Radiohead – ‘OKNOTOK’ 2 CD Version Review

Preamble

Given that ‘OK Computer’ has already been re-released as a special edition (complete with DVD), albeit without the band’s approval, it seems a little early to be re-issuing it again. Of course, with the twentieth anniversary handy and a new record label (XL) calling the shots, no beady-eyed exec was going to pass up the opportunity to bring one of the twentieth century’s most feted albums back once more, and so here we are with ‘OKNOTOK’ and, just to part super-fans from their hard-earned cash, the damn thing has three previously unreleased tracks to tempt you in.

The main album:

The trend for remastering albums regardless continues unabated and it’s increasingly hard to decide whether there is much merit to this process or not. Put simply, ‘OK Computer’ was a beautifully recorded album at the outset, so any sonic tinkering had to be subtle because it’s hard to imagine the aggrieved reaction to a brick-walled version designed to appeal to the modern iPod listener. Happily, the album has been (to coin a phrase from Deus), gently remastered with plenty of attention to detail and not obvious attempt to rewrite the album’s all-important sonic history. As it goes, the remaster seems to have brought the bass out a touch (most notable on tracks like ‘Subterranean homesick alien’) and there’s an argument to be put forward that this is the best the album has sounded, although the original had such a powerful sound from the get go that there truly isn’t much in it. Whilst debate will undoubtedly rage amids audiophiles, there is certainly no suggestion that the album has suffered unduly as a result of the remastering process.

The bonus disc:

Irritatingly, the bonus disc to a large extent replicates the studio content of the previous special edition, but loses two remixes of ‘climbing up the walls, two live tracks and three BBC session tracks, despite there being clear space on the CD (it clocks in at a miserly 40 minutes). Although this could be down to rights issues, it is still pretty annoying to have to keep hold of the previous special edition in order to maintain access to the tracks (even more annoying for those who fork out for the inevitable super-deluxe edition) and then, of course, there’s also the fact that the previous special edition also offered up a DVD (yet another omission here) which included the stunning music videos for ‘Paranoid Android’, ‘Karma Police’ and ‘No surprises’ as well as three Jools Holland performances.

So, why should you buy ‘OKNOTOK’?

Well, of the three tracks that have been unearthed, ‘I Promise’ is a gorgeous acoustic track built around a martial beat and awash with the skewed beauty of the Mellotron. It’s easy to see why so conventional a track would have remained shelved from an album that sought to distance the band from the stadium-filling music of ‘the bends’ (despite, ironically, bringing the band to even larger audiences), but it’s certainly a track fans will want to hear. A definite loss to the album, ‘Man of war’ is a stunning track that sounds like Radiohead crossed with ‘Mezzanine’-era Massive attack. It boasts a vocal performance form Thom that it is up there with his best, not to mention some fizzing guitar work that was to disappear entirely from the band’s oeuvre for the best part of a decade following ‘OK Computer’. Again, it’s easy to see how the band, given their mindset at the time, would have steered clear of a song with such single potential, but it sure is good to hear it included here. The final unreleased track is ‘lift’, a song that was aired considerably as the band toured with Alanis Morissette (an inauspicious period in the band’s career), only for the band to shelve it for its obvious hit potential. For me, it’s the weakest of the three tracks on offer here, with a surprisingly Brit-pop melody in the chorus, but, let’s face it, Radiohead at their weakest still have more to offer than most other bands and it’s interesting to hear the track even if only to agree with the band’s decision to leave it off the final record.

What follows is business as usual, with just the eight, previously released B sides on offer. Admittedly fine tracks, it’s still a shame that the label did not put more thought into digging up sessions or live tracks to augment a collection rather than offer up a collection of cuts that most fans have multiple times over already.  In short, if you’re a committed collector, you’ll probably have to have this release for the three new tracks, but for the less committed, you’d be best advised to keep stick to the last special edition (assuming you bought it), as there’s little to tempt a further purchase.

Packaging

So, this is where this new re-issue totally loses out, or at least in terms of the 2 CD version. ‘Contrary’ would be a generous description, if we were to ascribe motives other than financial to the parlous state of the simple, cardboard CD slip case, but ‘lazy’ is far more fitting. Eschewing the bulk of the gorgeous artwork which adorned the original release, what we have here is a simple gatefold-style slip case with no liner notes or additional information other than the basic credits. Admittedly this 2 CD set is well-priced (£9.99 at time of writing), but to not even reprint the original booklet, let alone expand it, seems to be a horrendous waste for so iconic an album.

That said, the triple vinyl and the box set do look enticing, but, of course, with premium product comes a premium price tag. The vinyl, at £22.99, seems perfectly reasonable, but the box set (with its exciting boast of… (drum roll)… a cassette, relies entirely on the extent to which you’re willing to pay almost £70 for a reproduction note-book, hardcover art book and a few unreleased tracks housed in an obsolete format (although the tracks are, apparently, also included as a high-def download). In short, the super-deluxe edition may offer some delights for fans but, to put it into perspective, the Smashing Pumpkins managed to release a seven-disc version of ‘Adore’ for a fraction of the price, and whilst I would be the first to admit that ‘Adore’ is not in the league of ‘OK Computer’, it’s still frustrating that deluxe editions seem to be increasing in price with every new release without a corresponding increase in content.

Final thought

Super-fans will want the super-deluxe edition and I can understand that, even if I can’t entirely condone the cost. More irritating is the somewhat lacklustre 2-disc version which seems poorly served both in terms of packaging and content. At the very least a digi-book in the vein of the recent Paradise Lost ‘One Second’ reissue would have been far better suited to the stunning artwork of the original release. As it stands, you get three extra tracks but you lose a lot of what has been issued before and in a package that is less enticing. Therefore, it’s a 10 for the music and a 6 for the package.

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