The sophomore jinx is deadly for any rock band looking to grab some longevity. No matter how much buzz a group has surrounding its debut, the second album is still a treacherous road to cross. On this day in 1995, a band started out on that road after scoring a breakout hit single from their otherwise underwhelming debut album. They began a brief tour to promote their second album, which would initially land with a thud but eventually attracted critical acclaim. That band was Radiohead, and that album was The Bends.
When Radiohead’s “Creep” first ascended to radio-dominating status in the fall of 1992, most people simply looked at the group as a more English version of the grunge that had already been flooding the airwaves for a year. Full of crunchy riffs and anthemic self-loathing, “Creep” was a pretty good pop song but didn’t even vaguely hint at the sort of band Radiohead would eventually become. Pablo Honey, the album that housed “Creep,” was otherwise unremarkable (though it has become more interesting when viewed through the prism of the rest of the band’s recorded output) and it didn’t help Radiohead that Stone Temple Pilots also had a song called “Creep” on their debut.
But The Bends is a whole different animal entirely. The album was produced by John Leckie but engineered by Nigel Godrich, who would go on to be the group’s guiding voice in the studio. Though not quite as innovative and daring as OK Computer or Kid A, Radiohead’s second album retains the band’s knack for constructing big-hooked anthems while pushing the sound gently into the electronic atmosphere. Many of the band’s overriding themes — isolation, panic, fear of technology — started to take root on The Bends, and you can hear the group becoming restless with the confines of rock structure (which they would eventually shed entirely, for better or for worse).
The Bends was a slow-burning album, picking up attention through a number of different avenues. The 1995 hit film “Clueless” featured the album’s first single “Fake Plastic Trees,” the band went on a huge shed tour opening for Alanis Morissette (who was the top commodity in radio rock at the time) and the video for “Just” got quite a bit of play on MTV (mostly because it was so mysterious).