Monday, March 13, 1995

Radiohead released The Bends

The Bends


Released: March 13, 1995

Peak: 88 US, 4 UK, 14 CN, 23 AU

Sales (in millions): 1.54 US, 1.25 UK, 3.79 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: experimental alternative rock


Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Planet Telex [4:19]
  2. The Bends [4:06]
  3. High and Dry [4:17] (3/11/95, 73a US, 18 MR, 17 UK, 62 AU)
  4. Fake Plastic Trees [4:50] (5/9/95, 65a US, 11 MR, 20 UK)
  5. Bones [3:09]
  6. (Nice Dream) [3:53]
  7. Just [3:54] (9/2/95, 37 MR, 19 UK)
  8. My Iron Lung [4:36] (10/8/94, 24 UK, 100 AU)
  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] (1/22/96, 5 UK)

All songs written by Radiohead.

Total Running Time: 48:37

The Players:

  • Thom Yorke (vocals)
  • Jonny Greenwood (guitar, keyboards)
  • Ed O’Brien (guitar, effects)
  • Colin Greenwood (bass)
  • Phil Selway (drums)


4.100 out of 5.00 (average of 29 ratings)

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

“The first half of Nineties rock was shaped by Nirvana, and the second half was dominated by Radiohead.” RS500 Thanks to the success of the anti-hero song “Creep” and parent album Pablo Honey, Radiohead burst onto the scene as a sort of Brit version of grunge for alt-rock losers. That album, however, “in no way was adequate preparation for its epic, sprawling follow-up, The BendsAMG which “married a majestic and somber guitar sound to Thom Yorke's anguished-choirboy vocals, drawing on the epic grandeur of U2 and the melancholy of the Smiths.” RS500

“On only their second attempt at a proper album, it became clear that the slightly generic grunge rock of their debut LP, Pablo Honey, would not be the definitive sound for Radiohead going forward.” PS The Bends is what really led to Radiohead becoming “a blue chip band.” AZ “Building from the sweeping, three-guitar attack that punctuated the best moments of Pablo Honey,” AMG “The quintet honed its talent for bombastic Brit Rock, yet still preserved an edge of unpredictability.” AZ They “create a grand and forceful sound that nevertheless resonates with anguish and despair – it’s cerebral anthemic rock.” AMG

“If the CD proved anything, it was that Radiohead could find solid ground between pop experimentation and the tradition of born-in-the-bone, balls-out rock.” AZ “Occasionally, the album displays its influences, whether it’s U2, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., or the Pixies, but Radiohead turn clich├ęs inside out, making each song sound bracingly fresh.” AMGThe Bends is full of instantly catchy numbers, but a the same time, none seem fit for radio.” DV This “is essentially Radiohead’s way of creating a bridge between that initial wave of ‘90s angstery…what we’ve come to call indie rock.” EK

“It makes the record compelling upon first listen, but it reveals new details with each listen.” AMG The Bends “marries…ambitious, and often challenging, instrumental soundscapes to songs that are at their cores hauntingly melodic and accessible.” AMG “Thom Yorke’s tortured lyrics give the album a melancholy undercurrent, as does the surging, textured music.” AMG

Even as the group became experimental, they still maintained an ability to make inroads at radio. “Creep” could well have been a one-hit wonder for the band in the States, but songs like High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees suggested Radiohead could find a home at alternative radio.

When the follow-up album, OK Computer became one of the decade’s game changers, “The Bends received its due for being that bridge, the changing space, between a young band with a fluke hit to a mature working group pushing the boundaries of rock music.” JM By comparison to OK Computer, “The Bends is pretty gosh-darn conventional…There are places all through it that betray a distinct whiff of…classic rock.” EK

“Planet Telex”
“The opener for The Bends is a rebirth.” CS “Planet Telex” “sounded like an overt warning to anyone who loved ‘Creep’ that the new Radiohead album was going to be much weirder and more sinister.” UP “It’s daring and rebellious and finds the band entering into the forms that would shape them into what they are today.” CS It “explodes from the speakers with a depth to the sound that just wasn’t there on Pablo Honey.” AD “A sound like wind coming in through a crack in your window, the song bleeds into a trippy feedback squall.” DV

“Much is made of Radiohead’s cerebral experimentation, but ‘Planet Telex’ is further proof of their off-hand, spontaneous magic – a band as much about the body as it is about the brain.” EX The song “doesn’t exactly scream ‘party vibes,’ but it was recorded during a heavy drinking session: Thom Yorke nailed the vocal in one take while crouching on the floor, too pissed on wine to stand. It was the last time Radiohead would record anything as straightforwardly anthemic.” BZ

“Sonically, the jittering intro waxes and wanes like a throbbing headache which refuses to let up. The lilting, widescreen guitar drifts in and out and promises some soothing respite before Yorke’s half-manipulated vocal cry of ‘you can force it but it will not come’ stirs up some unease (and constipation-based jokes).’ FT

“Apparently this track was originally titled ‘Planet Xerox’ but had to be changed for copyright reasons.” FT

“The Bends”
“’Where do we go from here?’ asks Thom at the beginning of the title track of Radiohead’s second album. The complete shift away from the grunge influence of Pablo Honey wouldn’t happen until OK Computer, but the opening lines of ‘The Bends’ imply that the band was at least doing a lot of soul-searching about where to go after the success of ‘Creep,’ a track they distanced themselves from in the years that followed.” FT

“Long before millennials realized that boomers were the worst, Radiohead were taking the piss out of the sixties generation for Gen-X kids. ‘I wish it was the sixties / I wish I could be happy / I wish something would happen’ is one of Yorke’s most quotable lines, and it captures an extremely ’90s sentiment of both resenting nostalgia and feeling like you’ve missed out.” UP Radiohead never belonged to any particular scene, but with the release of The Bends…the difference between them and their fellow UK guitar bands was palpable: Oasis sang about wanting to ‘Live Forever’ and being a ‘Rock & Roll Star,’ while Thom’s line…felt like a sarcastic dig at his peers’ obsession with another era.” FT

“Radiohead rocks as hard here as they ever have – while the ballads from The Bends era helped to inform the sound of Britpop in the latter half of the decade, the teetering-on-the-brink-of-chaos rockers are what give the album its still potent serrated edge.” UP “Jonny’s soaring guitar is as anthemic as on ‘High and Dry,’ ‘Just’ and ‘Street Spirit,’ but it’s here that Radiohead started to look at the wider world, invoking images of the CIA and the military gone rogue. The band wouldn’t master weaving political themes into their lyrics until a few years later, but they were already light years beyond their Britpop cousins.” FT

“High and Dry”
This “catchy little mellow, acoustic tune,” SP which Thom Yorke first performed with the pre-Radiohead band Headless Chickens, is “one of the band's poppiest, most mainstream hits,” BZ proving “Radiohead was not going to be contributing to the '90s one-hit wonder music pile.” SP The song “became a model for bands like Coldplay, Travis, and the other Radiohead imitators of the late ’90s.” UP

Of course, his aversion to all things popular means he has now distanced himself from “High and Dry.” He says it was “a ‘very bad’ song that he was pressured into releasing.” UP He has dismissed it “for its softness, apparent lack of lyrical meaning, and mass popularity.” CS That, of course, also means “some die-hards…[think] it’s no longer worth considering.” SA “But there’s something to be said for a Radiohead song that appeals to an older crowd…For it’s the poppier, more accessible side of the group that makes the experimentation all that more powerful, and vice versa.” CS

“Radiohead rarely makes anything this straightforwardly and swooningly romantic anymore.” SA “With its jangly guitars and recognizable verse-bridge-chorus structure,” SA this was “an essential ‘wallowing over heartbreak’ song.” UP “When Yorke hits those soaring notes of the chorus…it does what all great songs do: transports us, if not to a better place then at least one we weren’t before.” SA

“Fake Plastic Trees”
“They’ll never admit it now, but many people first heard ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ in the movie Clueless…Cher comes home and finds her step-brother (and future boyfriend) Josh in her house. It’s playing on the radio. ‘Yuk! Uh, the maudlin music of the university station,’ she says. ‘What is it about college and cry-baby music?’ It’s definitely a cry-baby song;” RS Thom Yorke “did all the vocals in two takes and then broke down into tears.” BZ Ed O’Brien said early versions sounded like Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain,” and that Yorke only felt “adequately equipped to record the song” FT after the band saw Jeff Buckley perform live.

Of course, “this ain’t some sort of run-of-the-mill ballad.” RB This “fabulous, mellow acoustic single” SP “was exactly the type of bombastic, overly dramatic, highly marketable” RB “emotive and deep-searching rock ballads” PM that “Radiohead copycats exploited for over a decade. But nothing even comes close to the unique qualities of ‘Fake Plastic Trees.’” RB It “takes that narrow quiet-loud framework [of ‘Creep’] and improves upon it immensely.” AS It’s the “moment where Yorke and Radiohead found their voice” DF and “the best, saddest reminder of what was lost when the world’s best arena-rock outfit decided they were meant for something weirder.” SA

Built on this is “more emotionally direct than anything Thom Yorke has written or composed since.” SA Lyrically, the song is “a meditation on artificiality in the real world” DF that “puts the band’s previous output and, in truth, everything in rock at the time to shame.” AS His vocal performance “approached Freddie Mercury-levels of virtuosity.” UP He take “the prettiest acoustic melody in the band’s playbook” SA and “imbues it with little twists and turns that bring out heretofore unreachable layers of sadness…He lives inside this character, feeling his frustration, his weariness, his hurt.” AS “Yorke’s syllables are stretched to their breaking points throughout the song makes it clear he’s reaching for some sort of peace that’s just out of his grasp.” BB This “is why we listen to music, why we expose ourselves to any kind of art for that matter, in the hopes that its infinite power can make us feel something inside of ourselves that we didn’t even know existed, even if it is a feeling of sadness.” AS

This is “also one of Radiohead’s most anthemic songs.” RS “Radiohead is for the exhausted, the heartbroken, and the world-weary” CS and this “skyscraper of heartbreak” SA is their song most capable of generationg “a whole stadium of lighter-raisers.” SA “Never has there been a more perfect song about heartbreak.” CS “It still holds as a favorite for Radiohead fanatics nationwide.” SP

This is “a perfect and discordant wake-up from The Bends’ sentimental first half.” CS “The extremely U2-like ‘Bones’” DBW “is visceral and riff-heavy and as lively as the band’s ever been.” CS

“(Nice Dream)”
“Bones” and “Nice Dream” “are mood pieces, attempts at moving forwards ably supported by the excellent production of John Leckie, without whom neither song would amount to anything more than the prettier moments from the very un-acclaimed Pablo Honey.” AD He said the whale sounds in the background were “my stupid idea.” BZ

Colin Greenwood described this song as the “dreamy antithesis of ‘Bones’” BZ while his brother Jonny “takes credit for the foreboding, arpeggiated opening and the screeching guitars in the chorus.” BZ These “were initially points of contention between him and Yorke, who felt the song should be simpler. The result, however, is a truly rich and lovely song.” BZ

The song was based on a dream Yorke had. BZ The song’s narrator “knows that the idyllic fantasy in his head is just that: a fantasy. But we can’t blame him for wishing. The light-handed strumming and enchanting wind effects make us want to believe, too.” CS

“Post-‘Creep,’ Radiohead were poised between grunge and Britpop. Just is a time capsule at the crossroads: hailstorm distortion meets perky hooks, wily vocals, and Yorke’s mischievous challenge to Greenwood.” GN “Just” was “a preview of what was to come on OK Computer. Instead of the straightforward rock that dominates The Bends, ‘Just’ doubles down on the band’s experimental edge and their knack for building worlds with guitars.” FT

“The world that exists within ‘Just’ is presumably one of addiction and insurmountable guilt – and the lofty riffs mimic the unsinkable feeling of self-loathing. It’s another example of Radiohead’s ability.” FT The song exemplifies how “to not only tell a story through lyrics, but to create a vision within the music.” FT It “is a vicious tell-off with music that matches the mood. Their rhythm section brings an honest-to-god groove for once“ SA along with “unexpected harmonic shifts, wild dynamics, [and] riffs coming out its ears.” RB

“Jonny Greenwood’s guitar solos…somehow out-weirded them all.” RB Is it any wonder that Radiohead have spent 20 years distancing themselves from straightforward guitar rock when they utterly mastered the form with this song?” BZ He is “an absolute beast of a guitarist” RG and “’Just’ is a premier showcase for some of his finest shredding.” UP His “guitar screams and wails in a place where it feels right at home. It’s probably the hardest they ever have or ever will rock out.” SA “’Just’ starts with Greenwood showing off his speed, hitting higher and higher notes until none are left on his guitar neck.” RG Then “he holds onto this feedback that sounds like a boiling teapot before ripping into an entirely different, nasty solo full of bending strings and stuttering notes.” RG It makes for “one of the most unique and peculiar rock songs of the 1990s. And it has an extraordinary video to match.” RB

“My Iron Lung”
“Rarely has a band rejected their humble beginnings as quickly as Radiohead.” CS “My Iron Lung” “was supposedly written as an angry response to the overwhelming success of ‘Creep:’” BZ “This / This is our new song / Just like the last one / A total waste of time.” “While there’s a good bit of bitterness in the lyrics, it seems to take on broader themes than just the downside of fame (also, like, cry me a river Thom Yorke).” BZ “This is clearly a move to go ‘beyond’ pop music and toward something less accessible, thornier, and altogether artier.” UP This is Radiohead fashioning “a new identity: stadium-rock agitators declaring war on hypocrisy and greed – particularly their own.” GN

This was first released as the title track of an EP between Pablo Honey and The Bends. It was recorded live in 1994 at a London club gig at the Astoria. Although the crowd noise was leveled out, the live performance “gives it an added dose of energy.” UP “Capitol Records A&R Perry-Watts Russell told Billboard in 1995 that it ‘wasn’t a proper first single. We really didn’t even pursue radio airplay for it.’ Fans and college radio knew ‘My Iron Lung’ was a glimpse of an evolving band.” RG

“The truly demented ‘My Iron Lung’” AD “effortlessly switches from control to chaos from verse to chorus.” CS It has “a catchy hook that makes you bob your head...then they get all avant garde on you.” DV “Jonny Greenwood's wonky Whammy tones give way to explosions of distorted fury, making this a pinnacle of their alt-rock phase.” EX “It’s the song on The Bends that seems most clearly a nod to Nirvana, though halfway through (and again at the end) a kind of sonic madness descends from Jonny Greenwood’s guitar that feels fully original.” BZ

“Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was”
An “emphasis on melodic hooks keeps things from getting as mushy as most mope-rock.” DBW “Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was” is “arguably the most reassuring song on The Bends it begins to rise with warmth and soul the farther along it goes.” CS It “has a grandeur about it, a wonderful ballad with a sad, lost atmosphere and great production and mixing.” AD “Each instrument calls out like a lone animal searching for company, and by the time they overlap, that very loneliness begins to feel more welcome, more familiar, more bearable. The patience of those trickling guitar lines and Yorke’s determination to stuff as many o’s into ‘proof’ pay off. By the time it wraps, it leaves you with a nest to curl up in – comforted or distraught, you decide — even though it starts with noisy scrapes and field sounds that suggest you’re wandered somewhere unbearably frigid.” CS

“Black Star”
Songs like “’Sulk’ and ‘Black Star’ are coming from a band that was still trying to find their sound.” DV The latter “is like the little brother who doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves.” SP It has been called “a sensational rock ballad and one of the best tracks off The BendsSP as well as “the most genuinely gorgeous song in Radiohead’s entire catalogue.” BZ

“No band has ever done a better job at depicting the pressures an individual faces in the modern world than Radiohead. What gets overlooked, and underrated, is how well they nail relationship issues as well.” AS “’Black Star’ is proof that they could have done just fine singing sad love songs for their whole career.” AS “Slow Radiohead often becomes synonymous with ‘Fake Plastic Trees’…In ‘Black Star,’ Thom Yorke’s voice sounds just as beautifully broken, the lyrics are just as heart-tugging.” SA They “prove that you don’t need to be wordy to tell a complete story.” AS

“’Black Star’ is a small-scale drama rendered with poignancy and eloquent sadness. It also features a gorgeous melody that builds into an unforgettable chorus, the kind of song that would sound great boiled down to just acoustic guitar and vocal, yet it gains heft and power when married to the band’s guitars. Those guitars never get overbearing, allowing room for the tune to spread its wings while adding numerous hooks to an already catchy mix.” AS “When it gets to the refrain of ‘this is killing me,’ that’s about as vulnerable as Radiohead can get.” SA

“The penultimate track on The Bends works because it accepts the melancholia that comes with life instead of trying to fight it.” CS

“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
“Radiohead fans can wage a battle royale over the best Radiohead album openers, but there should be no debate over which song is the greatest Radiohead album closer.” UP The “oppresively somber yet downright gorgeous” RB “Street Spirit” is and “one of the darkest tunes in their catalog.” RS The lyrics “alternate between desperate hope and resigned despair, despair getting the better of it.” AS Yorke said, “Our saddest songs have somewhere in them at least a glimmer of resolve…‘Street Spirit’ has no resolve…It is the dark tunnel without the light at the end.” RS He says it “is about staring the fucking devil right in the eyes... and knowing, no matter what the hell you do, he'll get the last laugh.” BZ The song is “a grand, doomed surrender.” GN “If Dante’s Inferno had an accompanied soundtrack, this song would surely be in the crux of it all.” CR

This “was a clear sign that Radiohead were maturing at a very dramatic pace,” RS “signaling a move towards an era where they would challenge listeners with each and every new release.” FT “’Street Spirit’ demonstrated that Radiohead could toss out a more nuanced type of anthem, along with sing-alongs like ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘High and Dry.’” BB

“As the second guitarist in a band in which Jonny Greenwood usually plays lead guitar, it’s understandable how Ed O’Brien often falls off the radar..,The steadiness of his playing is integral to the band’s success, because it allows Jonny to go off on his daredevil flights and sonic experiments knowing that the core of the song will remain strong. On ‘Street Spirit,’ O’Brien’s steadiness becomes brilliance right before our ears, playing arpeggios that tug at the heartstrings with every clarion note.” AS

The “song that even Thom describes as one of Radiohead’s saddest…is informed by Nigerian author Ben Okri’s Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road, which Yorke read on tour in America while the band narrowly avoided disintegrating; the book concerns an abiku, or spirit child, which gives the track its name. Yorke himself calls the track a ‘straight rip-off’ of R.E.M. (who famously influenced the band in the early days).” FT

Notes: In 2009, a collector’s edition added a second disc with the cuts from the My Iron Lung EP as well as the B-sides from the singles “High and Dry” / “Planet Telex,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” There were also four songs from a 4/14/1994 BBC Radio One Session.

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First posted 3/23/2008; last updated 5/29/2022.

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