CD Review of The Bends Special Collector’s Edition by Radiohead
Radiohead: The Bends Special Collector’s Edition
Recommended if you like
Muse, Pixies, Elbow
Capitol Records
The Bends Special
Collector’s Edition

Reviewed by Carlos Ramirez

espite all of the praise showered upon Radiohead every time they release new music, there have always been a handful of critics and listeners that prefer the band's earlier, guitar-centric output. For many in that school of thought, The Bends remains the band’s best effort. Radiohead’s sophomore album takes the Pixies-informed quiet-loud-quiet formula to the next level by upping the muscle and adding prog-rock elegance. At the time they recorded The Bends, the band was coming out of a colossal alternative-rock radio hit with Pablo Honey’s "Creep", so going off into this new direction was just a hint of the artistic chances they would take for the rest of their career.

Capitol Records has just reissued The Bends in an expanded, Collector’s Edition, which, along with the original studio album, features an additional disc packed with B-sides, live cuts, and a superb EP. The deluxe treatment does the material well, showing off a band beginning to find confidence in their songwriting and experimental instincts. The original album’s artistic merits have already been exhaustively chronicled throughout the years so we’ll focus our attention on the second CD included in this special version.

Disc Two starts off with the My Iron Lung EP (minus the title track, which appears on The Bends) and the jangle-twirl of "The Trickster." The song finds Thom Yorke’s quivery vocal lines floating through a bouncy yet straight-forward guitar-bass-drums arrangement; at least for Radiohead standards. Musically speaking, this is the version of the band that many people miss. On "Permanent Daylight," Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien’s guitars go from a simmering buzz into an explosion of crackling guitars and crashing cymbals not far from the noisy pop of Yo La Tengo. It’s light years away from the wild sonic exploration of their recent records, but at the heart of it, their songwriting put the band leaps and bounds above the rest of the pack at the time. "You Never Wash Up after Yourself" shines with an understated performance from Yorke, as does "Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong."

The B-side stuff here foreshadows Radiohead's later experimentations, but there are also some playful, far more traditional moments. "Banana Co." has a poppy, British Invasion feel to it, while "Killer Cars" pushes forward with the energy and panache of early 1990s Britpop.

The second disc also includes four songs from a BBC Radio One session which finds the band in fighting shape. "Just," The Bends’ best single, sounds positively harder than the album version, aided by a crunchier guitar tone and a fevered vocal from Yorke. Even a meditative moment like "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" doesn’t get mishandled by the quintet in this setting.

We’ll give the powers that be at Capitol credit for making this a double-disc set and not making the die-hards go out and shell out extra cash for the additional material. Though all of the music on the second CD isn’t essential listening, even the weaker songs have their own magic. "Maquiladora" isn’t going to be included in any of the band’s set lists anytime soon, but let’s face it; lesser groups would give anything for a song this charming. Collector’s Edition documents Radiohead at the point right before, during, and after The Bends. It was probably the most thrilling time in the band’s career, and this reissue brings that home.

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