'Head Strong

Many of the songs on The Bends ended up on the album somewhat accidentally, starting out as old demos or live tracks the band had forgotten about when they first went into the studio. Several were recorded on the first take. Whereas some of the songs on Pablo Honey used Yorke's voice to carry the melody line, the new songs blend guitar sounds with his voice, creating a layered effect.

"I think think that with Pablo Honey -- which was recorded in three weeks -- we were a very young band and it reflects that. The tempos tended to get faster as it goes along and there's this frenetic energy, whereas on this album we actually had to speed some songs up because we were laying back on things," O'Brien explains. "I think that after two years of touring Pablo Honey and playing those songs, we got a bit sick of playing songs that go a million miles an hour."

Another concern for the band on this album was expanding the boundaries of instrumentation. "On Pablo Honey, there was a tendency to put down maybe eight or nine guitar tracks, while here we put down two or three and brought in some other instruments [piano, violin, and cello] to give it depth," O'Brien points out. "I think a lot of people were surprised by The Bends, and I hope we continue to surprise people. I think they thought this was going to be more guitar frenzy, but it's not."

While Radiohead previously has performed extensively in the U.S., this is the first tour that puts them before such large audiences. "We're in this precarious situation where we've learned our trade in the clubs and are totally comfortable with that," says O'Brien. "But the arena shows are going to be totally new for us. The dates in Europe were mostly outdoors, festival shows. But it's sort of like when we started gigging three and a half years ago; it's something that we're totally enthusiastic about."

The band -- named after a song on Talking Heads' True Stories album -- formed in the late Eighties when Yorke met O'Brien and Colin Greenwood at a boys' boarding school; Colin's brother, Jonny, and Selway joined soon thereafter. The five continued to play throughout college, and in 1991 they recorded some demos. That summer they were signed to the English label Parlophone, and almost two years later they released Pablo Honey, which spun off two singles, "Creep" and a remixed version of "Stop Whispering." This past November, the band's U.S.label, Capitol, put out a four-track EP that previewed the cut "My Iron Lung" and also contained three new non-LP tracks; the EP was meant more as an item for fans than as a proper single. Then in March the record company released the heavily poetic and lightly orchestrated "Fake Plastic Trees" as the new album's first single. Radiohead hoped the song would counterbalance their "Creep"-y reputation.

"We've had problems being played on commercial alternative radio because we don't fit into the format," complains O'Brien. "But 'Creep' did, and it sort of defined a sound. It's been hard on this album because the commercial stations are quite narrow in their vision, whereas the college stations have been amazing, playing tracks that aren't singles."

Despite the reluctance by radio stations and pop kids to support this record so far, Radiohead is proud of The Bends and determined to move ahead. "We see ourselves as a band that's developing," O'Brien notes. "We want to go on to make many different kinds of records. Some other alternative bands, it seems, will crank out the same record over and over. But then take a band like Pearl Jam A the growth from Ten to Vitalogy is tremendous. And look at what BjĒrk and PJ Harvey are doing. We just hope to carry on making better and better records and becoming a better live act. We hope we get to the point that Radiohead fans trust us, knowing we're only going to release music we are passionate about."

Radiohead performs with R.E.M. tomorrow night (Friday) at 7:30 at the Miami Arena, 721 NW 1st Ave; 530-4444. Tickets cost $29 and $39.

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