Radiohead's The Bends
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Pablo Honey in no way was adequate preparation for its epic, sprawling follow-up, The Bends. Building from the sweeping, three-guitar attack that punctuated the best moments of Pablo Honey, Radiohead create a grand and forceful sound that nevertheless resonates with anguish and despair -- it's cerebral anthemic rock. Occasionally, the album displays its influences, whether it's U2, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., or the Pixies, but Radiohead turn clichés inside out, making each song sound bracingly fresh. Thom Yorke's tortured lyrics give the album a melancholy undercurrent, as does the surging, textured music. But what makes The Bends so remarkable is that it marries such ambitious, and often challenging, instrumental soundscapes to songs that are at their cores hauntingly melodic and accessible. It makes the record compelling upon first listen, but it reveals new details with each listen, and soon it becomes apparent that with The Bends, Radiohead have reinvented anthemic rock.
Review by Heather Phares
After 1988's brilliant but abrasive Surfer Rosa, the Pixies' sound couldn't get much more extreme. Their Elektra debut, Doolittle, reins in the noise in favor of pop songcraft and accessibility. Producer Gil Norton's sonic sheen adds some polish, but Black Francis' tighter songwriting focuses the group's attack. Doolittle's most ferocious moments, like "Dead," a visceral retelling of David and Bathsheba's affair -- are more stylized than the group's past outbursts. Meanwhile, their poppy side surfaces on the irresistible single "Here Comes Your Man" and the sweetly surreal love song "La La Love You." The Pixies' arty, noisy weirdness mix with just enough hooks to produce gleefully demented singles like "Debaser," -- inspired by Bunuel's classic surrealist short Un Chien Andalou -- and "Wave of Mutilation," their surfy ode to driving a car into the sea. Though Doolittle's sound is cleaner and smoother than the Pixies' earlier albums, there are still plenty of weird, abrasive vignettes: the blankly psychotic "There Goes My Gun," "Crackity Jones," a song about a crazy roommate Francis had in Puerto Rico, and the nihilistic finale "Gouge Away." Meanwhile, "Tame," and "I Bleed" continue the Pixies' penchant for cryptic kink. But the album doesn't just refine the Pixies' sound; they also expand their range on the brooding, wannabe spaghetti western theme "Silver" and the strangely theatrical "Mr. Grieves." "Hey" and "Monkey Gone to Heaven," on the other hand, stretch Francis' lyrical horizons: "Monkey"'s elliptical environmentalism and "Hey"'s twisted longing are the Pixies' versions of message songs and romantic ballads. Their most accessible album, Doolittle's wide-ranging moods and sounds make it one of their most eclectic and ambitious. A fun, freaky alternative to most other late-'80s college rock, it's easy to see why the album made the Pixies into underground rock stars.