Like Pablo Honey, The Bends is guitar rock, but it’s a lot more interesting, displaying more personality than its bland predecessor. Lead singer Thom Yorke’s persona is more developed, and guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s given a lot more room to impress; his ballistic solo in ‘Just’ is one of the record’s best moments. Even though Radiohead went on to make more innovative records, with The Bends they mastered Brit-pop.
‘Planet Telex’ opens The Bends with an awesome reverb keyboard effect, while the anthem title track feels instantly British, unlike the Americanisms of the previous record. ‘Bones’ is the overlooked track here, an aggressive rocker that’s right up amongst my Radiohead favourites, although the equally intense ‘Just’ is rightly recognized as a highlight. The delicate melody of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ showcases Yorke’s upper register, while ‘My Iron Lung’ is an effortless multi-part rocker.
The Bends balances mainstream accessibility, quality songwriting, and innovative production to satisfy repeated listens. Fanatics will probably prefer the more challenging OK Computer and Kid A, but if you’re interested in Radiohead’s credentials as a rock band, start here.