Traffic Jams: Radiohead - 'Airbag'

Traffic sucks, so why not start your morning off with some music? You provide the toast and we'll provide the jams.

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The debate over which Radiohead album is the band’s best is basically a surefire way to get the Jalopnik staff riled up. The answer, of course, is OK Computer, but I don’t blame my colleagues for being wrong. Look, when it comes to the best Radiohead album, it’s a close call between works such as OKC, Kid A and The Bends.

For me, it’ll always go to the album that opens with “Airbag” and minutes later goes on to “Subterranean Homesick Alien” and “Let Down” and “No Surprises.” I mean, all the tracks on OK Computer are jams, but those are the ones I’m partial to, and it all starts with a song about a car crash.

I won’t go in-depth about the 2017 reissue of OK Computer, OKNOTOK, which featured outtakes and B-Sides from the original album — among other gems! I’ll just say if the album OKC (1997) were a motherboard, then disc two from the reissue was like turning over that familiar board and feeling the bare, yet prickly PCB underside: intricate in its own way.


I’ll even throw in two others — to the chagrin of early Radiohead fans — and say that In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool ought to be in the running for best. Because, like with all the other greats, time has made Radiohead’s music more poignant.

That’s precisely why OK Computer is best: it’s timeless. It’s a moment of brilliant songwriting and musicianship suspended in time, immune to its passage. The album’s account of a dystopian society reliant on machines is too real, and it predicted the uneasy relationship between humans, who live in the wetware of our bodies, and robots (also aliens,) that exist apart from us in cold hardware or software we conjure by saying “OK, Computer.”


Nowadays, there’s a computer in our pocket — we call it Siri or Google — and airbags are all over the cabins of our fast german cars. So then why do we feel so unsafe? So alienated? So anxious? Sometimes, it does feel like we’re on the outbreak of a next world war, like Thom Yorke sings in “Airbag.” Yet, Radiohead still makes the end of the world or a nearly-fatal car crash feel like a rebirth.