Earlier today, I posted a blog to commemorate the 20th anniversary of The Bends. While I believe all of what I wrote, I have reflected and, really, the post is largely just a review of a classic album. It is an album that, if you like music, you will have heard. A review is not a bad thing in and of itself, but there are hundreds of them, and I didn’t really need to add another. I addressed the things that make The Bends great; the phenomenal guitars, beautiful vocals, astonishing ambience, but those are the objective qualities. They are what make The Bends great neutrally, but they do not tell the whole story of why I love it. For my blog, I must use what only I can express, and that is what the album means to me personally.
The objective, apparent brilliance of The Bends is, of course, the reason I loved it initially, and without true quality it would not bear repeating today; it would be consigned to the file of “novelty nostalgia”, like Taking Back Sunday, or the haircut that I had in 2008. It is, as I said previously, a remarkable album, but it is one that has had an impact on me that transcends music.
There are cultural touchstones that I can point to in my life that have affected my personality and views in a way that goes beyond their medium. The Office shaped my taste in comedy and continues to define my humour and, in turn, my friendships. Mulholland Drive altered my perception of art as a whole, broadened my mind to possibilities within the medium and transformed my outlook on narrative storytelling. The Bends had an impact every bit as profound as any great work of art or literature. Through my family, I listened to great music practically from birth, but no memory is as vivid as that first day I listened to The Bends. It opened me up to the infinite possibilities of music, to the emotional impact that a 4 minute song can have. I had felt this previously through The Beach Boys, but here was something different.
Other music had been more distant, an art form to be appreciated and admired – the voice of Brian Wilson, the lyrics of Bob Dylan – but this was engulfing me. I still remember the first time I listened to Fake Plastic Trees; when Thom Yorke’s voice changed from a whisper to a cry, and the whole band kicked in, something stirred inside me. It was one of a handful of truly life changing moments that I can point to, my whole preconception around what music could achieve came crashing down. Radiohead were affecting my being at its core, the music was wrapping around my heart, it was destroying the barriers that I had in place.
If you’re reading this, it is likely that you know me, and therefore certain that you will know about my obsession with Radiohead. I distinctly remember it being a topic of much amusement and, frankly, confusion among my friends in secondary school. As 15/16 year olds, we were each discovering new music, and if I was ever asked for a recommendation, I would bring in my copy of The Bends. I vividly recall a couple of my friends, aware of my burgeoning Radiohead mania, stealing and hiding my CD of The Bends. Fear coursed through my veins, panic that I had lost it. I could replace it, but that copy had developed sentimental value, and I couldn’t last a day or two without listening to the album.
The Bends was something of a gateway album for me. It led me onto other great albums, but most importantly it was my first encounter with Radiohead, by far and away still my favourite band of all time. The last decade has been, and probably always will be, the most important, formative one of my life, and if one album has been the soundtrack, it has been The Bends. Every song has a dear place in my heart, each one has been there for all of my highs and low thus far. They all transport me back to times and places, they all evoke feelings in me that no other music does.
The Bends still holds that profound power. I listened to it today on the tube home from work. On first listen, I was a 14 year old celebrating Christmas Day in Liverpool, not yet even studying for my GCSEs, completely unaware of what the world had to offer, yet it resonated with me. Now, I am a 23 year old man living in London with my girlfriend, working in a corporate job in the City, and it resonates as much as ever. My life has been through multiple changes, and The Bends has been there through them all. Sitting on the tube today, travelling back from St Paul’s, I reflected on the blog that I posted. As Thom Yorke’s voice broke, sighing “If I could be who you wanted” at the end of Fake Plastic Trees, I knew that an objective review was insufficient. It will seem alien to most; people may see The Bends as a fine album, or may not be fans at all, but for me, it is more than just an album. It is an ineradicable part of my life.
At 20, The Bends is undoubtedly a classic album, but it is more than that. It is my classic album.