While originally released in 1997, OK Computer feels like one of the first albums of the 21st century. It continues to capture the alienation people experience in an increasingly virtual world dominated by the artificial. Whether via the sprawling movements of “Paranoid Android” or claustrophobic “Karma Police,” OK Computer paints a spookily prescient picture of the coming tyranny of social media and the dual-edged sword of cyber progress. Lines such as “No alarms/No surprises, please” mirror the protective “like/dislike” bubbles that now surround our daily lives and prevent people from touching each other. Like George Orwell’s 1984, the record warns us that the mighty algorithm may not be our friend.
XL Records’ 20th anniversary vinyl reissue of OK Computer—subtitled OKNOTOK 1997-2017—echoes such prevalent themes: The struggle to maintain meaningful human interaction. The LPs, along with larger and more elaborate art work, do something their digital counterparts can’t quite manage: Help us connect with the music’s creators and original performances in ways only afforded by physical media. Plus, the much-better-than-average extras disc contains songs (including three previously unreleased tracks) that preceded and informed the album’s creation. It stands on its own as both a prequel and sequel to the original release, all the while revealing a more hopeful outlook.
Bob Ludwig’s remaster of the analog tapes emphasizes subtleties. By clearing away some noise and improving separation, he preserves the feel of the original while enabling microdetails to emerge. Thom Yorke’s voice has never sounded as present and full of pathos as it does here. Instruments come across more naturally and assume holographic forms. If you’ve got access to a turntable, this is the version of OK Computer to own.
As for the packaging and pressing? First, the good news. The nuances of Stanley Donwood’s cover art are cleanly reproduced and placed on every surface of the triple gatefold—as well as on all three sleeves, a move that invites contemplation and deepens the listening experience. The pressing, however, leaves much to be desired. While the sonics are stellar and all three discs ruler flat, scuff marks, bubbles, and hairline scratches inhabit every side. On my brand-new copy, a repeated pop at the beginning of “Airbag” remains audible even over the song’s loud electric guitar. The absence of soft vinyl inserts for the record sleeves also seems cheap given the album’s price tag. Too bad XL Records didn’t contract with a pressing plant with quality control worthy of Radiohead’s watershed work.
Last chance to change your mind...