cred in the U.K. to being a global sensation thanks to the cultural climax of the grunge movement peaking in 1993. In a time when anything with angst was being included in MTV lineups alongside Nirvana and R.E.M., acts like Beck or The Smashing Pumpkins that stood out for their unconformity also started to climb in popularity. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke likened Creep’s mainstream success to being in the right place at the right time, launching Radiohead out of obscurity and onto a years long cross continental tour in which most of “The Bends” was written throughout their downtime on the road. The album’s artwork is the first of many created by Stanley Donwood, who describes the facial expression as depicting “an android discovering for the first time the sensations of ecstasy and agony, simultaneously.” This concept is echoed all throughout the album’s lyrics. The stress of becoming an overnight sensation (especially for a song that they’ve since disowned) coupled with the added pressure from their record label to keep cranking out commercial smash hits in the style of grunge (a sound they were never intending to achieve) made all of their recent success feel disingenuous. After Yorke made the decision to pull out of that year’s Reading Festival, EMI gave the band six weeks to get themselves sorted or be dropped. Following the hiatus, Radiohead began work on recording a major label follow up to “Pablo Honey” at RAK Studios and Abbey Road in London. Producer John Leckie helped demystify the studio equipment, allowing the band to explore out of the box ideas they had previously shied away from expressing. Armed with this new knowledge, Radiohead threw everything they knew going into “Pablo Honey” out the window and set out to record what Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield later went on to describe as a “big-band dystopian epic” with what came to be known as “The Bends.” “The Bends” explores themes of painful self-analysis, disenchantment, and the feeling of not belonging. This angst-laden, outsider theme is perpetuated by the band’s experimental use of keyboard, synthesizers, and innovative delay/loop pedal effects. The soaring, melancholic melodies bursting out of otherwise restrained songs mixed with Yorke’s newly prominent use of falsetto vocals heightened the emotional intensity, and unknowingly, created a defining sound that would go on to inspire the second half of 90’s britpop and a plethora of emerging artists who had never heard anything like it. The next generation of British pop-rock acts including Coldplay, Keane, Snow Patrol, and Muse, as well as already well-established American acts such as Garbage and R.E.M. all cite Radiohead as one of their favorite bands. Arguably, the indie genre as we know it today and the greater evolution of alt-rock at large may not have ever taken shape if not for “The Bends” which The Guardian ranked amongst their “50 Albums That Changed Music” chart alongside masterpieces like The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The album is consistently ranked atop reader polls and included in “Best of All Time” lists. Despite this, “The Bends” remains Radiohead’s least commercially successful album to date, peaking at number 88 on the Billboard Pop chart and only recently receiving Platinum certification in the U.S. MTV VJ Matt Pinfield was once asked why the network continued to promote Radiohead’s post-Creep singles when the album was selling so poorly, he responded with “Because it’s great!” Thom Yorke thanked him by giving him his gold record copy of the album! Hear the follow up that turned a lanky group of British lads from one hit wonders into rock n roll heavyweights by streaming the hits “My Iron Lung,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” and “High and Dry” now on Spotify!