Everyone's favourites Radiohead scored their first UK Top 5 single with 'Street Spirit' in January 1996... Since 1993 they have already sold millions of albums around the world.Second album The Bends is thought by many to be Radiohead's best; it's certainly a key work in their history, and in that of 1990s rock as a whole. It's the record that converted them from a band with one big song into a major act, and one of the few albums by a contemporary British act to be a major success in America in the mid-1990s. It produced no fewer than five Top 30 singles, of which this was the last and unusually the highest-charting, though you can put that down partly to its release in the quiet January market and partly to the band's increased popularity driving up demand for the four B-sides spread over the CD single formats; ironically, though, indecision between the two CDs meant I never got round to buying it at all, though I ended up getting the album instead.
'Street Spirit' is something of a soothing finale to The Bends, its musical mood notably more placid than the rather restless and worried sound of the previous 11 tracks (you can see why students liked it so much). But that's not to say it's any kind of light relief, it's a very haunted song which Thom Yorke has sometimes spoken of as a warning of threats from beyond this world and said that he can only perform the song in a state of detachment. Whether you buy into that, there's something bleak about the slow arpeggiated guitars that crawl through the song. What saves this from the pure depressiveness that Radiohead's music is often taken for is that there's always the element of hope or at least of a prescription. Yorke advises us to "be a love child, form a circle" and it's clearly meant to be significant that the very last lyric in the song (and thus the original album) is "immerse your soul in love," a slogan that also appears on the cover of some single formats. Conversely, the genuine pain in audible in the performance keeps those lyrics from sounding as platitudinous as they would in other contexts. The one thing Radiohead have never been is nihilistic, and it's this and the sheer melodic beauty of the song that makes this an ultimately uplifting song to hear.
The only thing is, I'm so used to this being the end of the album, one of the greatest closers ever in fact, that it seems a bit wrong that it's not the last track on the disc. Still, most people wouldn't mind.
Also appearing on: Now 26, 32, 37, 38, 39, 49
Available on: The Bends (Collectors Edition)