Channels like VH1 and MTV would recognize Radiohead as a one hit wonder band, but I would argue that their style of music plays a huge impact towards pop music today. The band still has its original members and they still continue to create music that influences musicians such as myself. Even rapper, Kanye West, considers himself a fan of their music despite the rivalry between him and the lead singer Thom Yorke. I honestly think both artists are pompous when talking about their work, but Thom Yorke seems more subtle about it.
I first fell in love with this band back in 2006 when I downloaded their third studio album Ok Computer; the song I’d like to discuss is the last track called “The Tourist.” Unlike their previous albums that struck with personal experiences from Thom Yorke, Ok Computer was their first album that dived into critiquing the effects of post-modernism and the dark realities of Capitalism. Many of the electronic sounds heard throughout the album are meant for the listener to imagine the background noises we generally disregard during our route of travel. Integrating such noises invokes the notion of how we are highly individualistic human beings that propose our own routines and often ignore the burdens of others. In other words, our social and economic structure of society has made us into simple computers or machines that are programmed only for the purpose of consuming, hence the name Ok Computer. Ideas of empathy and solidarity are lost as material goods replace the intrinsic value of love or friendship. Its truly astonishing to realize that the release of Ok Computer in 1997 made it one of the first albums to criticize this growing trend of capitalistic globalization and post modernism.
The album looks like a highway intersection that is highlighted in blue. To me, the blue represents the various sound waves that project from the road; this picture could be a blind persons perspective of the highway based off of what they hear.
The Tourist is strategically placed at the end of the album to reinforce this message of alienation we have for one another and nature. This is due to the emergence of mass telecommunications and the rigid schedules we give ourselves on a daily basis. Lead guitarist, Johnny Greenwood, said that his observance of tourists in France inspired him to write some of the lyrics with the accompaniment of Thom Yorke. The chorus: “Hey man slow down slow down” is a reminder for the tourists to not feel anxious or rush the experience of being somewhere foreign, they should instead spend their time enjoying it. The “sparks” mentioned in the song are meant to represent the confusion or stress flowing out of the machines (the tourists) as they navigate themselves during their vacation.
A friend of mine once told me that “The Tourist” actually links with the first song of Ok Computer called “Airbag.” Thom Yorke wrote “Airbag” in reference to the car accident he suffered from back in 1987, before Radiohead. “Idiot slow down” could be interpreted as Thom speaking to himself in the past with the hope of preventing the collision. I haven’t found any interviews with the band or sources that indicate this connection between the first and last song, but Thom has frequently wrote about his car accident in several songs throughout his career.
Ok Computer is not only abstract in its lyrics, but also through their newly incorporated style and technique. The two previous albums were personally inspired with the familiar alternative rock sounds of the 90’s, Ok Computer provided a different sound deriving from the avant-garde jazz fusion album Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. As you listen to “The Tourist,” it doesn’t necessarily sound like jazz fusion, it rather has a laid back blues sound to it. The slow tempo is important in displaying the message that tourists need to stop being so up-tight during their time of leisure.
There is a strong personal connection I get from this song as it holds the best of both worlds. Whether I’m upset with school work or excited to go on vacation, listening to The Tourist soothes my mind. So when you listen to this song, try to not worry about tomorrow and just relax instead. Its important to hold this type of mentality on a daily basis, it prevents us from turning into computers and re-teaches us how to be human.