4. The Bends (1995)
After Pablo Honey became a moderate chart success, Radiohead found themselves supporting it in a nigh-endless touring cycle. True to form, the band developed distaste for the shallowness of the touring musician's lifestyle. Out of this revulsion came The Bends, Radiohead's first truly great album.
Like its predecessor, The Bends is a guitar-driven alternative rock album. Phil Selway's drums still sound organic, and Johnny Greenwood contributes ear-slicing solos that would go extinct just two albums later. But where Pablo Honey was conventional enough to draw "Nirvana-lite" digs, The Bends is stranger and spookier. It's Radiohead's first collaboration with Nigel Godrich, who worked under head producer John Leckie. Still, his presence shows -- the band's experimentation with druggy layering starts with "Planet Telex," The Bends's fantastic opener.
And while Pablo Honey's soaring U2-isms crop up in places ("Bones," "Sulk"), The Bends's tone skews dark. Thom Yorke turned his attention away from his navel and toward the scary world around him for the first time here. The fan-favorite closer "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," he once said, "has no resolve. It is the dark tunnel without the light at the end … it's about staring the fucking devil right in the eyes, and knowing that no matter what the hell you do, he'll get the last laugh."
This combination of ingredients -- rock + vibes + terror -- produced some of Radiohead's most indelible songs. Quite a few of them, including "Planet Telex," "Street Spirit," "My Iron Lung," and the painfully sweet "Fake Plastic Trees," are right here.