Glen Campbell: 1936 – 2017

His late life albums, after becoming diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, deserve to be discussed as modern country classics.

Rest in Peace, Rhinestone Cowboy.

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Chester Bennington 1976-2017

Apparently, suicide by hanging.  I’m not really a fan of anything after Hybrid Theory, but their first album seemed like something apart from the early 2000’s music (Korn, Deftones, etc).  I loved the dual vocalists and mix of heavy alternative and rap music.  Also that their ‘mash up’ album with Jay-Z was performed live…

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…July 1997

Super Deluxe:  Via Satellite

Super Deluxe were a alternative-pop band from Seattle whose first album, Famous, gained them moderate radio play on alternative station KNDD.  I have seen this band live more than any other band, mostly because I probably went to as many concerts between 1995 and 1998 as I’ve seen since 1999.  Via Satellite were the sophomore album by the band, following their debut and a Christmas EP.

Track three on the album, titled “Farrah Fawcett”, is an ode to the 70’s TV star.  The song tells of the singer’s infatuation with her, while also giving tongue-in-cheek commentary such as “you were the closest thing, as far as i could tell/like one of Charlie’s Angels”.  It goes on to tell of him imagining making out with her in a closet.  Not exactly deep material, but very catchy.

One of the singles from the album was track four, “Love Liquid Wraparound”.  The song is basically an ode to condoms without ever actually saying the word.  It features clever wordplay around the topic like “You’re coming around”.

But that’s not why I chose this album to give a 20th anniversary review.  No, the reason I picked this album is a little song called “Years Ago”.  It was originally a b-side to the song “She Came On”, but was only available in the UK.  It became so popular in the Seattle area that the band put the same recording of the song on Via Satellite.  It’s hard to overstate how popular this song was in the Seattle area.  KNDD used to have a 10 song People’s Choice Countdown, where they counted down the 10 most requested songs of the day every weeknight.  This song must have been on that countdown for at least 7 months.  At its core, it is a beautifully written love song to somebody who got away.  Lead singer Braden Blake has continued putting the song in his set lists, even though he rarely performs live any more.  Because I came of age in the 90’s, my list of 100 favorite songs is heavily stacked with songs from that era, with 22 on the list….this song is one of those tracks.

Super Deluxe went on to record one more album, Surrender, and an EP titled Lolita before disbanding.  Braden Blake went on to work for a subsidiary of Microsoft, working as a liaison between recording studios and record labels on behalf of the company before leaving in 2016 to become a partner for an Indoor LaCrosse company.  He still sometimes performs solo sets in the Seattle area, most recently in September of 2016 at the High Dive.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today…June 1997

Radiohead:  OK Computer

I’m a few days late on this, but I’ve been busy with laptop computer problems…kinda fitting given the album title i’m briefly reviewing.

OK Computer was the 3rd album released by Radiohead, one of the biggest bands of the 90s and the followup release to one of my favorite albums, The Bends.  It was a giant leap forward for a band that was attempting to get away from their status as “the band that wrote ‘Creep’ (one of three popular songs by that name in the 90s)”.  Twenty years later, the band is still exploring the sounds they first explored on this album.

I saw Radiohead at the summer festival Endfest in 1997, less than two months after this album came out.  I had yet to hear it, but was expecting that tracks such as “Street Spirit” and the aforementioned “Creep” would be performed.  What we got was “Airbag” and “Karma Police” among others.  The result was a 7 song performance that featured 3 tracks from an album I’d never heard.  I was disappointed, but looking back several years later, I really wish there were footage of the performance because in hindsight it was probably pretty good.

The premise of the album was the ubiquity of computers invading our every day interaction with the world around us.  Given that, within about 5 years after the album’s release, cell phones went from being a luxury purchase to a must have for everybody over the age of 15, the vision turned out to be pretty spot on.

This premise is most relevant on the tracks “Paranoid Android” and “Fitter Happier”.  The title of “Paranoid Android” takes itself from Marvin of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame; an android who is chronically depressed but simultaneously despises his roll in the universe.  As such, the protagonist is putting down those he comes in contact with, as evidenced in lines such as “when I am king, you will be first up against the wall” and “Gucci little piggy”.  Set as track 2 on the album, it serves as a setup for the alienation felt throughout the remainder of the songs.

The sense of alienation comes to a point on the computer-spoken, ambient noise track “Fitter Happier”, which spells out a highly organized and “perfect” life in the starkest of terms.  It features all kinds of lines about ideals within modern society such as “a safer car/baby strapped in back seat” and “fitter, happier, more productive” before ending the track with a phrase out of joint with the rest of the song “a pig in a cage on antibiotics”.  This brilliantly outlines the feeling of requirement to fit into society, while also illuminating the fact that those who do their best unthinkingly are not better than a pig in a cage awaiting their inevitable demise.

Aside:  I was actually surprised that Fitter Happier has been performed live.  Enjoy the performance at the end of Karma Police , another song from OK Computer that I am not discussing within this review.

When I finally did pick up a copy of OK Computer, I immediately understood what was being laid out before me.  The song I’ve enjoyed the most through the last 20 years has been “No Surprises”.  The track begins with the great visual representation of living in a society that values goods over human interaction “heart that’s full up like a landfill”.   The character within the song, and probably followed throughout the album, is giving off his “final bellyache” before giving in and learning to love the Computer.  I remember seeing the above video on MTV during the late 90s and was struck by how low budget it was.  Given the attitude of the song, it really makes thematic sense, seeing the lights reflected on the glass around Thom’s head, the holding his breath and accepting what’s coming, the bored look on his face, all piece together to show resignation and acceptance of what they all see coming.

The final track on the album “The Tourist” takes a line from Fahrenheit 451, specifically “it barks at no one else but me”.  The “it” of this song is the advancement of technology, something the protagonist of the song sees coming that other people are just blindly accepting the oncoming march to oblivion or obscurity.  It’s a fitting close to an album that lashes out at “acceptance” and “normalcy”.

Hailed almost immediately as a Masterpiece, OK Computer set Radiohead down the path of becoming and staying one of the biggest bands of the alternative rock scene.  It was a gigantic songwriting leap forward from “Creep” of five short years before.  Beginning with their 1997 tour, they did not play songs from Pablo Honey and it wasn’t for about a decade until they learned to embrace their early fame.  Many music critics have ranked OK Computer as one of the most influential rock albums of all time.  Given how prescient the theme of the album has become, influencing such phenomenon as The Matrix and the book Feed, it has earned it’s rightful place and deserves to be discussed and debated along side other albums that earn that moniker.

In 2016, Radiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool, hailed by many as one of the best albums of that year, if not for a little album called Lemonade…

Next year, Radiohead are eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Given the titanic status of OK Computer, I for one, am expecting that they will be inducted on their first year of eligibility.