The end of the 90s will be seen as the end of the album. The rise of MP3 technology and file downloading returned pop music consumption to collective pre-Beatles mindset, where songs are judged as singles. Radiohead's Kid Aand Amnesiac were shallowly criticized as B-side collections because they were downloaded and assembled as such on home computers. "Treefingers" and "Hunting Bears" were torn apart, not a piece of a 60 minute or so record, but as worthwhile 34-minute download times (this, remember, was right before DSL/Cable). The resurgence, and arguable final entrenchment, of manufactured Pop Stars by their handlers over supposedly more artistic fare-- and more importantly the acceptance of such common pleasures by critics-- razed the significance of the complete album. Which is why OK Computer, and it's Best Albums Ever companion Loveless, eternally top these polls: somehow we doubt we'll ever see their like again.
Modern thinking has led to debates and revisionism over the effect of tracks like "Electioneering" and "Fitter Happier" on OK Computer's importance, as if removing "Turd on the Run" and "Pet Sounds" would somehow make Exile on Main Street and Pet Sounds five-and-a-half-star albums. What's interesting in the case of "Electioneering" is that, at the time, it stood as the one track most similar to the beautiful guitar rackets of "Just", "Creep", and "My Iron Lung". The band even performed the song on The Tonight Show upon the album's release. Beyond its political intent, the song could have fit easily on Radiohead's two previous albums.
Regardless, any arguing or defending of the record seems pointless and redundant. Which is why it's here at the peak. It should be reiterated, however, just how much better OK Computer is than Loveless, and why people somehow forget this. Loveless, a masterpiece of form and noise, impresses the brain like stylized photography. Surely, it is breathtaking. It provides the senses with a romantic, heightened ideal of music, experienced through an unbreakable medium. The sound overwhelms to such an extent that multiple listens are unnecessary and taxing. OK Computer, in contrast, sounds crystalline and liveable-- a true, enterable aural landscape packaged with press-delivered mythology describing its creation (Thom Yorke singing on his back staring at Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman's castle ceiling).
Those overly familiar with this album's details doubt its brilliance only in the way a Loveless-like beauty sitting across the restaurant from your mate questions your life commitment. You haven't seen the armpit stubble, shower drain residue, high-school poetry, morning dental state, and Disney-induced tears of Loveless. Psychologically, one needs those fantastic diversions, but there has to be something real to return to again and again. OK Computer simply is the anxious, self-important, uncertain, technologically overwhelmed 1990s. --Brent DiCrescenzo / Pitchfork.com