Week 11 : 13th March 1995 : The Bends




Accompany music : Black Star

Going start by jumping ahead to now 2017. All the way through this early part of the year, I have been going through a turbulent time at work, regarding job security, and naturally it made me consider other options. As part of destressing process, I looked for inspiration in the things around me and got away from it by writing this blog. A few weeks ago, in the middle of the maelstrom, I re-read the 10 pieces so far, and I was shocked to see that the one linking element the majority is change. It sort of confirmed my thinking, defined the radical options ahead and gave me a new found belief that no matter what happened, I had the resilience to ride the change and I would try to make best out of it. In the end, I kept my job… but thats another story. This period was tough, but I was prepared as I had went through a lot worse. Welcome to the mid-nineties.

I will (as usual) not go into the grand details but the mid-nineties was one of the most radical parts of my life and defined who I became. A huge rollrcoaster of a decade which had some amazing high points but some awful downfalls into the water chute of despair. It saw me start the decade with a newly found belief system but by the end see me struggling to square faith with life. I started in 1990 newly becoming unemployed, desperately volunteered for something and then via going to University finding my then life defining vocation of a Youth Worker by the late 90’s. My relationships were also ever changing, with some great moments, followed by craziness and emotional turmoil. A series of un-Billy like choices would transform mine and others lives forever. At the time, I was lost in the story, living the dream and having to cope with the consequences.  Friendships also changed but luckily the bonds stayed constant. The main thing that changed was my own perception of myself, in 1990 I wasn’t too sure of who I was, with my views generally reflecting how others saw me. By the end of the decade I had learnt my faults and how to deal with them, but I also learned I had positives and I started to appreciate who I was. I also learned not to regret anything that happened as it made me the person I am today and helped shape the great life that I would have.

My music in the mid 1990’s had also hit a bit of an issue. the extravagances of 80’s Rock/Metal had been absorbed by grunge and Nu-metal. Progressive rock had taken a back seat, with only a few bands such as Dream Theater pushing forward. People were obsessed with Brit Pop which generally passed me by. There was some great rock music around that was more indie and less metal. The music I bought at the time was either very melancholy and  shoe-gazzy or very quirky which reflected the ups and downs of this time. But what didn’t change was was appetite to find something new. Around 1995 I asked one of my friends Riverdance Steve (all friends had nicknames. Steve by the way river danced seemingly to all types of music, including Metallica) to do me a mix tape of his music. What I got back was a mix of early-mid nineties indie/rock bordering a lot on grunge. I remember on the tape were Smashing Pumpkins, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains and Cowboy Junkies amongst others. All of these I loved alongside a couple of tracks, by a band called Radiohead. A song called Creep and another called Bones.

Creep is an excellent track of its time, that 90’s self doubt through the seemingly garbled lyrics of Yorke, interrupted by grunge power chords became an anthem for the disposed and uncertain. It became a massive hit and subsequently was numerously covered. There is an episode of the excellent podcast Coverville where every song is a cover of Creep. After hearing it on the tape, I bought the album, 1993’s Pablo Honey… and I was kind of disappointed. One massive hit within a mediocre shoe-gazing bunch of tracks with light grunge guitar. The track Bones followed a similar structure but was far more intense and darker. With some hesitation I went out and got The Bends, hoping that i wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

After a lot of publicity over Creep, a massive promotion and touring schedule followed, Radiohead had returned to studio (reluctantly) to record a potentially difficult album. What they made was an album of tracks that are experimental, emotional and strangely radio-friendly. It becomes a perfect bridge album between the personal shoe-gazing post grunge of Pablo Honey to the Wider Societal soundtracked scope of OK Computer. The Bends brings together these concepts, recognising the continued personal recollections of Thom York but also transposing them into the wider society. Songs are deeper, darker and move between grunge guitar, indie pop structure, beautiful songwriting and electronic doodling. One of Radiohead’s great qualities is that idea of moving forward and not conforming to what the record companies or their fans expect, whilst always holding onto that concept of challenging inequality and issues in society usually more experimental music. OK Computer, Kid A took this on and their still doing it in 2017’s Moon Shaped Pool. Lets remind ourselves of this genius work, the Bends.

Planet Telex, sets the agenda for the album. Early on, the spaced out reverb electronics and distorted guitar set the atmosphere. The track builds throughout with drum and guitar fills with restrained vocals running alongside. Slight sound effects are taken over with anthmeic chords at start of the title track, The Bends. Yorkes opening slightly sneery verse with responsive chord. The song is beautifully disjoined with almost talking elements and full on rock solo’s exchanging with melancholic elements. The beautiful High and Dry follows, acoustic start with guitar and delicate vocals up front break out into calming anthemic chorus. There is a steady increase in intensity but there is a real restrained feel to this even in the wonderful guitar solo.

Another subtle classic follows. Fake Plastic Trees, again starts with the acoustic guitar and Yorkes vocals this time with atmospheric keyboards giving space in the background. I love how this track builds in volume and adds elements but doesn’t loose any of the delicate impact of the sublime lyrics. The other track on that tape, Bones is next. From the opening echo chords and heavy bass, I think theres a certain relentless brutalism to this track. The chorus especially, has a riff that feels should be in a happy 70’s glam song, but the distortion alongside Yorkes almost spitted desperate lyrics add a distinct heaviness.  (Nice Dream) finishes side one with a almost calming finish. Acoustic guitars and delicate approach again are up front, this seems do much more orchestral. I like very much the choral approach before it kicks off with soaring guitar in the bridge before returning to peace.

The excellent Just starts side 2. The initial kickstart of drums, bass and guitar into the first playful verse sets the tone. The interplay between Yorke and guitar makes this song almost a playful conversation. Then the solo spirals off into its own direction before kicking into a staccato like acoustic section. The final guitar solo with shouting finishes off a great manic song. I love the slow build up of Iron lung, starts very restrained until the power chords suddenly kicks in verse 2. At the end of each verse the dip into madness is unexpected and shows an almost prog inkling. Probably the most melancholy song of the album, ‘Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was’ is beautiful, dark and a fine interlude.

The distinct reoccurring riff at the start of the Black Star builds in volume. We jump straight into a verse Yorkes sublime mournful lyrics about relationship breakdown, beautifully backed up by the band (especially the haunting bass line). The Chorus is anthemic and sad at the same time. I love after the second chorus the use of the reoccurring riff. The final verse with its lovely use of backing vocals both paired back and heartbreaking before an anthemic end with that riff throughout. I love this song, it makes me teary and happy in equal parts.

Sulk, with a staccato guitar opening into another emotional personal anthem of a song. The choruses have a strange-sing-along quality and as most of the songs on the album moves from the quiet to the loud. The final track Street Spirit (Fade Out) is a wonderful peaceful track, reminds me a bit of REM with a bit of menace. The beautiful ongoing riff alongside Yorkes vocal performance sets this up. Again the track slowly builds in intensity but none of the tranquil delicacy is lost. Stunning finish to a stunning album

When asked in one of those on-going Facebook questions (which I never usually answer) for the 12 albums that will stay with you forever, The Bends was one of the first I put down, mainly for how it captured my mid-90’s. The uneasiness with oneself, your actions and consequences. Added to this is recognising the wider world is not so great either and that it also needed a lot of work. It paints a dark (some would say depressing) picture. But Yorke and the band, make songs that are strangely uplifting and in the majority of tracks, provide a battle cry to improve oneself and/or society. That acceptance of the negatives and then the acceptance that you have to do something about it, I feel comes out from this.

In 1995, I had decided to go to University to become a Community and Youth Worker. In the summer, I was lucky enough to visit friends in Berlin. It was 5 years after the wall came down and 50 years after the end of World War Two. With every exhilarating and fun moment came another time of self reflection and deep thinking. Walking around the streets of East Berlin and seeing bullet holes in walls was shocking. A trip around the German national museum following the timeline of German culture, inevitably led to a 20th century of conflict, hatred and a room showing the films from the concentration camps. A sign above the door, implored people to spend time there and watch, saying that this can not happen again. An adjoining room showing the first photographs from Allied journalists in the camps, reinforced this in stunning un-nerving quiet contemplation. In the Check Point Charlie museum we saw displays of stories regarding the wall, of the families divided and of daring escapes across the wall. The role of peaceful protest was rightly highlighted in changing the beliefs in 1990 and helping bring down the wall.

This trip was the perfect introduction to my University course. It built upon my ever-growing belief system that society was not fair and that I had  to change it, even in some small way. It also made me aware of myself, my strength’s and those points I have to improve. Most of all, it helped put into context who I was and that I wasn’t afraid to develop and change. And that stays with me today.

So for the creative element, I was always going to make something based on my favourite track, which is Black Star. So I decided to make a 3D star. I certainly haven’t got the skill to design this as yet, so I used a design for the excellent book, ‘Make Shapes 1’ by Gerald Jenkins and Anne Wild. Its a great resource of mathematical models and used the one for Small Stellated Dodecahedron. The design is made up of 4 separate pieces (laid out on two pages of A4), these are cut out, folded and joined following a numerical order. Initially the first two pieces form separately and then are joined. The third piece starts to be set up and then added to the larger piece and a similar process happens for the fourth and final piece until the complete ‘star’ is made.

As this was to be a black star, I initial photocopied the first design onto black card, which of course I couldn’t see or read. Subsequently I printed the designs onto white card and carried out the process. In the end I ended up with a stunning White star which seemed a little larger than expected (12.5 cm in height). It was a pity that this needed to be coloured in black. First on a few spires I tried with Permanent Marker which faded to a dark grey colour and had a matt finish I didn’t like. Ended up painting in in Acrylic which not only gave great coverage and consistent gloss colour but also strengthened the shape. The final touch was adding a few mirrored embellishments of different sizes to give a little sparkle.

Billy (aged 27 at time of album release)

 

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