By Jens Moller | Posted: Thursday July 8, 2021
Every week at lunch time Tuesdays, Music Club meets in Room 119 to talk about everything and anything audible.
This week we are looking at three mammoth albums. Each one could be argued as the band’s best, and each propelled their writers into an immortal place in music history. Nirvana’s Nevermind, Radiohead’s OK Computer, and The Strokes’ Is This It are immense. For Nirvana it was their second album, and first with Dave Grohl on the drums. Radiohead had released two previous albums to some success, but their third would prove to make them the biggest artist of the time, and The Strokes started a bidding war between record labels before they had even released their debut album Is This It. These albums are getting old now, with Nevermind turning 30 in September, though they still persevere as some of the music world’s best offerings.
Students selected which album they wanted to explore further during our lunch-time meeting, and then wrote down some of their thoughts from listening to the albums for a week.
Nevermind by Nirvana (1991)
I had listened to some of the songs before but never the whole album. The album itself had some of the most iconic songs from Nirvana in my opinion, such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come As You Are" and "Lithium" which are standouts in an album of solid songs, my new personal favorite being "On A Plain". This album also has one of the most iconic rock songs played daily on the radio making it time immemorial.
My dubbed copy of Nevermind was first inserted into the cassette player A of my family’s black, TEAC home stereo at the beginning of 1995. I was a year away from entering high school, but it was one of the most formative years of my youth. Dubbed cassettes ruled my afternoons and weekends, and were dutifully provided by my ‘dealers’ Keiran and Karl. STP’s Purple, Offspring’s Ignition and Smash, Gish and Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins, these were my pirated treasures. Nevermind was the first to warp, to have its tape stretch and tire. Nirvana were thus the first of these bands to receive some of my hard earned pocket money, when I finally relented and purchased their album at the front desk of Echo Records on upper George St.
When I think back to those afternoons listening to the album at full volume, while I had an hour and a bit of the house to myself, I can clearly see my air guitar to “Breed”; the clumsy, but real picking along to “Come as You Are” and “Polly”; the nerves and glee of listening to Cobain screech, ‘Gotta find a way - a better way - I had better wait!!!!!’ in “Territorial Pissings”; and of course the exuberant jumping around to The Rock and Hauraki’s perpetual song of the year/decade/century. Nowadays I prefer my Nirvana unplugged and enjoyed with company and maybe a glass of wine, but my lingering love of Nevermind has me quickly kill the radio anytime one of its big hits are played. Because unfortunately, Nevermind has been reduced by radio, MTV and bandwagoners to an album of only four songs, when really, the legacy of the album is worth so much more. In fact it’s almost sacrilege that the condensed album, pressed by popular selection, does not start at track seven with “Territorial Pissing”.
If you have only been playing around in the puddles of populism, it is time to listen to Nevermind to its end. And in particular, discover the deep, cool, dark pools of Nevermind’s ‘B-side’.
OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)
I’m worried that if I start a reflection on OK Computer the end is my resignation from full time employment… perhaps something to return to during the holidays.
This album was too slow and reminded me of Metallica's “Nothing Else Matters”. I really enjoyed the modern combination of electronics. However, the slow tempo really does drag out the songs and the album in general. It really does add to the distorted bass and guitar however with how distorted and slurred the lyrics are they are completely indecipherable which really take me out of the mood of the album. That combined with the limited contrast throughout songs means you either love it or dislike it. Personally I can’t connect as strongly as those brought up with this album which shook the rock industry.
This album literally changed the alt rock genre forever. It showed everyone that electronic music and the classic electric guitar can come together and make amazing music. Much of the music has an air of eariness around it. “Paranoid Android” is often considered Radiohead’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, where it is a long song which changes genres throughout the song.
What I liked most about OK Computer is how the band kept on experimenting. Resulting beautifully with this album as it blows their original debut album outta the water. It really made them go from the guys who did “Creep” to one of the giants of rock music.
OK Computer for me is the pinnacle of ‘guitar music’. Since discovering Radiohead through this album in my late teenage years I became a bit of a fanatical follower of all things to do with the band. Thom Yorke's voice certainly takes some getting used to, and if you’ve only listened to OK Computer and think to yourself “maybe I should check out their other 8 albums” you may be disappointed. Not because they are bad… OK Computer isn’t even my favourite album by Radiohead, but instead because this was the last ‘guitar rock’ album the band produced. The experimentation with electronics that the band toys with on this album only gets more and more prominent in their sound. Kid A is a polariser, and while In Rainbows is soothing, the feisty nature of Hail to the Thief will confuse and ignite you at the same time. Radiohead truly is a band that has been exceptional for more than two decades, OK Computer was simply the beginning.
Is This It by The Strokes (2001)
Is This It is the debut album from New York indie-rockers The Strokes, a bold, grimy post-punk affair. The Strokes come out all guns blazing - the raw energy is palpable and infectious, the vocal hooks catchy and memorable. Recorded in mostly single takes, Is This It makes for an unpolished yet high octane album. Nothing is really a ‘quiet’ moment on this album, but tracks such as “Soma” or “Trying Your Luck” offer a little more room to breathe between heaters such as “Last Nite” or “New York City Cops”. Despite all it’s charms, Is This It remains simple and formulaic - nothing feels new or novel in the way other greats do. But with buckets of energy and excitement, it’s hard not to love this simple and formulaic album. What Is This It lacks in creativity, it makes up for in energy and execution.
To be honest, The Strokes sound very much like an offshoot of The Velvet Underground. The fact that they embrace it makes it even better. It seems obvious now on about my 10th listen to this record that The Strokes on “Is This It” want to recreate The Velvet Underground's debut record. If you take a deep dive, it all lines up. The artsy album covers, the New York underground / indie feel, The tracklisting and the very Lou Reed vocal delivery but if you take an even closer look at song by song from both albums, it is now impossible to miss that The Strokes clearly were wanting to recreate the feel of The Velvet Underground’s debut. I think in part that is why this album did so incredibly well without people even realising the pitch perfect similarities. I believe Is This It is definitely a classic with some amazing songs and though it may be dated, I love it and I believe it is one of the perfect homage albums of all time.
Thanks for reading this term, and a special thanks to our contributors this week (Ronan, Lachlan, Max, Billy, Nick, Tristan, Mr Dadley). I have tried to differentiate between writers by indenting a paragraph when a new contributor is writing. Stay tuned for more reviews in the future. Remember - this is all subjective - there is no such thing as a cool taste in music - and you are welcome to agree, disagree, or request albums via email ([email protected]).