The Bends was ranked number 110 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and number 2 on Q’s 100 Greatest Albums Ever.
The album was subject to much greater critical acclaim than their debut Pablo Honey (1993), and it reached number four in the UK Albums Chart. However, it failed to build on the commercial success of their single “Creep” outside the United Kingdom, and it peaked on the American charts at number 88. Although it lacked the instant success of later Radiohead albums, The Bends achieved triple platinum sales certifications in the UK and Canada and platinum sales in the US and the EU.
According to the band, The Bends marked the start of a gradual turn in Yorke’s songwriting from personal angst to the more cryptic lyrics and social and global themes that would come to dominate the band’s later work. Most of the album was seen to continue the lyrical concerns of Pablo Honey, although in more mature fashion. The songs “Fake Plastic Trees” and, in particular, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” and its b-side “Talk Show Host”, are often seen as a precursor to their next album OK Computer (1997). “Fake Plastic Trees” was partly inspired by the commercial development of Canary Wharf, while “Sulk” was written as a response to the Hungerford massacre. According to Yorke, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” was inspired by the book The Famished Road by Ben Okri.
The lyrics to the songs on The Bends, particularly those of “My Iron Lung”, were cited in the British music press as an example of Yorke’s alleged depression. Melody Maker ran an article during The Bends period which suggested Yorke would be the next “rock ‘n roll martyr” or suicide.
The Bends was the first of the band’s full-length records with artwork by Stanley Donwood, in collaboration with Yorke, who went under the name “The White Chocolate Farm” (later shortened to Tchock). Originally Yorke had wanted to use an image of an iron lung as the cover, but he lost it. The eventual album cover was created at the last minute by morphing a photograph taken by Donwood of a medical dummy with Yorke’s own face. It is also the last Radiohead album whose liner notes and artwork include pictures of the band members.
The Bends met with much greater critical acclaim than Pablo Honey, appearing on many end-of-year lists in 1995. Within the UK, it assured Radiohead’s role as a standard-bearer of “indie” Brit-rock bands. The album was released during the height of the ’90s Britpop movement, benefiting from renewed press attention to British guitar music; however, in the band’s home country, Radiohead’s music was rarely grouped with Blur, Pulp and other so-called “Britpop” acts, instead receiving some acclaim for diverging from the fashionable aspects of the scene.
In the United States, the album eventually reached number 88 on the Billboard 200 in 1996, while the single “High and Dry” reached number 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, The Bends reached number 4 and remains a bestseller. In mid-1995 Radiohead toured as an opening act for R.E.M., playing songs from The Bends and extending their popularity with a mass audience.
The Bends had an influence on the subsequent generation of British pop bands. In 2006, The Observer listed it as one of “the 50 albums that changed music”, saying, “Radiohead’s Thom Yorke popularised the angst-laden falsetto, a thoughtful opposite to the chest-beating lad-rock personified by Oasis’s Liam Gallagher. Singing in a higher octave-range and falsetto voice to a backdrop of churning guitars became a much-copied idea, however, one that eventually coalesced into an entire decade of sound. Without this, Coldplay would not exist, nor Keane, nor James Blunt.” Radiohead members said they later distanced themselves from their mid ’90s sound partly because they felt little affinity for those that adopted the sound.
The Bends took second place behind Radiohead’s OK Computer in both 1998 and 2006 reader polls of Q magazine for the best album of all time. In 2003, the album was ranked number 110 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Rolling Stone initially gave the album an average rating. In 2000, Virgin’s Top 1000 Albums of All Time ranked The Bends at number two, second only to Revolver by The Beatles.
Edited by Timitzi on 9 Aug 2009, 16:45
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