When people think “Radiohead,” what is always the first thing that immediately comes to everyone’s mind? That’s right, Thom Yorke’s lazy eye. I mean, seriously, what is up with that thing? It is, far and away, the single characteristic of Radiohead that sets them apart from all other bands. When you’re listening to “Creep” or “Fake Plastic Trees,” you can’t help but think about the hidden connotations to this very feature as Thom sullenly pulls the audience in to his ever-present plight. It’s no wonder Thom is the most famous of the bunch.
But don’t let this feature bring you down. On the contrary, the band uses it to their advantage. Thom’s left eye is, in essence, the very same as Freddie Mercury’s buckteeth. Both draw so much attention and aid in their music that “fixing” them would have only hindered their progress.
Some fans argue their seminal album "OK Computer" is actually a concept album with a full, continuous story ala David Bowie’s "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust" or Pink Floyd’s "The Wall," to which Radiohead replied it was all completely unintentional. Riiiiight. Look, if you made an album that was that popular, would you come out to the world and proclaim that the entire thing was dedicated to that eye that has given you the secret inspiration you needed to write such beautifully unsophisticated melancholy lyrics? I didn’t think so. Let's take a closer look. The following is something I just made up for fun and is entirely factual in every way.
“Airbag” – The droning guitar sweeps in out of nowhere as the “fast German car” crashes into a “jackknifed juggernaut” of a truck. Sleigh bells appear as the ash from the car fire drifts down like snow over the dazed victim. He is rushed to the hospital, as onlookers…look on. They, as is he, are amazed that he survived.
“Paranoid Android” – The doctor begins the operation, causing a loud stir. Just before the car crash victim (who I will from now on refer to as Thom) finally falls asleep from the anesthetic, he wishes the whirring of the strange operating machines would stop as he becomes more and more drowsy. After the operation, one of the egotistic surgeons checks in on him. He was able to fix most of his body save for one minor detail. Holding up a mirror, the surgeon reveals to Thom his new face.
“What’s this?! What’s this?!” he exclaims, aghast at the image in the mirror. It appears the ambitious surgeon, trying to set a new record for the speediest skin-repair operation, has caused Thom’s eye to become misaligned. Being the bad guy archetype he is, the doctor proceeds to act as if nothing is wrong, handing Thom an expensive bill without ever even saying his name.
“You don’t remember…You don’t remember! WHY DON’T YOU REMEMBER MY NAME?!” Thom angrily shouts at the surgeon, who then points at the top of the bill Thom must now pay which reads THOM YORKE.
“I guess he does…”
Frustrated about this encounter and without enough money to pay for the operation, Thom proceeds to the roof of the hospital building. It begins to rain as he steps up to the edge. Just before taking his final, fateful step off, he hears a preacher through the open window in the room directly below talking to a dying cancer patient.
“God loves his children.”
Just hearing this is enough for Thom to take a step back and come down from the roof.
“Subterranean Homesick Alien” – It is the start of a new day for Thom and the first day of the rest of his life! With a newfound optimism toward the upcoming summer weather, he leaves the hospital and walks back home. Keeping his head down in deep thought, watching the cracks in the pavement as they go by his feet, Thom realizes something. This newborn hopefulness is making him see the world in an entirely different way, all thanks to his changed eye. His imagination runs wild as he pretends to see aliens and angels up in the sky on his walk, to which his “friends” (i.e. – people walking by) “never believe him.” To Thom, they’re all just too uptight.
“Exit Music (For a Film)” –This song was made for a movie and has nothing to do with this album.
“Let Down” – Thom decides to leave this small, bland town and head to The Big City. He takes many different modes of transportation to get there and feels as insignificant as a bug by all the crowds pushing him along this way and that.
“Karma Police” – After finally getting to The Big City, Thom begins preaching about the things your imagination can do if you only look up at the beautiful sky. The Big City people, too busy to be bothered with such drivel, continue on, ignoring what would appear to be yet another crazy bum getting in their way. One businessman bumps into Thom and accuses him of attacking him. The Karma Police arrive and, choosing to believe the businessman’s story over the crazy bum’s, proceed to arrest poor Thom and his mystical eye that no one understands.
“Fitter, Happier” – Arriving in his cell at The Big City’s Panic Office for the Deranged (POD), Thom is disturbed, annoyed by, and eventually grows weary of the message being played over the loudspeakers 24/7 to keep the prisoners in check. Finally, he can’t take it and comes up with a scheme to bust out. With the help of his trusty eye that sees cracks in the walls which would normally be missed by the average eye, Thom eventually escapes after digging through the walls enough with a spork. As he runs off into the darkness, he can faintly hear the beginning of something over the annoying loudspeaker from POD before distance causes the message to fade.
“This is the Panic Office, section nine-seventeen may have been hit. Activate the following procedure…”
“Electioneering” – Back in The Big City, Thom finds himself at a loss. With the Karma Police out looking for him, he’s now stuck in hiding until all of this blows over. He decides it’s safe enough to sleep on a park bench for the time being and dozes off for the night. Suddenly, he wakes up with a start as a man shouts through a megaphone to a crowd of people. It’s someone running for office! Thom grows bored of watching and goes back to sleep.
(Note: Radiohead have always felt this track never really fit in with the rest of the album. Looking at it story-wise, I have to agree.)
“Climbing Up the Walls” – This is one of those dream sequences that all psychedelic concept albums have. Thom, afraid for his life and asleep on a park bench, dreams of sleeping comfortably back at home until the Karma Police break in, beat him, and take him away.
“No Surprises” – Waking up from the nightmare, Thom realizes it was all just a dream and there are no surprises awaiting him once he can get back home, as the Karma Police cannot leave The Big City limits. If only he can get back home without being caught along the way…
“Lucky” – In a fit of despair, Thom thinks back to what got him in this mess. Remembering the speech and the eye that saved his life, he finds himself renewed with confidence. He meets a pilot named Sarah at a bar and tells her his story thus far. She feels sorry for Thom (especially after seeing his eye) and agrees to fly him back home. Later, as her plane begins to take off, the head of the state Karma Police arrives with a squad at the airstrip and shouts after them. They ignore them and proceed to take off, causing the squad to open fire. One of the engines gets shot and Sarah is forced to crash the plane into the sea a few miles away from Thom’s town. Sarah escapes, but Thom is trapped in the wreckage. She decides to sacrifice her own life to save his.
“The Tourist” – Thom swims to shore and proceeds to tell all of the boring people in his town of his adventure, but they find it too fast-paced and struggle to relate. Years later, Thom grows weary of the boring town and seeks to regain his optimism and confidence by reliving his adventure. He hops into his fast new German car and begins speeding down the interstate…
This, of course, leads to that whole looping thing Pink Floyd would always do with their concept albums. You know what I’m talking about, with the whole “Isn’t this where…we came in?” thing.
Seriously, what is up with his eye?!