'The Bends' was released on this day (March 13th) in 1996.
Can you believe it's been 24 years since The Bends, Radiohead's sometimes overlooked second studio album released via Parlophone and Capitol Records, was unleashed unto the world? It certainly doesn't feel that old of an album, but one supposes that's largely because Radiohead has maintained their relevance from the beginning.
Radiohead - The Bends
The Bends was Radiohead's only album to be produced by John Leckie (The Stone Roses, Muse, XTC), but it was engineered by Nigel Godrich who has produced every Radiohead album since. It also marked their first collaboration with Stanley Donwood, who created the cover artwork for this and each subsequent album.
The sound was a huge departure from the grungey tones of debut album Pablo Honey with its Creep and Anyone Can Play Guitar, and instead moved towards more synth-laden, dreamier soundscapes with increased lyrical ambiguity. The album had a much greater depth of sound thanks to it being largely more collaborative than Pablo Honey; each band member all had very individual parts on The Bends which gave them a generally more polished and creative sound, but this new inclusive attitude also led to the band having to take a short break and put back the initial album release date as they struggled to get the sound just right.
There was a lot of pressure after the success of Pablo Honey, which lent to the fact that Radiohead didn't always cope well during the album's production. They had the huge job of trying to maintain success in the US after Creep, but ultimately The Bends reached nowhere near the success across the pond as it did in the UK where it reached number 4 in the charts. The pressure got so much that the band ended up having to cancel an appearance at Reading Festival because Yorke had fallen ill.
However, the singles from the album would pretty much all go on to be recognised hits for years to come, including My Iron Lung, High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, Just and Street Spirit (Fade Out).
My Iron Lung and Fake Plastic Trees both featured in 1995's Clueless, and High and Dry was a double A-side with opening track Planet Telex which would go on to be used by Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip in 2008's Letter from God to Man. High and Dry itself proved not to be one of Thom Yorke's proudest moments but it was still incredibly catchy. Fake Plastic Trees almost sent him over the edge, however, after multiple recording sessions for the same track, and then the realisation that Capitol Records had remixed it without the band's permission in an attempt to make Radiohead more accessible to an American audience.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Bends was its ability to stand out and yet still find chart success during an era where Britpop was the order of the day. In hindsight, it's often overlooked by its Grammy-winning 1997 successor OK Computer, but it was The Bends that really started the Radiohead that we know and love today.